The Smoky Sounds of Kimbra

First of all well done on your debut album Vows! We are all very
anxious for its release in September. Can you give us some insight into the
experience of making your first album?

It’s been a long process – but also one of the best experiences. Although it felt
like it was taking forever at times, I’m glad that nothing has been rushed and this
album thoroughly follows all the changes of the last 4 years for me,
personallyand musically. I’ve learnt so much from the producers I’ve worked
with (Francois Tetaz and Mphazes) especially in my progressing my own knowledge
of production from watching them– so it’s been a great learning experience too.

From what I gather your family was a musical one. Have you always
felt destined to follow this career path or was there a particular moment that
made it clear that music was what you wanted to do?

My parents are actually in medicine, ha! Although they would play music while I
was growing up, the yearning to sing and write just felt very natural as a way
of expressing myself early on. It was something that gave me great joy but I
also recognized what a gift it could be to the rest of the world which drove me
to pursue it in some way.

For someone who is merely 21 you have a very professional style. How
long have you been involved in the music industry?

I was playing gigs in NZ at 14 after I came second in a nation wide High School
competition called Rockquest and released a couple of songs on radio – however
the sound was very different then and the move to Melbourne really was like
starting over. It doesn’t all happen over night, music has always felt a part
of my life and I was lucky to get involved with it early on.

The move from Hamilton, New Zealand, to Melbourne at only 17 must
have been a big transition. How did this affect your growth as an artist?

Whenever you’re taken out of your comfort zone and experiencing new surroundings for the
first time, you naturally become very creative so I think it was just what I
needed. The community of musicians in Melbourne is fantastic, so it was nice to
feel like I had a family quite quickly once I started playing shows. I think I
learned to take more risks as an artist and moving from writing on guitar to
sampling and arranging on midi was a really big step too.

You realise that now you have moved across the Tasman and are the
next big thing Australia will be toting you as our own. It’s what we do after
all! How are you finding all the attention?

It’s really encouraging to have people excited about the music and responding in
such a positive way – when you work really hard on something it’s great to feel
like it was all worth it! I try not to get too caught up in it though – it’s
important to always keep perspective.

People have compared you to some amazing jazz artists like Bessie
Smith. Is there any musician you particularly aspire to be like?

There are a lot of artists I look up to and hope to channel through some of my songs,
but I also want my music to feel as honest as possible and I find it’s best to
just be yourself and not focus too much on trying to emulate another artist –
it’s more about gathering influence from the artists who have been before me
and somehow try to fuse it into a sound of my own.

Who are your main musical inspirations and who do you look up to?

Prince, Rufus Wainwright, Bjork, Minnie Ripperton, Cornelius, there are so many artists
I look up to, especially those who have pushed the boundaries of their time and
have combined a real visual world with their music.

Do you write your own material?


Are you a music before lyrics kind of girl? Or is the process more
organic than that?

It’s different every time. I often have lyrics lying around ready for when musical
inspiration but in many cases I will write a lyric to respond to the ‘mood’ of
the music as well.

Cameo Lover is the second, and very popular, track on your debut
album and the video clip is vibrant to say the least. Can you explain the
inspiration behind it?

The lyrics tell the story of a man who has shut himself to the world and it’s a
call back to embrace love and light again in his life. We decided to show this
visually by portraying the men in blindfolds and monochromatic suits, while we
(the rainbow pixies) attempted to infiltrate them with color and ‘opn up their
hearts’. We wanted it to feel really fun and uplifting while still staying true
to the more empathetic side of the lyric.

Is music as a story telling device important to you?

It’s a means of elaborating on emotions and making them a tangible experience for
people. The stories in my songs are sometimes narrative or sometimes very
abstract and more a collection of observations and questions. Each song calls
for a different approach I think depending on the music.

With your smoky voice you are often labeled a jazz artist but you
are certainly trying your hand at many genres. Tell us about that.

I gravitated to the color and soulfulness of jazz singers when I was younger but
it’s nothing conscious, these days I listen to a range of artists who are not
really jazz influenced at all, I figure it’s best to be consuming a wide range
of genres so that they will rub off on your own creative process but in an
original way. I like the idea of resurrecting moments of the past in a new
refreshing light for people.

You’ve featured in songs from Gotye’s Somebody that I used to know
all the way to Miami Horrors I look to you. Is there any other collaboration on
the cards?

I’m sure there will be more especially coming out of my work in America – I’m
already thinking about the next album and who I’d like to work with! So watch
this space!

Who would you most like to collaborate on a musical piece with?

It’d be amazing to write a musical for Broadway with Rufus Wainwright.

This wide experimentation with different genres from Dance to Jazz –
where does it spring from?

Just constantly consuming a wide range of music I think. Whether it’s heavy metal or
experimental jazz I’ll be drawn towards music with soul and conviction.  So a lot of time I think it’s sub-conscious
but it’s also about not being scared to take risks and push the boundaries to
try and find something unique.

We saw you play at Splendour in the Grass this year and you were
just fantastic! How important are live music and festival performances to you?

Live performance is the biggest part for me. It’s that moment of connect, when
you’re one on one with a crowd and there’s no going back and forth, it’s all
about creating an experience then and there, you never know what can happen! I also
see it as a chance for people to experience the record in a new way.

Is there a favourite gig you have played?

Meredith Festival earlier this year! We had a beautiful sunset slot and it was our first
big festival we’d played.

Are you a bit of a festival head?

I’ve been to a lot of festivals singing with Miami Horror and now with my own band.
They are a lot of fun – but I can’t hack more than a couple of nights in a tent
these days!

Everyone is desperate for a sneak peak of the album Vows. Can we
expect to see more songs with many layers of sound like we hear in Settle Down?

Absolutely. Settle Down is a good glimpse into the themes and sonic textures of this album,
lots of vocal work and rhythmic elements – however I think there is a more
reflective side to Vows which may surprise listeners – I wanted to create a
record that continued to excite with every listen rather than coming all
together on the very first listen.

Video clips are a great extension of your music. What process do you
go through when creating a video?

I usually have a vision of the video clip in my head when writing a song –
working with Francois Tetaz also helped me to think of my songs as films so I
would bring my ideas to the director Guy Franklin and then he would take the
vision and place it in a more provoking context or make it more powerful in a
cinematic way. It has felt very collaborative and it’s definitely really
refreshing for me to escape music world for a bit and get into the visual side
of things.

We see young girls in your video clips. Is there a particular
meaning behind the choice of these children? Who are fantastic performers!

We needed two young girls for the roles in the first film clip. It was the
directors idea to use children because it is a much bolder statement and refers
more to our upbringing and early ideals rather than just the present moment.
When creating the clip for Cameo Lover, we thought it would be nice to include
them again. They represent a kind of innocence and youthfulness which has felt
really relevant in both the film clips.

And just some musical words of wisdom from you! What would you
recommend listening to before a big night out?

Pop Levi.

And then, of course, what’s a good listen when winding down on

Grizzly Bear.

One thought on “The Smoky Sounds of Kimbra

  1. Pingback: Kimbra: “The Smoky Sounds of Kimbra” Interview through Dirtie Clouds 26/08/11 « The WMA hub.

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