Kimbra: Unwrapping Layers

Kimbra’s decision to take her time recording Vows was probably the wisest call she’s ever made. While early singles like ‘Cameo Lover’ and ‘Settle Down’ got the buzz going way back in 2010, Kimbra wisely held back, opting for patience and refinement over the understandable urge to get herself out there as quickly as possible. You only get one shot at making a first impression, and in that sense, Vows’ quirky craftsmanship is an instant winner. Of course timing is also everything, and her sparkling, utterly witty debut probably wouldn’t have gotten as much attention if not for the momentum from her star-making turn in Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. The stars are aligned for the Kiwi crooner, and 2013’s undeniably set to be her year.

Congrats on your debut album! Could you tell us a little about Vows and your inspiration behind it?
Vows is a record I started when I moved from New Zealand to Melbourne at 17 and continued to make and record over three years, it tracks very pivotal years of my life and the themes of promises, attachment and eternity. Vows was inspired by artists from Stevie Wonder to The Dirty Projectors and Japanese artist, Cornelius. I was also very inspired by a lot of animation and Disney films while making this record, especially for its childhood nostalgia and the psychedelic nature behind a lot of the imagery.

Which tracks are your favourites from the album?
I enjoyed creating the track ‘Come Into My Head’ because it felt like the more aggressive moment on the record and very funk-influenced. I also had the honour of working with a favourite drummer of mine called Deantoni Parks from The Mars Volta and it’s also our favourite track to play live.

Your earlier stuff was more soul-influenced but you’ve recently added cool layering and loops to your arsenal. How did that aspect become such a signature element of your style?
I felt too limited by just playing guitar and singing, which was the way I started out in New Zealand. Around the age of 16 I borrowed a Boss 8-track from the high school music room and was fascinated by the different timbres my voice had when it was layered. I also became very excited by the idea of syncopation and playing with various layers that unfolded throughout the course of a song. It helped me to convey more of the arrangement I heard in my head and helped me to think of the voice as an actual instrument, free to manipulate and shape according to the mood of the song.

We first noticed you when ‘Settle Down’ came out in 2010, and you even had a couple of other great songs in the years prior. Did a part of you want to release your debut much earlier, or was this just the right time?
Yes, there were many times where it was frustrating waiting to finish Vows, I was really encouraged to take my time and refine the songs seeing as there is only one chance at a debut. However looking back now I am very glad I waited and didn’t rush that process. Songwriting requires you to be very connected and in touch with yourself and I needed to take that time to grow and develop personally and musically. Towards the end the challenge was actually more about letting go as you become so wrapped up in the work and it is hard to finally sign off after so long!

We came across this quote from managerial figurehead, Mark Richardson, about you recently via The Telegraph, “I told her to think like a composer, that everything that follows is a result of having a great song.” Was that something you took to heart?
Yes, and learning production skills was a very big step for me in embracing that mindset. I went from writing a lot of songs just on guitar to doing full arrangements on Protools and actually becoming deeply invested in every element of the song as it is all so connected and important in executing the message and emotion. My favourite artists are those who have been composers in every sense of the word and are very involved with each process in creating the song and its development.

How excited are you to be a part of Laneway 2013?
Very excited! I have never played this festival before, although I have been to Singapore when I was in my early teens so I look forward to returning as I enjoyed it very much the first time.

What can Southeast Asian fans expect from your set here next January?
We like to treat the live set as quite a different entity and endeavour to recreate the songs quite a lot. There is live looping and sampling, bass, drums, synthesizers and guitars, a lot of three part harmonies, and we like to embrace a theatricality and aggression to the shows so as to expand on the recorded versions of the songs.

Kimbra is part of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2013’s lineup, which is slated to happen on Saturday 26 January 2013 at The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Get updated at More on Kimbra at