Kimbra named TimeOut's Entertainer of the Year

By Scott Kara

Quite a ride: Kimbra at this year's NZ Music Awards, where she won five gongs. Photo / Dean Purcell
Quite a ride: Kimbra at this year's NZ Music Awards, where she won five gongs. Photo / Dean Purcell

Kimbra, the Kiwi songbird who writes cracking good pop songs and wears freaky frocks, is TimeOut's entertainer of the year.

It's been quite a ride in the past 12 months for the 22-year-old Hamilton girl done good. She shot to stardom in the US on the back of the hit Somebody That I Used to Know with Australian singer Gotye, which has been nominated for a Grammy. Earlier this year her debut album Vows charted at No. 14 on the US charts - it sold more than 70,000 copies in Australia - and last month she won five gongs at the New Zealand Music Awards and best female artist at Australia's Arias.

Ahead of hitting the summer festival circuit, which includes playing the first night of Gisborne's Rhythm and Vines festival on December 29, TimeOut calls Kimbra in Melbourne to deliver the news about being named entertainer of the year - surely her most prestigious award yet.

"That's really cool. My mum told me last night, actually," she laughs.

But even after a successful year, she's still got her feet firmly on the ground.

"It's scary when you move from being a musician who loves making music into a business and an industry, which can be a very heavy world. But I've definitely learned that maintaining your vision and staying true to what you really believe musically and artistically takes away the fear," she says.

And yes, much of Kimbra's acclaim has come about because of Gotye's song, but with impressive sales of her album, some high-profile support slots with the likes of Foster the People, and her own headlining shows around the world, she is well and truly making a name for herself in her own right.

Besides all that, Kimbra is the sort of stylish, daring, oddball pop star - you should see her dance moves on stage - the world needs. And as well as wearing the best frocks in music and having a healthy passion for metal ("That stuff is such a big influence on the way we arrange the songs live"), she is also dead set on keeping her career momentum going.

"It's all about the work and not getting carried away with all the external stuff."

It sure has been a big year. What has been the highlight?

It's hard. So many. But there have been some amazing shows that have stood out over the last year. We headlined a couple of shows in New York at Webster Hall that both sold out before we had even started the tour. They were really electric. And we also had a fun moment where we were joined on stage by a guitarist who me and my band look up to called Benjamin Weinman from a mathcore metal band called the Dillinger Escape Plan. It was really exciting for us to have him on stage. But also just the people I've met ... the singer from Tears for Fears who is interested in working together, to members of the Mars Volta, and people like Daniel Johns from Silverchair. I'm meeting the people who inspired me to start playing music, and all of a sudden there is that mutual respect and you are on an even playing field with them, and they want to work with you. It's very humbling.

Aren't you getting just a little bit sick of Somebody That I Used To Know? It just keeps hanging around.

The thing is I don't hear it as much as everybody else [laughs]. I'm not out at clubs, or going to places where you would hear it, like the supermarket. Of course I do get bombarded with the song but for me it's a different type of reaction to it. And when we sang it on the road [she toured with Gotye through the US] we would still find an emotional place to sing it from. It was harder for him, but because I haven't had to sing it as many times, whenever I do I try to connect with the lyrics and channel it from a place of conviction.

Of course, Bret McKenzie is also up for a Grammy with his Muppet song. Do you think, if need be, you could fill in for Kermit on the night?

Oh, I love The Muppets. Who knows? That would be something.

Give us an example of how things have changed for you in the past year.

Um, people recognising you in the New World in Hamilton. And even in a cafe in Seattle it happens too. But to be honest, life is different in terms of the pace of it, but I'm still with the same people I started out with, I have the same manager, and I'm with the band that I used to go and watch play at Ward Lane in Hamilton. They played in this prog rock band called New Caledonia, I would go along and be the girl in the front and be absolutely in love with these guys. When they broke up I asked if they would join my band. They are my brothers. So it hasn't changed.

The thing everyone is dying to know about you is who makes your frocks?

I just pick things up from opshops and get my safety pins out. The band will tell you, in the back of the tour bus that's usually what I'm doing, playing around with dresses. I still have that as a hobby on the road, to go and find various frocks at opshops and then alter them, or I ask my friends, because I have some amazing friends who sew very well. And there are a couple of designers who I work with, Jamie Lee and Anna Langdon, and there are various people who I really think get the vision of the music, because that's very much what it's about.

When will the second album be released?

I have no idea at this point. I don't want to crowd the process with deadlines too much. I've already started but I'm going out to the countryside in January and I'm looking forward to chilling and letting the music come out. But then I will be going back to the States because I have a lot of collaborations lined up.

Isn't it about time you toured here?

Oh yeah, I want to tour [NZ]. I'm sure it will happen but I looked at the schedule and there's not really a free day until April. But I want to make it a priority to come back and play some proper shows and connect with people in proper venues. Fingers crossed, man, it's definitely something I want to do.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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