Kimbra's dad tells all

By Natalie Akoorie


Pop sensation Kimbra might have been an unknown university student if she had listened to her father, Ken Johnson.

Instead, the 22-year-old Hamilton-born singer is at the top of the US charts with Australian artist Gotye's single, Somebody That I Used To Know.

But Dr Johnson, who wanted his daughter to study French or drama at the University of Auckland before embarking on a singing career, happily admits her move to Melbourne in 2008 to sing and hone her song-writing skills was the right choice.

Now she is only the third Kiwi to achieve the top spot in America, after OMC took How Bizarre to No 1 in August 1997 and New Zealand-raised singer Chris Thompson helped Manfred Mann's Earth Band to the top with Blinded by the Light in February 1977.

Dr Johnson said he and Kimbra's mother, Chris, were very proud of their daughter.

"We follow Kimbra's progress with great interest and we're obviously in very close touch with her. We're a very close family."

Raised in Hamilton with her older brother, Matthew, Kimbra had a "normal" childhood.The family owned a boat and went to Lakes Rotoiti and Tarawera for holidays.

Their home overlooked the Waikato River and Kimbra spent hours playing in the gully on the property.

She started writing song lyrics when she was 10, recording music at Barclay Intermediate, and began learning to play the guitar at 12.

"She was writing songs from about 10, gobsmacking really," her father said.

A year later, she entered the Smokefree Rockquest and at 14, placed second as a solo singer and guitarist in the 2004 national finals.

The rest of the family are not musically inclined and though they knew Kimbra was "different" from early on, they were a little surprised to be continuously told she was "exceptionally talented".

Kimbra began performing in front of large audiences when she was 15, singing the national anthem at horse-racing events and rugby fixtures, including an All Blacks- Ireland test at Waikato Stadium.

"She's never been one to have any particular sense of this being special; it's just what she did," said Dr Johnson, medical director of Waikato University's student health services.

At Hillcrest High, Kimbra excelled at French and drama and joined the school's "scat" jazz choir, which her father said helped shape the love of jazz evident in her music.

Though underage, she began performing live gigs in Auckland, with her dad in tow.

"Probably what was most remarkable was how older musicians used to relate to her. They had a respect for her despite that she was a scrap of a thing."

At the same time NZ On Air funded two singles, Deep for You and Simply on My Lips.

Both gained airplay, and Simply On My Lips was the Juice TV best breakthrough music video when Kimbra was 16.

She was preparing to enrol at Auckland University when she was approached by Mark Richardson, of the newly-formed label Forum 5 in Melbourne.

Kimbra cancelled university and moved to Australia to work on an album, Vows, which went platinum in Australia last year.

The album has been re-worked under a new contract with Warner Bros and will be released in the US and Europe next month.

To promote the album, Kimbra has been touring the US and Europe with Gotye since March, and has been invited to tour the US again from the end of May with Grammy-nominated band Foster the People.

Kimbra stays focused and doesn't get distracted by the spotlight, her dad says.

"A person like Kimbra doesn't come from nowhere. It comes from performing at a young age. Those sorts of experiences are what get you ready for singing on Saturday Night Live in front of 100 million people."

Dr Johnson said he and his wife were all too aware of the pitfalls of stardom but Kimbra was level-headed.

"We do realise that the music world has hazards, but Kimbra is so amazingly grounded."

The family will go to Melbourne next month to see Kimbra headline her own Australian tour.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1803" align="normal" enforce-sites="no" />

- Hamilton News

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