As Shaun Kirk steps on stage and begins his first song, I feel the energy in the room rise. It’s a small crowd, barely forty of us, however I get the feeling that even if there’d been 4000 here, the vibe would have been the same. His energy and gritty vocals, a fusion of blues, folky rock and soul is captivating.
For over an hour we’re pulled into his world with personal songs that hint at a man who’s clearly been through some turbulent years. Howlin’ at the Moon, Save my Soul and Slow and Steady (co-produced with Nick Huggins) has the crowd eating out of his hands
Award winning singer songwriter Shaun Kirk hails from the music streets of Melbourne, and it’s here at The Toff in Town I saw him perform. Pounding out a sound like he has twelve musicians behind him, he’s a proverbial one-man band.
His unique vocals and high energy performances have earnt him a swag of awards and accolades. Now this soul and blues troubadour is hitting the road again for a Regional Australia Winter tour. I caught up with him recently to find out more about the man behind the voice.
Shaun wrote his first song when he was 17, laid up in hospital with a broken ankle. With time to think while he waited for surgery he composed, what he describes to me, an embarrassing cliché rip of ‘Rain, Rain Go Away”. Humour, pain and passion combined to plant a seed. Having previously dabbled with a guitar and, with time on his hands, music became a new focus.
Though he had no musical aspirations as a child there were early signs he was headed for a career in entertainment “When I was a little boy, I used to put on a baseball jacket and dance around the family pool table, mimicking Michael Jackson in the video ‘Bad’.”
Shaun openly admits that in his teens he was heading down the wrong path. He mixed with a rough crowd at high school and says it was largely due to an amazing teacher by the name of Mr Eddington that his life changed. Shaun credits this teacher with turning his life around, steering him onto a new set of friends, a new school and ultimately a new path.
Bursting onto the music scene when he was 21, Shaun released his first independent debut album Cruisin and began making a name for himself playing all over the country. In 2015 he went to America and was about to sign up for his ultimate dream, a record deal in the US, when it ended before it began. It was a saga he says that “messed with his head.”
That US record disaster was a trigger that spiralled him down towards depression, a state he was uncomfortably familiar with from his teen years. No one spoke openly of it back then but these days, on the stage and in the public eye, Shaun feels a responsibility to share his experiences and journey of self-acceptance and healing with others who might be suffering anxiety, whether it’s a small group or a big crowd.
He’s played all round the country although he’s yet to get to Broome and Alice Springs, two places that are high on his bucket list. It’s a blessing of the job that he gets to combine two things that he loves the most, travel and singing.
I ask him what his weirdest moment is and he tells me about a concert in Emerald, Queensland a few years ago. “There were two dudes standing in the front row and, as I started playing my first song, one decked the other.” Stunned and unsure what to do, Shaun kept playing and remembers feeling like he was in a rollicking, brawling scene from the Blues Brothers.
“What’s your biggest fear” I ask him and his answer is instant. Regret. Not fear of dying or fear of failure, as it once was, he tells me. “I don’t want to look back in years’ time wishing I’d done things.” He says failure is a chance to learn and he loves learning.
“Failure is exciting to me now … it’s something that’s been forgotten in society. I look at failure in a different light. We’ve grown into this society that’s scared of failure and see it as a bad thing when it’s really the greatest blessing that’s been given. If it’s looked at in the right way it forces you to correct your weaknesses and makes you stronger.”
I ask what excites and inspires him. “Life. I really enjoy life and I’m grateful each time I wake up. New days ahead and new things to do.” I can relate to him when he says “I’m really lucky to live a life where I get to travel around and see so much. Never take that for granted.”
When I ask him what he’d like to be remembered for, he tells me, “I’d like to be remembered as someone that inspired others, to live the life they want to live. To live on your own terms, no one else’s and not that of society. I just want to leave a legacy”.
As for his plans for the future he tells me the record will come out later this year (his fifth) and another tour. There’ll be shows around the country. He’s recently returned from Canada where he worked on a few projects. He’s excited and open to more collaborations, when the opportunity arises, as it did with Joel Quarterman with Eskimo Jo for Howlin at the Moon.
The energy of his one-man show is amazing. It features Shaun and his range of guitars, harmonicas, drums and gadgets, with about six things going on at his feet at the one time. It takes his own style of soul and blues playing to a whole new level. ‘Save my Soul’, a song about a guy he saw kicking stones along the Hume Highway, trying to find himself, takes us along for the ride. Take a listen here.
His intention is to have a band one day and the freedom to stand out front and focus on being a front man. For now he’s content to be his own one man band.
I ask him whether he sings in the shower and his answer is enthusiastic. “Yes! Slow and Steady came to me in the shower”. Clearly this is a place of inspiration for him and little wonder, these days he has only cold showers! He’s not had one hot shower since mid-January, he says, adding, “taking cold showers is not as relaxing … and I don’t spend as much time in there these days”. I don’t doubt it, I say and I’m impressed, it sounds like a sure fire way to wake up. ”
“There are so many health benefits we can’t comprehend, yet it makes good sense” Shaun says with conviction. “Take a cold shower and try it.”
“It’s more than just waking yourself up, the health benefits are pretty amazing … it’s actually proven to reduce depression, increase blood flow, boost the immune system and all kind of benefits…”
Well, I say, I’ll give it a try. Maybe I’ll ease into it, slowly. I’m not wholly convinced, however, what I am convinced about is that Shaun Kirk is a man who’s made peace with the present. He seems in a good place, grounded, full of purpose and comfortable in his own skin.
This gutsy performer, at home on a stage in front of 40 or a gig in front of thousands, loves what he’s doing and in his own words “plays every gig like it’s my last”. It’s a great mantra for life: live each day to its fullest and do more of what you love.
In love, light, music and soul