Gin Wigmore was always going to be trouble. Born on the sixth day of the sixth month, in 1986, the singer was destined to be a hellraiser. In fact, she fancies herself as a bit of a pirate, with a penchant for skulls and crossbones.

At her birthday drinks at an exclusive Santa Monica bar in Los Angeles this year, the 23-year-old ended up in a fist fight with a man twice her size - a proper brawl with blood drawn, clothes torn and cupcakes thrown.

It started with the man, "this massive, big jock," flicking water at Wigmore and her girlfriends. It ended with Wigmore jumping over a chair and cracking him in the head, before he got her on the ground and started beating her.

Security stepped in, the man was ejected and Wigmore and her friends ended up drinking free Champagne at the bar for the rest of the night. Such is her ability to swing a situation her way.

She might be trouble but she is wickedly good fun. Like the playful rock pop she creates, Wigmore is irresistible. And irrepressible.

How else does a cheeky blonde from Auckland's North Shore end up recording her debut album with The Cardinals (of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals fame) at the iconic Capitol Studios in LA, signed to Motown Records?

Actually, the real answer lies in Wigmore's music. Playful, poignant and doused with equal lashings of soul and grunt, Holy Smoke is a record to be proud of. And one that the Cardinals and producer Mike Elizondo were happy to be a part of.

"What made it happen really is that they just liked the music," says Wigmore, sitting outside an Auckland cafe on a fleeting trip home. "These days in music, you can pay top dollar and anyone will do anything. But if you don't have that kind of cash it will come down to 'do you like this music?' and it's more of a passion project.

"I'm just really lucky that they see it is a passion rather than me being able to pay them a million bucks."

It also helped that Wigmore's A&R man in Australia lived in the same apartment block as one of The Cardinals, pedal steel player Jon Graboff.

"They kind of became mates, I guess, taking out the rubbish each Tuesday night. When Ryan Adams came out with the Cardinals for their recent show in Sydney, he kind of skulked around and asked them."

She also owes Mandy Moore a drink for taking Adams off the market and away from the music industry. The songwriter announced his retirement in January saying he no longer wanted to tour and be away from the people he loved, leaving the Cardinals at a loose end.

But ultimately, her success - what many are predicting to be a juggernaut ride to music superstardom - comes down to Wigmore and the fact she knows who she is, she knows what music she wants to play, and no one is going to tell her what to do.

She may only be 23 but Wigmore has done a lot of living. She has lost a parent, explored South America on her own (after ditching the exchange programme she was on because it was too boring) and run amok on Australia's Gold Coast, being a "trash bag".

She got her first taste of fame at 17, when she won the prestigious International Songwriting Competition with a track penned for her father's funeral. Part of the prize package was a trip to America, where she also got her first taste of the music industry - in all its venality.

It was enough to send her packing, though, fortunately didn't turn her off music for good.

"I was 18 when I went there last time, I didn't know myself and I didn't even know if I wanted to do music. So you fall into the hands of people that will manipulate you into shit. I was just like, '[expletive], this is gross. This is an ugly side of music.'

"But it's because I wasn't in the right headspace. It's like anything, if you go into something and know exactly who you are, you know what you want and have a vision, you're going to attract people that just want to make that work for you."

People like Elizondo, the man who co-wrote Eminem's smash hit The Real Slim Shady and was nominated for Producer of the Year at last year's Grammy Awards, alongside Mark Ronson, Timbaland and Joe Chiccarelli.

"When I met Mike in LA he was just unreal. We just clicked. We clicked on a real creative level, which is pretty hard to find. Someone who shares your mind, your subconscious. The fact he gets it and I get his tangents. I just said that's the man, that's the guy."

Together, the pair penned several songs and Elizondo helped rework older tracks that weren't quite working. The record's first single Oh My, which hit the top 10 within two weeks of release here, was written four years ago but only took its current shape after Elizondo went to work on it.

"He gave a lot of help in making that really punchy. And I think The Cardinals obviously did a lot of work in making that full and driving, and having that pace behind it."

But ultimately, the vision is Wigmore's. This is very much her record.

"This is how I want my songs to sound because I've got to live with that till the day I die."

That means a gruntier sound than that previewed on last year's EP, which had a stronger folk pop flavour. "I didn't want it to sound like the EP, not that I don't like the EP, I love the EP. But I think it's always better to establish yourself as quite a grunty artist if that's where your heart is. I think my heart really lies in that...

"Realistically, at this point in my life, this music and this image and everything that we're working on is really Gin. It's just me.

"Whoever's going to like my music will probably like me as me. Me is getting into a bar fight on my birthday."

LOWDOWN
Who: Gin, aka Virgina Wigmore
Born: June 6, 1986 in Auckland, New Zealand
What: Her debut album Holy Smoke is released October 19
Playing: Auckland's Powerstation backed by the Cardinals on November 28
Trivia: Gin's sister Lucy Wigmore (of Shortland Street fame) paid her entrance fee to the International Songwriting Competition, which Wigmore won in 2004. She still hasn't paid her back.