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John Carroll Kirby

Starting in the late 2000s and continuing into the 2020s, keyboardist, composer, and producer John Carroll Kirby has amassed an impressive and evolving discography as an adaptive collaborator and recording artist. Frequently heard on Sébastien Tellier's assorted studio projects, Kirby has also contributed to releases by Norah Jones, Solange, Bat for Lashes, and Harry Styles, among dozens of others. In addition to one-off sessions as part of Drool and Mind Gamers, Kirby has several solo releases to his credit. Almost exclusively instrumental and both melodic and atmospheric in nature, they've mixed new age, jazz, and R&B in a manner that is as expressive as it is difficult to classify. He started with a handful of low-key projects for assorted small independents toward the end of the 2010s, and has since issued Conflict (2020), My Garden (also 2020), and Septet (2021) through Stones Throw. In 2022, he released Dance Ancestral, a solo, primarily electronic collaboration with producer Yu Su, and followed it with 2023's Blowout, which was written in Costa Rica two years earlier. A lifelong Los Angeleno, John Carroll Kirby (often credited as John Kirby) established himself as a session and touring musician. He picked up his first major credits in 2007 with contributions to's Songs About Girls, Jully Black's Revival, and Raya Yarbrough's self-titled LP -- an eclectic trio of albums that indicated Kirby's versatility. His résumé expanded throughout the next few years with albums by Mike Doughty, Norah Jones, David Holmes, and Madeleine Peyroux all featuring his input. Most notably, he played synthesizer and tack piano on Jones' Grammy-nominated "Chasing Pirates." Additionally, Kirby formed and soon deepened an affiliation with Sébastien Tellier. He was credited with electric piano on two songs for the artist's My God Is Blue, all keyboards on L'Aventura, and not only played on but also co-arranged and co-produced Marie et les Naufragés. Between those sessions, Kirby partnered with Cara Stricker under the alias Drool for a self-titled album of moody avant-pop released by Terrible Records. Shortly thereafter, Kirby was part of Blood Orange's Freetown Sound and Solange's Billboard 200-topping A Seat at the Table. For the latter, he co-produced three tracks and played synthesizer on "Cranes in the Sky," another Grammy-nominated recording. Kirby finally released material of his own in 2017. After the INGA collaboration "The Shrek Orchid," Mind Gamers' two-track Power of Power (made with Tellier and Daniel Stricker, and assisted on the B-side by Karl Lagerfeld), and a connection with Shabazz Palaces, Kirby issued his first solo album, the lush Travel. Meditations in Music, a comparatively sparse set recorded with only a Minimoog and a Yamaha DX7, followed in 2018, the same year Kirby was extensively involved in the self-titled album from Martin Johnson's the Night Game. Kirby was exceptionally prolific in 2019, appearing on Solange's When I Get Home, Bat for Lashes' Lost Girls, and Mark Ronson's Late Night Feelings, along with Frank Ocean's "DHL" and Harry Styles' "Canyon Moon." He found time during this year to issue "Lazzara," his Stones Throw debut, and Tuscany, an LP consisting of two sidelong piano pieces, for the Patience label. Kirby entered an even more fruitful 2020 by playing on the Avalanches' Blood Orange collaboration "We Will Always Love You." Two Stones Throw albums followed in April: Conflict, a piano-based set of shorter compositions, was offered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fuller My Garden -- what was intended to be Kirby's first Stones Throw album -- followed a few weeks later. He worked closely with Eddie Chacon on a set of meditative soul ballads entitled Pleasure, Joy and Happiness, offered that July. Additional keyboards and synthesizers were contributed to Miley Cyrus' Plastic Hearts and the Avalanches' We Will Always Love You, both released before the year was over. In June 2021, Kirby returned on Stones Throw in leader mode with the lively Septet. The album was met with universally positive reviews. It won airplay across the globe thanks to a glowing endorsement from Gilles Peterson's Worldwide FM, which played it daily. In 2022, Kirby issued the vastly more electronic Dance Ancestral. The nine-track long-player's central theme was the "intuitive dance" we sentient beings perform throughout our lives. It was recorded in collaboration with Canadian producer Yu Su and featured a guest spot from new age legend Laraaji on the set-opening single "Dawn of New Day." In 2021, Kirby visited Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to film an episode of his travelogue series Kirby's Gold with the Kawe Calypso Band. Each morning he was awakened by the songs of oropendola birds and began composing a song for them. After the sun went down, he'd jam with local calypso musicians (some regional legends) and surreptitiously work occasional gigs playing Bob Marley covers and standards in Puerto Viejo's many bars. While absorbed in this tropical setting, Kirby wrote an album. He recorded the compositions with a small core band at 64 Sound Studios after returning to Los Angeles. Titled Blowout, it was released by Stones Throw in June 2023.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo


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