Check into Vampire Hotel with Chris Kirby

Combining the best of New Orleans-inspired R&B with Motor City Soul, Newfoundland musician Chris Kirby seemed to have struck musical gold with his 2009 release Vampire Hotel.

Produced by Grady/Big Sugar front man Gordie Johnson, Vampire Hotel propelled Chris into the East Coast limelight, securing the artist five East Coast Music Award nominations over the past two years in addition to winning the 2010 Music Newfoundland & Labrador Award for Best Jazz/Blues Album of The Year.

Chris Kirby and his band The Marquee will perform at Plan B Lounge on St. George Street tomorrow night.

Kirby is no stranger to mingling and being seen at functions such as the East Coast Music Awards. He confesses that his band’s hectic show schedule at this year’s festivities in Charlottetown in mid-April prevented them from getting into too much mischief.

“We had some really early shows and some really late shows so we unfortunately, had to behave ourselves while we were awake,” Chris laughs. “We had to make sure we were performing at the top of our game every chance we got.”

Indeed the stakes are higher for Chris and The Marquee these days and no one is more aware of that than Kirby himself. He admits that in the early days of attending the East Coast Music Awards, he didn’t quite fully grasp the potential that the conference offered budding musicians.

“Back then, it was a gig and a party,” he says. “But now, the ECMA weekend has become so much more than just an opportunity to socialize. It has become a chance to get business opportunities happening for the band. In addition to that though, it is a great way to remind people from the general public about you and bring them up-to-date on what you’re doing.”

Having the opportunity to work with Gordie Johnson to make Vampire Hotel was a “blast,” Chris says. He readily admits that Gordie has long been one of his musical heroes and that he gained an incredible amount of knowledge from working with him.

“Despite the fact that I was starstruck by him from the very beginning, I actually learned so much from the experience of working with him that I have started to produce music myself.

“Gordie taught me to fish though, and showed me how to make every song stand out on record while still making it sound cohesive.”

Chris says that most of Johnson’s suggestions on how to improve his songs were in the arrangements, something that Chris admits he wasn’t necessarily seeing, being so close to the material.

“When you are close to any project, you need those outside perspectives to identify what could be improved upon. It is definitely a major benefit of having a producer and to have one like Gordie, who knows something of so many genres and styles of music was amazing. Having worked with him, we find that our songwriting and band arrangements have stepped up 110 per cent.”

Chris’s Moncton performance is one of five scheduled for the Maritimes. He says that as much as he loves living in Newfoundland, it does pose certain logistical kinks that have to be worked out prior to embarking on any tour.

“It definitely takes a little more effort to get off the island in terms of touring,” he says. “You can catch the Argentia ferry which is closest to St John’s and then spend a lot of time on the water or you drive across the island to Port-aux-Basques to catch the shorter ferry route. Either way, you are in for a lot of travelling before you even have played a single show. A lot of people don’t realize the distance that people need to travel to reach the mainland.

“We are very lucky though in that we have excellent financial support from Music Newfoundland in terms of grants for touring and recording. In terms of support, I’m pretty sure that Newfoundlanders have the best support per capita from our provincial music organization compared to all the other provinces. I’ve told others about the support we have received and they have been blown away by it.”

Looking down the road to summer, Chris plans to head to Los Angeles to showcase his songwriting talents and do some networking with various outlets. Asked whether he wishes he was selling his band as opposed to his songwriting talents, he says that the two worlds are very different.

“It is tougher to tour as a band and ends up being much harder to stand out and be noticed as a band. A songwriter, on the other hand, can sell himself without necessarily needing a gimmick or selling point behind them.

“My plan is, however, to make some inroads as a songwriter and then introduce the band to those contacts at a later time. It is going to be a new formula for me but one that I am looking forward to exploring.”

Article published in May 3, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript