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Interview: Singer/Songwriter Kimbra Settles Down & Keeps Her Vows

Kimbra | Singer/Songwriter | Stated Magazine Interview

Kimbra on Stated Magazine

Kimbra is a singer/songwriter from New Zealand currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Momentum was already building prior to the release of her debut album, Vows, thanks to her stylish video collaborations with director Guy Franklin for her “Cameo Lover” and “Settle Down” singles. More recently, she’s exploded into the international spotlight for her duet with Australian artist, Gotye, on the chart-topping single, “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Kimbra is making pop music that will pull you from your seat and have you listening on a loop. Her vocals are saturated with jazz and soul influences, she writes her own music and lyrics, and maintains tight creative control over every aspect of her career. We chatted about her influences, creative process, and the path of her young career, and are lucky enough to debut the “Making of Cameo Lover” video you see below.

stated: Your music recalls jazz greats such as Nina Simone. Who would you count as some of your influences?

KIMBRA: I definitely gravitated towards jazz when I was growing up but around the age of 16 some friends introduced me to bands like The Mars Volta and artists like Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, etc. I think this change in taste really provoked in me a desire to write music that could push boundaries and be ‘pop’, but also challenging. Artists like Prince are perfect examples of musicians who have been able to find that balance. I am most influenced by music that touches me emotionally but also surprises me on a musical level.

stated: Your videos have a very distinct look and feel. How much input have you had into them?

KIMBRA: Both clips were a close collaboration with the director Guy Franklin (Mammal Films). Visuals are very important to me; they’re an extension of the music and the world. I would present initial ideas to Guy and he would then take that vision and create a world around it that was cinematically dramatic but also thought-provoking, for example, putting the narrative of “Settle Down” into the context of young girls. I really enjoy working with people who get your vision but can put a spin on it that you would never have thought of and really bring the idea to life.

Kimbra - “Settle Down” (Vows)

stated: There has been a resurgence of “retro lounge” music the last few years‚ particularly female vocalists. Adele, Duffy, and Amy Winehouse come to mind. You’re mixing genres in a unique way, but have you found it difficult to avoid such comparisons? Has it been a struggle to avoid being “pigeonholed”? What genres do you think your sound represents?

KIMBRA: It’s natural for people to compare; there only so many words to describe music. I think my sound definitely references some jazz and soul influences; some people say “everything has been done before”. Maybe it’s true, but it’s our job as artists to re-translate these ideas and influences in a new and progressive way. I think there’s an element of theatrics and funk in my live sound, yet on record there is more of a reflective, darker feel to a lot of the songs, so I don’t think its easy to sum up the sound in a few words. I just try to listen to as much music as possible so as to avoid directly channelling one genre, and then you just have to let go and be yourself.

stated: The “Settle Down” and “Cameo Lover” videos seem to be establishing your lovely style. Did you select your stylist? Who is he or she?

KIMBRA: Sarah Banger was the stylist for both the clips, who I chose. We wanted to keep the styling true to my own sense of fashion, which is sort of 50’s-inspired/full skirt type stuff with an edge. I think both clips visually portray a kind of playfulness in style, and an emphasis on exaggerated shapes and colour. The dress for “Cameo Lover” was designed by Mrs Press, a Sydney designer. We really fell for her feminine, quirky style and it suited the theme of the clip nicely.

Kimbra - “Cameo Lover” (Vows)

stated exclusive: Kimbra - Making of “Cameo Lover” (Vows)

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stated: What formal music or vocal training do you have?

KIMBRA: I had a vocal coach I saw every few months when I lived in NZ—this was more about techniques to protect your voice as opposed to learning how to sing. I’d been singing a lot before seeing this coach, but it’s been very beneficial seeing her when I can over the years so that I stay aware of the importance of looking after your instrument and learning the more theoretical side of singing. Especially now that it’s such a big part of my life.

stated: How is your sound different now than when you were playing Rockquest in High School?

KIMBRA: I play with a full band now, whereas I started out just playing guitar and was very new to songwriting back then. There is only so much you can sing about without life experience! The band have added a whole new dimension to the sound—we are very rhythmically driven now—and that was always a limitation I felt when performing just with guitar. I have also become more confident in music production and arranging songs myself on ProTools, which obviously opens up a new process of songwriting, as opposed to only having guitar or voice to write with.

Kimbra on Stated Magazine

stated: Do you write your own music & lyrics? What is your creative process?

KIMBRA: Yes, I write both music and lyrics. There is no clear-cut process, as every song has a different journey to completion, but generally the songs will come to me in the form of a beat or a melody and then I will record them using just voice, or start arranging a structure with various instrumentation on the computer. Other times, I will write a song completely on guitar. It really depends on the mood of the song or in what way the inspiration chooses to manifest itself. I really like this saying, “It is not I who choose to think these thoughts, it is these thoughts which choose me to think them”.

stated: Can you describe the layered sound technique you create with multiple microphones and recording devices we’ve seen in some of your live recordings?

KIMBRA: The way a song comes to me is usually in the form of layered vocals (since that is my most confident instrument), so I will often lay down demos completely with the voice, singing the string and horn parts I hear, then later I will go about arranging them properly, or sometimes even leaving them as just vocal arrangements. When it came to live performance, I wanted to demonstrate this same organic way of building a song from the ground, so we incorporate the use of live looping and sampling in the live band, where we can create vocal samples on the fly and overdub as the audience watches. It just brings a nice colour to the whole sound and keeps it true to the record, which is very vocally driven.

Kimbra - “Two Way Street” (Live at Sing Sing Studios)

stated: Vows promises to be about relationships, commitments (or lack thereof), love, status quo—are we on the right track?

KIMBRA: Yes! I find the word “Vow” quite interesting. It is the highest form of a promise. We make vows spiritually, romantically, personally, and they say a lot about who we are, and even more when we choose to break them. Most of the songs on this album touch on that idea somehow.

stated: When can we buy Vows in the States?!

KIMBRA: Plans are in motion for a US release hopefully later in the year!

stated: Who are you listening to these days?

KIMBRA: I have been on a big binge of Minnie Ripperton records. I love her vibe. I also love a new artist from Brooklyn called tUnE-yArDs. Really awesome. Check out her album W H O K I L L.

stated: Wow, just checked them out and we’ll try to catch up with them when they get back from their tour and we’ll name-drop Kimbra! Cheers to you. Can’t wait to see you live.

KIMBRA: My pleasure. I’ll be sure to let you know when I’m in the States.


Visit Kimbra at:

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(Live at Sing Sing Studios)

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