Kimbra Photo by: Thom Kerr

Somebody you should know

There is more to Kimbra’s voice than what you heard on the Gotye song

By David Cotner 09/27/2012

New Zealand pop singer Kimbra possesses one of the most singular voices on the music scene today.  That’s because her bold-yet-fragile vocal stylings — working as a counterpoint in Belgian-Australian singer Gotye’s hit single “Somebody That I Used to Know” — have been on the radio and in the air for more than a year.  It’s a song that few seem to tire of.  To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the sadness of the general public.

Kimbra’s debut album, Vows, released a little more than a year ago and still slowly making its way around the world, was written and produced by François Tétaz, who for two decades was known for more experimental adventures in music, both as the man behind the mastering of the 50-CD Merzbow Merzbox box set and with the band Shinjuku Thief, worthwhile heralds of riveting new sonics through much of the ’90s and beyond.  This aesthetic sensibility, working in tandem with Kimbra’s voice, summons forth a quality that gives Vows a fractured, energetic feeling, something that has much in common with “Somebody That I Used to Know.” 

The music on Vows ranges from propulsive a cappella paeans to longing and security, all the way to kitchen-sink soundscapes that challenge and unnerve.  And now, at age 22, Kimbra stands poised to expose the world to a different side of her voice, one that exists breathlessly independent from “Somebody That I Used to Know.”  Although Vows presents a cornucopia of melodic finery, its underpinnings are rhythmically astute as well.  So what speaks to Kimbra more, rhythm or melody?  “Initially, rhythm is the first thing that sparks an idea for me.  I’ll hear a drumbeat or some kind of syncopation that’ll get me moving, and the melody will come off of that.  That’s usually the way it works,” she told VCReporter.

What was her experience working with François Tétaz? “The first thing I’d heard from him was his record with Gotye, the 2006 Drawing Blood record. I was a really big fan of that record. That’s when I became a real big fan of Gotye. I used to cover his songs.  But when I heard that record, I loved the production and I wanted to work with François Tétaz.  I also found out that he did the soundtrack for [the 2005 film] Wolf Creek, and that made me interested to work with him as well.  It was fantastic to work with him — the way he challenged me and pushed me and kind of asked me the difficult questions that hadn’t been asked before. You know, I’m 17 and I thought I knew about songwriting, how to express myself, but I learned a lot about communication from him, and how to dig deeper, to look at my songs as films. He’d put up [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s seminal mystical film] The Holy Mountain on the screen at the studio and respond to the images in that.  Now that I’ve gone on to produce more myself, I’ve taken on a lot of the skills that I’d learned from François in that period.”

If she were to sum up her entire musical essence in one word — what her deal is, what she stands for — what is that word?  She hesitates, rapt in rumination, and reveals, “I feel restricted with words. Often when you hit a wall, verbally, you can go in with music and create something that transcends all that.  One word I do feel works is honesty. It’s a big part of what I’m working on at the moment.  Keeping it truthful — I like to embody that.”

Kimbra will perform at the Ventura Theater on Sunday, Sept. 30, with The Stepkids.


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