John Carroll Kirby

Photos by Byron Spencer
Text by Molly Cranston

A composer, producer and keyboardist from Los Angeles, John Carroll Kirby takes the form of an industry sage, weaving melodies for and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the contemporary scene – Frank Ocean, Solange, Harry Styles, Yves Tumor, Conan Mockasin, the list goes on. His output on Stones Throw has been staggering, releasing five LPs in just over 2 years. Put simply, John Carroll Kirby has a trusted pair of hands. For this story we see Kirby walk the streets of Sydney, Australia dressed as a rat in a tuxedo.

I first came to John Carroll Kirby‘s music in 2020, when he released ‘Conflict’, a misty piano record contemplating crisis, with the intention of inducing peace in the listener. Throughout the album lilting refrains appear gently, like hypnotic prayers. This feels distinct from the stylish and wild energy of Kirby’s most recent release, ‘Blowout’, which takes tonal inspiration from Calypso artists he played with in Costa Rica, and the fervent spirit of Central American jazz and funk. The record sways between this high gloss, and looser, woozy depth, a collective ecstasy that veers close to chaos. So goes the double entendre of the LP’s title, to celebrate and destroy. Kirby reveals himself as a responsive and adaptive artist. He has this ceaseless curiosity for genre and reinvention, which allows him to move between jazz, ambient, classical, pop and R&B, with an integrity that looks a lot like love. It is Kirby’s open sensibility that has acted as the guiding principle in his chameleon output over the past years.

A Los Angeles native, Kirby has tendencies toward the surreal and theatrical, that meeting place between tacky and spiritual, glamour and grime. His references for this shoot, which took place in Sydney, Australia, are roaming and esoteric; drawing from wedding bands, and Cafe Flesh (a sci-fi pornographic movie from 1972). 

As I look through the photos of him posing as a rat in a tuxedo and top hat against severely glowing signage, I keep hearing his faux-noire monologue that opens each episode of his ‘Kirby’s Gold’ video series: “Los Angeles, California: In the city known for only going skin deep, I try to find what’s beneath the sand and the plastic… who has magic?” If anyone has an ineffable magic, Kirby does, and here we see him as both the magician and the rodent pulled from the hat. Watch Cash for Your Trash, directed by Kirby with Bryon Spencer below. Music by Kirby and narration by Kiko Mizuhara.

Video credits:
Directed by @spencernotspencer and @johncarrollkirby
Narrated by @i_am_kiko
Music by @johncarrollkirby
DOP @monteemadeit
Second camera @1015512.168
Sfx @craigsr_
Makeup and prosthetics @amberadamsmakeup 
Addiotional Makeup and Prosthetics @moments_in_oblivion
Titles @hayleyebrown
Produced by @goodoilfilms
Thanks to @dulcieskingscross