[MUSIC: Interview] Kimbra
Won’t Settle Down
By Rach Seneviratne
One of the highest rated YouTube comments on a Kimbra video: “Fuck. Fuck. She is so amazing, beautiful and gifted. I hate her.” At 22, Kimbra Johnson makes most people her age (and older) feel pretty damn useless. 2011 was a stellar year for the Kiwi queen, releasing her meticulous debut album Vows, wearing incredible dresses, and collaborating with Gotye on one of the biggest songs of the year. Also, Perez Hilton publically compared her to Nina Simone and other “fierce ladies”… Does it get much better?
192 million is the kind of number you throw around when you’re trying to make ludicrous exaggerations, but that’s how many YouTube hits ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ has got so far. Getting triple j’s #1 spot in the Hottest 100 is a huge feat for any newcomer, but it pales in comparison to a Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance… which in turn pales in comparison to the track being inducted into that long list of songs that Glee has murdered. “It’s been great,” Kimbra reflects from a hotel room in Austin where she’s been killing it at SXSW, playing huge showcases and parties for tastemakers like Nylon, Filter, MTV and Perez himself. “Obviously the song has provided me with a really fantastic platform to bring some of my music to America and the UK. I’ve been all through Europe supporting Gotye and doing my other sets as well. It’s just been such an awesome experience to go around the world with him and be a part of a song that has resonated so deeply with people.”
But Kimbra had established herself as an artist in her own right before Gotye came along. Moving from New Zealand to Australia to pursue her music when she was just 17, she started writing a debut album, Vows, that only came to fruition in 2011.She’s gone from playing shows at The Corner Hotel in Richmond to crowds of 15 000 with Foster The People, but Kimbra seems to be taking it all in her stride; not overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the rate of her success – just suitably whelmed. “I guess from the outside looking in, it might seem like it’s happened really fast … but it’s definitely been in the works for a long time. I moved [to Melbourne] when I was 17, so I guess it’s been quite a while for me to be getting myself off the ground,” she says. “It feels like a natural time for things to be happening.”
Vows is a quirky record which walks the perfect tightrope between experimentalism and pop. Outwardly catchy, it’s also a grower that demands real attention from the listener. Kimbra foresaw the risk in putting out such a varied record when the majority only knew her for her songs with Miami Horror and Gotye, but sticking to her guns comes as second nature. “I’m glad people have been loving [Vows],” she says. “There’s always a worry that you might just be known for that one song – it’s been great that people have got behind the stuff I was doing even before I worked with Wally [de Backer, aka Gotye].” Her sassy take on funk, jazz and soul goes far beyond the attempts of other artists to prove their versatility; Kimbra just oozes unforced talent. Her recent SXSW showcases thrust her further into the spotlight – notably her performance of ‘Settle Down’, which demonstrated her skills with a vocal loop pedal. “I love being able to create an arrangement on the spot – it’s a great experience for people to feel like they’re a part of something that builds from the ground up”.
Kimbra knows all about building from the ground up. From her days as a burgeoning musician in Melbourne, she’s now on the cusp of being the next massive Australasian export – Vows comes out this month in the States (after going Platinum in Oz), she’s just blown the socks off SXSW, and she’s about to embark on the mammoth Foster The People US tour. Her recent collaborations are a testament to her rise: after the release of the ‘Warrior’ collaboration for Converse, she now counts Mark Foster (of Foster The People) and A-Trak as pals. “It’s been really fun connecting with them,” she says. “And John Legend, we wrote a song together a few months ago, but I’m keeping him waiting because I’m still working on it!” She attributes the diversity of her collaborations to her open mind towards music. “I like artists that push boundaries within the genres that they’re [working] in. Whether that’s Miles Davis or the Mars Volta or tUnE-yArDs or Prince … you can and should be influenced by anything, really. If I just listened to other female singer-songwriters I’d be limiting myself in terms of what I can be influenced by, so I try to listen to stuff that’s as different to what I do as possible.”
The buzz about Kimbra and her impending worldwide domination has set her up for a helter-skelter year. But although her time to relax is quite literally “an hour here or there”, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “You have to knuckle down in certain weeks or certain months, and the downtime comes later. I had a lot of downtime when I first moved to Melbourne – like, two years of it,” she laughs. “I’d much rather be busy than sitting around, y’know?”
With: Daniel Merriweather, Sam Lawrence
Where: The Enmore Theatre
When: Thursday May 17 (lic/all-ages)
More: Kimbra is also appearing at Splendour In The Grass from July 27-29 @ Belongil Fields, alongside Jack White, The Shins, Band Of Skulls, Youth Lagoon and loads more