Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Settle Down, won't you...

OK, it's less than fourteen days/two weeks/336 hours until this humble blog shambles to life onstage as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. So it's about damn time I let on about what to expect, since there's no logic or rhyme or reason to these things, I'll just start splurging - throwing a bunch of words and phrases at you and see if they'll stick. Hopefully you can consider this the 'piquing of interest' variety of preview as opposed to 'spoilers ahead.'

There are six shows:
Wed 29 Sep (Preview tix)
Thurs 30 Sep
Fri 1 Oct
Sat 2 Oct
Wed 6 Oct (2 for 1 tix)
Fri 8 Oct
@ The Glasshouse, 51 Gipps St, Collingwood

So go ahead and point your browser here for details and book your tix online. 

And while you're there, Ihighly recommend getting along to the following shows:

Booked a ticket? Good, we now return to our regular programming.

I've been sitting on this one for a while now, but since the buzz is (finally) starting to build for the wonderful soul-popster Kimbra, I thought I'd add my discerning voice to the rabble. Following is an interview I conducted waaaaaaay back in March. A lengthy chat that resulted in some music biography and press release material you'll see dotted about the interwebz, but since Kimbra's debut is on the cusp of public release, it still seems timely and relevant. But first, a primer:

Kimbra has just had her photo taken.

No, she’s not winding up a shoot, but the up-and-coming Melbourne-based songstress has just been captured on film by a stranger, and is now exchanging details with him so she can get a copy of the picture, “thanks, and have a good time while you’re here in Melbourne.” Not the usual introduction to an interview, but it will inevitably speak volumes about Kimbra’s personality, charming enough to relate to on a person-to-person level, and dazzling enough to warrant such impulsive paparazzi behaviour to begin with.
We meet in the bustling Degraves street, and Kimbra fits right in with her floral dress, gaudy pink socks, a trendy new bob-cut and her crimson, retro speed cycle; which she must stand guard over due to forgetting her bike lock. She parks it behind her as we sit to talk about her career, her music and her creativity over coffees
Initially striking is that, for a woman who is still a year shy of celebrating two decades of existence, she is wildly confident, assured and mature. In stark contrast to other budding artists in her field, she has a much stronger head on her shoulders than most girls of nineteen. Of course, she’s quick to remind that she’s been in the game a while now; plucked from her early years gigging at the tender age of fifteen from her native town of Hamilton , New Zealand by her management to her current residency in Melbourne. Rather than arriving in a hurried splash, Kimbra has been cultivating her profile, and her sound, for close to two years now, while maintaining her momentum with a spate of live shows. It’s no secret that the long-gestating debut has been a labour of love.

Al’s Music Rant: Obviously you’ve been working on your debut record, and its gone through a pretty lengthy gestation period. Has it been frustrating?

Kimbra: I guess I had no expectations of what making an album would be like, I had no idea how long it would take. There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into the songs, a lot more than expected. I kind of thought I’d come into the process with ten songs and just do it but I’ve learnt that you sort of have to treat an album like a film, that each scene sort of moves to the next. I'm really glad that I spent the time going that deep with the songs, because you’ve got to live with the album for a long time after it’s released. You wanna be happy with it, you know?

AMR: Particularly the first one, there’s always a lot more hype, a lot more pressure

K: Exactly, I look at what I brought to the table back two years ago with the album, and I look at what I'm writing now – its worlds apart. So it is really a blessing that I’ve had the opportunity to take time with it. Because a lot of people have deadlines and you end up rushing something which is not the best. And of course I'm nineteen so I can’t get too impatient (laughs)

AMR: You’ve been partnered with producer Francois Tetaz, how was it been working with him, developing your sound?

K: He kind of showed me a whole new way of looking at music really. We did a lot of string arrangements and brass on the album, which I never kind of envisioned when I first started out. The songs were written on guitar, but I took them to Frankie and together we turned them into real works of art, sonic experiences. In terms of songwriting, looking at how a story develops through a song, and how the music corresponds to a lyric – I never had that deep instinct like I do know. So I learnt a lot in that process. I feel like I’ve become a lot more mature as a songwriter through Frank. An awesome experience.

AMR: And talking of songwriting, you went to L.A. to write with As Tall As Lions?

K: Yeah I kind of went last year, at the start of the year, where I had some songs but I didn’t really have that moment that defined the album, those couple of songs that were really the stand out moments. So I said to my manager, ‘look, I kinda need to just get out of Melbourne for a bit and get some inspiration.’ And so Hollywood kind of ended being the place

AMR: Of course...

K: (laughs) Yeah, why not? I spent three weeks in Los Angeles with As Tall As Lions, helping out with their record, writing with them then we spent a week in New York, which was mind-blowing. Extremely inspiring as much as it was claustrophobic spending three weeks in West Hollywood, up and down the Boulevard and I actually wrote half the album over there. I didn’t actually think that would happen, I kind of thought I had the album and that I’d only need like one. Melbourne has great things, but the culture is still relatively familiar to me, whereas America is more ‘wow’ now I actually have some stuff I wanna say.

AMR: So it was an inspirational process?

K: Yeah, it’s funny a lot of people have qualms about forcing creativity. It’s like ‘no, just let yourself be inspired and just go with it’ and I’ve been like that , it’s my natural instinct to not force anything. So when I was in America, it was like no I'm actually going to force myself to write everyday to try and write songs, a new approach for me. It sounds quite sterile and mathematical to do it like that, but I found it quite good.

AMR: In terms of the writing, did you find there was particular themes or lyrical territory you were going back to?

K: It’s funny working with a producer as well who’s so analytical about lyrics you do start to realise common themes that start to come up, there was definitely a few. It seems I touch on the idea of being elevated a lot, sort of fantasies and surrealisms. Creating worlds and ideas about being high, or close to God, something like that. It’s hard to put them all into one thing, but Settle Down is a quirky song about wanting to settle down at such a young age which I guess is kind of ironic, because I'm not in that place at all. But I do like to push those boundaries lyrically, where I have an idea in my head of ‘what if, what would that be like’ then just exaggerate that idea and make it into a world of its own. But in America, yeah, I suppose there were a few common themes of being away from home, during this whole writing process, so there’s a bit of that, finding myself, by myself, in this new city. Love was a very common theme also. Two Way Street for example, I did write that on the Hollywood Boulevard when I was walking up and down and thinking about love.

AMR: I think that comes through now you mention it, the twinkling vibe to it. It’s kind of flashy, but without being superficial

K: That’s cool, so it’s about drawing on that imagery of the street and the boulevard, the idea of love being a two way street. Two people meeting together and having to both compromise to make something work. One thing Frank taught me as well is always associating imagery to an idea. When I used to write I used to always have a flowery idea of what I wanted to say, it wasn’t very tangible. There’s a few songs like that, where I’ve learned to take the idea and make it into something tangible, attach real images to it so people can really grasp it – if that makes sense.

AMR: You reportedly used a tampon packet for percussion in one track, is that true?

K: (giggles) yeah, we got pretty crazy on the recording of Settle Down and a few other songs. I guess Frank and I are both really drawn to organic sounds but being used in a way that’s kind of sampling, and modern and electronic but you’re using organic sounds to do it. We’re both really drawn to interesting percussion, so when I’d be like pulling out my asthma inhaler and taking a puff, we’d be like “sample that!” So we’d put it up on the mic and get this really awesome air shooting out of the tube. I just love listening to music on headphones that’s just sonically really exciting, you know, that you hear the drums and it’s like ‘that doesn’t sound like, what is that!? What is that sound, that’s not a snare or a hi-hat, that’s something else.” I think it just makes it more interesting.

AMR: More character?

K: Yeah, of course. And no one’s going to listen to the track and go ‘that’s a tampon packet’ but you know it might add a little timbre to it, that puts another thing to it. I love that stuff.
Of course, wacky recording anecdotes aside, the biggest training Kimbra has had as a musician is in the live arena with acoustic guitar, her trusty loop pedal and that voice. Settled somewhere between the smoky croon of soul and the acrobatic flair of indie rock, it’s been compared to such jazz legends as Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, as well as the likes of Jeff Buckley and Bjork. In the few batch of songs posted on her MySpace, there are moments when she recalls the soul revival styling of Amy Winehouse, in the next, the boisterous allure of bonkers French maverick Camille. The fact of the matter is that you could spend all day pinning the tail on the proverbial genre donkey regarding her expressive voice.

AMR: Now about your singing. Your vocal style has been likened to jazz greats like Nina 
Simone, Bessie Smith – how do you feel about these comparisons?

K: Hugely flattering for starters. I definitely grew up gravitating towards jazz, listening to people like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, stuff like that, so I guess it’s only natural that people would pick that out of my voice. And it’s hugely flattering I guess to be compared like that. But for me it’s just about taking what you like about those artists and finding something distinct. Primarily that’s my real goal, it’s great to be compared to these people but you want to find a way of finding something that’s completely you.

AMR: Kimbra sounds like Kimbra.

K: Right, exactly. But with hints of this and bits of that, that’s kind of been my goal over the last two years. To find a way of using your voice that’s unique and original. I suppose it’s a lifelong journey too, your voice ages as you get older as well, I'm sure mine’s going to change. It’s kind of exciting.

AMR: Away from the album and to the stage, you’ve now assembled a band and doing gigs – is that nurturing the show for the inevitable album tour?

K: It’s so fun, it’s gotten to the point where I just heard so much more in the arrangements and I just wanted to translate so much more to the audience that I just couldn’t do by myself. I don’t have enough hands to just pull out a drum and do it. It just got to the point where I was ‘I’ve done this’ I’d been gigging like that for about four years at that point since about fourteen, fifteen. So it was just time to get a band, and I was a bit weird about getting off the guitar. Actually putting down that security blanket and exposing yourself is quite an awkward feeling but it’s been great. I feel like I’ve been able to give so much more of myself and the band to the audience. It’s just letting down your walls I guess. The band sound fantastic, we’ve still got the vocal looping, it’s still an element that makes it different, but not to the point where it’s a novelty. I just want to make it a colour.

AMR: It feels very much like it’s yours, it’s part of your character – it doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all. Which kind of answers my next question, which is whether you’re concerned the focus is taken away from your voice, but you’re saying it’s more of a support, to expand the palette?

K: Well, I think it’s actually drawing more emphasis to the timbre of my voice and the songs because it acts as a real support now. Now that I don’t have to worry about holding the percussive element myself which I did on the guitar, or did on the loops, now I can actually use the full capacity of my voice because that’s what I'm focussing on. You can just go ‘sweet, these guys are going to hold it’ in terms of the rhythm and everything so I don’t have to be worrying about that and the response I’ve got already from people at the gigs is that they feel a lot more connected to the songs because there’s a lot more focus. There’s so just so much more going on, there’s keyboards, there’s samples, there’s bass, there’s drums.

AMR: It’s obviously exciting for you?

K: Yeah, it’s really exciting for me. I’ve kind of been getting to the point where, I love playing by myself, but things get a little bit lonely as well, you know what I mean. It’s just fun to have the energy of other people.

AMR: Or going backstage for encore to have a beer with no-one?

K: (laughs) exactly, when I went on tour with Bertie Blackman, they thought I was a band every time I got there. We’d get our rider and the one for Kimbra would be like a slab thinking I was a ten-piece funk band or something and I was just (dramatic sigh).

AMR: There’s obviously been a big resurgence in female artists in the last eighteen months. We’ve seen it in England in artists like Bat For Lashes, La Roux, Florence and the Machine, but also here at home too. Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann/New Buffalo, Lisa Mitchell and of course, Bertie Blackman. Do you feel like a part of that wave? Or do you feel like that wave has helped where you are as an artist at the moment?

K: Yeah I guess it’s a good time to be doing it. A good and a hard time to be doing it, because it means you’ve got to be really... it’s a really important time to bring something fresh. Because as much as there are lot of female artists coming up, you’ve got to have something original otherwise you’re just going to blend into the scene of the ‘female-singer-songwriter-resurgence.’ It’s always been a very strong idea of mine to try and bring something new to that idea. Especially in New Zealand, because there was a ‘female-singer-songwriter’ thing, we had like Bic Runga, and Brooke Fraser and they’re all great - but it was very easy to pick up a guitar and start singing, and be lumped into that whole that kind of funky, indie scene. And I'm stoked that women like Bat For Lashes and La Roux are coming through and they’re not just that genre of singer-songwriter, they’re actually quirky, and they’re pop and they’re electro. So I think it will help my record because people are getting into that but at the same time it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to push myself to work really hard so that it does have something to say against all that.

AMR: And the big question, when’s the album coming out?

K: Umm, I think we’re pretty close now to finishing it. We’ll soon be finished with most of the work – in terms of mixing and production stuff.

AMR: The mixing and final leg of the album was handled by (local hip hop artist) M Phazes, how was that coming from such a different background?

K: Very different, I decided I wanted to get another feel on the album, another person involved after working with Frank. This guy was totally worlds apart in terms of his work, which is primarily in hip hop and R&B, and there are roots of that in my music I guess, maybe the soul, R&B influence. But I think what is cool about M Phazes is he really mixes a lot with the bottom end. He’s all about aggressive, punchy drum tracks, which I'm very drawn to. The rhythmic aspect and the bass aspect. Just with these last few songs I had a few little things I wanted to finish up and he was the right person to come in and touch them up. Give them a bit more of a punch and aggressive sound. Bring another perspective to the album. It’s been cool to have two strong people on board.

AMR: Gives it more depth?

K: Yeah, right. I appreciate both their work, and together the collaboration has been quite unique. Just working with someone who’s been in the pop/indie thing I do, but actually from a whole other place. Which doesn’t mean that he makes me sound ‘hip hop’ but it means he adds this new flavour that I wouldn’t.

AMR: So now there’s the album launch and inevitable tour but have you thought beyond that? Maybe, album number two or just take it as it comes?

K: I think once you’ve spent so long on your album you’re already thinking about a second or third, because you just need something to take over your mind that’s not those songs. So of course I'm thinking about it and I think every artist has goals already, like ‘I wanna be over in the UK,’ there’s plans and goals but right now I'm just stoked to be in Melbourne which is such a cool place. Just thinking about making this record the best it can be, just focussing on one thing cause it’s so easy for me to let my mind go ‘awww, next album, aww.’ To make the moment the best it can be, you’ve got to be focussed. 

You can catch Kimbra supporting Little Red on their Midnight Remember Tour and keep your eyes and ears peeled for what will be her excellent debut album.
Meanwhile, check out some more video goodness including her guest spot with Miami Horror:

I Look To You from Miami Horror on Vimeo.

No comments:

Post a Comment