A few months ago I interviewed Kimbra. The final article can be found here, but here’s the full transcript:
Now, you started with music at quite a young age, but what were your other interests growing up?
I just loved the arts as a whole, theatre, acting. As a kid I used to go to a lot of musicals and theatre productions. I just love the hype of it all, and the excitement. I loved writing and drawing as a kid. It felt quite natural to express myself creatively.
And at what point did you decide to pursue music as a career?
Well I was doing it out of a love of it for many years, and I entered a competition called Rocquest when I was 14 which is quite a big competition in New Zealand, and I came second in the country for it at that age. I think that encouraged me to keep at it at a more serious level. Then at 17 I got offered to move to Australia to start working on my album with support from the management team I have now. So that’s what I’ve been working on for the last 3 and a half years.
So I guess at that point it became my career because I was doing it full time, so I left school and I was in Melbourne as a musician making an album, so it was a pretty big jump I guess.
Other than your management being here, was there anything specifically about Melbourne and the Australian music scene that attracted you here?
Well that happened to be where they were based, so the only real option was Melbourne. I didn’t really know much about it at the time, but I flew over to take a look and see what the city was like, but I love it, you know, there was a real energy to it even coming over the first time. It was also really easy to make friends when I moved because there were so many New Zealanders who lived in Melbourne, and there was just such a creative energy to it.
Starting out so young, a lot of musicians you hear about their long, difficult process of getting noticed and stuff. Do you have one of those stories or was it pretty smooth sailing for you because of your competition success?
I mean I did my hard yards, I was writing songs when I was 8 or 9 and learning the guitar at about 12, then from the age of 14 I was playing in old pubs and stuff. It wasn’t given to me on a silver platter but at the same time I was very blessed to get support from a management that had so much faith in me at a young age so I didn’t have to have another job while I was making the album so it actually was my career.
So it’s a mix of lots of hard work and having met some amazing, supportive people that really believed in me and that’s something which is pretty imperative for anyone’s career?
And how did you get involved with that management company?
I think they heard my stuff on My Space, but there was also someone at a local TV station in NZ who passed my work along to this management group in Australia, so whatever gets the word around.
So generally with your music, who would you say is your inspiration for your music and lyrics?
Wow, there are so many people who inspire me as artists; a few would be Jeff Buckley, Bjork, Rufus Waynright, Scott Warp, Prince, MJ, Stevie Wonder.
I guess I’m just really inspired by artists and musicians who push the boundaries of what pop-music means, I think it’s exciting when these artists who are doing something different and challenging people with their music and challenging the idea of what the pop song traditionally is, and music with conviction, and something to say, something with a message which is something people forget they have the ability to do that, say something through your lyrics and the music.
Following on from that, some pop-music…
Can you hold on one second?
Talks to people in background (she’s just arrived in Queensland for that leg of the tour)
Sorry, I’m here.
That’s fine. I was saying, in terms of pop music in a broader context, some stuff can sound quite similar to one another. What do you think it is about your music in the pop-music space that attracts people despite its differences to a lot of what’s out there?
I don’t know, I don’t really try to think about it too much, I think you just want to be honest at every point, and that to me is just trying to stay true to what inspired the music and not trying to emulate anyone too closely.
I think it’s also listening to a wide range of music is really helpful, not just listening to the same kind of genre, but really pushing my own tastes. I’ll listen to experimental jazz one week, then be interested in heavy rock music; really keeping a diverse array of influences because then when you come to write your own stuff, you’ll have a lot more to draw from.
I think people just resonate with stuff that surprises them in a way and makes them think something new and feel something. That’s the kind of music I want to make.
Speaking of other music, your music and singing has been compared to some pretty amazing people, like I’ve read comparisons to people like Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse and Bjork. How do you feel being compared to people like that?
It’s fantastic, I mean pretty flattering to be put in the same boat as these singers I’ve looked up to in my life, but at the same time I think comparisons only go so far to explain an artist. You want to get to a point when your music can really speak for itself. But it’s really exciting when people think I have these similarities to other artists like that who’ve been so influential to me.
Now, your album has obviously done quite well, and you said it’s taken about three and a half years to put together, are you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, I mean it’s been so long that I feel kind of detached from it to be honest. I haven’t looked into it since it mastered and I’ve had to kind of put it to sleep for a bit for my own… you know, it’s been my own experience for so long and now I’m happy for it to be someone else’s.
It’s a kind of catharsis for me to let go of those songs. It’s therapeutic to let them go and be free ‘cos it’s kind of intense holding on to your music for so long, and wanting to share it with people but maybe it’s not the right time, or I had my managers being keen for me to be patient and wait for the right time. But it feels good to have it out now and it’s encouraging that it’s been received so well.
As someone who doesn’t know heaps about the recording process, I’ve got artists who I follow and think ‘It’s been over 2 years since they’ve put out an album, hurry up already.’ You say this one took around 3 years to put together, what happens over 3.5 years to get a 15 song album out?
It’s to do with development really. When I was signed with the management they wanted to help me refine my sound, it wasn’t all there when I was 17. They wanted to help me find out what my sound was going to be, who I was going to be as an artist, what I wanted to say as an artist.
And that takes time and experience, and it takes relationships and it takes heartbreak and all these different things which affect how you write your music, and going through emotional growth and spiritual growth, and all of these were imperative to me finding my voice and my song writing style.
So that’s the reason it took the time it did. I went to America for a while to write some songs because we didn’t think I had the right collection of songs yet. It was all about pushing out of the comfort zone and trying to go to a new place to create something that’s more groundbreaking than what I had already. At times it was frustrating, but I think that everyone benefits from being pushed out of their comfort zone and going to a new place.
With your song writing process, I would imagine a lot of elements go into the final product of how a track turns out. How much of the end product is what your initial vision was and how much is collaborated and changed through the help of others?
Well I arrange all the songs myself, generally, I’ll demo them all with my ideas and I’ll put the drums down and the horns and strings parts maybe I’ll sing them to get the idea across. Then the role of the producer is to help me refine the details of those sounds and help change the tones of certain instruments or maybe the structure. But I’m still in control at every point of that process, and I’ve got a strong vision for the song, and the role of the producer is to really help me further that vision and build on what’s already there.
It’s a big trusting process, you know, you can’t go into it lightly like you might going into a collaboration, because you have to be very vulnerable and you have to lose a lot of your ego because people might come in and dissect your ideas and completely change them, and you have to be free enough to let them have that ability and to roll with it and see what will happen. Be open minded because there’s nothing to lose, you can always go back to the original idea, which is the theory that I have on it.
I guess the image of some pop music is that it’s ‘mass produced’ and ‘churned out’. You obviously haven’t had that experience?
Not at all. At every moment, every drum beat, every lyric and every word is completely thought through on my album. I wanted everything to make you feel connected to the emotion of that song and I could never be a part of that mass-produced pop industry which it seems like some songs can come out of a tried and tested formula, and there doesn’t seem to be much depth to them.
I guess the art that I resonate with is the stuff that’s timeless, you know, its stuff that you’ll pick up in 10 years and it’s still relevant and it’s got production that has depth.
Well it certainly doesn’t sound like it comes from that place so you don’t need to worry about that.
So how did you get involved with the new Gotye single?
One of the main producers on my album worked with Gotye, he helped produce and mix his first record. So he introduced me to Wally, or Gotye and I was really excited to meet him because I was a really big fan and we kept in touch for a couple of years.
Then earlier this year he rang me to ask me if I’d be interested in singing on his album. And that’s how it happened really, he came over to my house and we recorded it, and we became good friends in the process.
Is it a similar story to how you got to feature on the Miami Horror track too?
It’s pretty much the same story really. They’re all really good friends of mine and the lead singer is my boyfriend so we all hung out a lot. That sort of just happened; they asked me if I’d like to give it a shot.
I think these things happed kind of casually a lot of the time, and you can never really predict where the songs will take you, and I guess that’s the beautiful mystery of making music. It transcends your original intent sometimes.
Do you find that when you get a chance to feature on someone else’s track that it’s a nice break from what you’re doing with your own stuff?
Yeah, it’s really refreshing and it’s a great opportunity to get out of that headspace and make my own music which I’m so attached to because it’s my own emotions and my own words. When you’re singing on someone else’s song, you’ve got that separation from it and you can approach it in a different way and it can be refreshing and inspiring to sing music through the eyes of someone else.
When you release overseas, do you plan on focussing on the international audience as opposed to the domestic audience? How do you plan on growing your brand and image?
Well I think signing with Warner was quite a big step in the sense that I made this whole album with my manager, and we didn’t have a record label on board, but we do now to distribute it and to be a part of the following album.
So I think that will open up quite an extensive world of new resources of tools and producers that they’ll be able to introduce me to for upcoming records, and obviously opening up the market to America and people in Europe. So it’ll be interesting to see where it takes me, but I hope it’ll give me a greater range of resources to pull from when I’m writing the next album.
Now if you had to, how would you classify your music? I know that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but in a day and age where it is so difficult to classify I’m always curious about how artists would classify themselves.
I really don’t know, I’ve heard so many people try to do it. I guess it’s kind of a theatrical pop or progressive pop, well I’d like to think that it’s progressive in some way anyway and is pushing the boundaries. At the same its funk and soul as well, someone’s called it swag pop, I don’t know what that means.
It’s really hard, but I think the easiest way to say it is it feels like soul music to me because it’s made from the soul and I want to make music for the soul, so it’s a good way to chuck a big fat label on it.