When Gotye’s all-conquering “Somebody That I Used To Know” climbed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 last week, his quirky duet-partner Kimbra became the first New Zealander since 1977 to achieve the feat. (The last Kiwi to top the chart was Chris Thompson, who voiced Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s “Blinded By The Light”). The bitter breakup anthem has already catapulted to #1 in 10 countries, sold 4.5 million copies worldwide and established the Popping Up-featured diva as one of the hottest pop properties on the planet.
Need further proof that Kimbra is on a roll? In addition to making chart history with her Australian neighbor, the 21-year-old has joined forces with Mark Foster and A-Trak for the latest Converse commercial, beguiled viewers with a memorable Saturday Night Live appearance and enchanted festival-goers at SXSW. We caught up with the recent Troubadour performer to chat about that monster hit, her musical influences and her US debut album Vows, out May 22, which packs a one-two punch of producer talent with Greg Kurstin (Foster The People, The Flaming Lips) and Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Fiona Apple).
Tell us how you got started in music. What was your big break?
I’d always loved music throughout high school and naturally gravitated towards writing songs as a form of self expression! However, it wasn’t until I was offered a contract at 17 with a management company in Melbourne that I actually started work on my debut album.
Why the move from New Zealand to Australia?
It’s just where my management happened to be based, and Australia also meant a bigger population and just more opportunities being slightly closer to the rest of the world. I think, ultimately, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone somehow to write the album, and this seemed like a good opportunity.
Your collaboration with Gotye is massive in the States. How did it come about?
I met Wally through a producer, who worked on my album, called Francois Tetaz (he also worked on Wally’s record) so we were acquaintances. But it wasn’t until he called and asked me to sing on the track that we were able to really connect and become good friends. I’ve learned so much from, Wally and it’s been such a great experience working with him.
Did you think it was going to be such a huge record when you recorded it?
Neither of us expected it. We recorded my vocals for that song in my bedroom, and although I knew the song would really resonate with people (as so much of his music does), I don’t think either of us could have predicted its success.
Why do you think people are connecting with it so strongly?
I think there’s a fragility to the song that is very honest. It’s also an emotion everyone can relate to. It gives a really poignant insight into what it’s like to go from being very close with someone to feeling like a stranger. I think everyone has been there.
Your debut album was hugely successful in Australia. What can we expect from its US release?
It’s an eclectic mix of songs and explores the themes surrounding the making of promises and the breaking of them. I wanted to experiment on this album and try to delve into as many different musical impulses and influences that felt right in conveying the appropriate emotion. There’s a cover by Nina Simone on there. Tt has some darker moments, but ultimately I think it’s an uplifting record … from the soul and for the soul.
Who were you biggest influences for the album?
They ranged from Prince to Rufus Wainwright … The Dirty Projectors to The Bird and The Bee and D’Angelo! I tried to listen to as much music as possible when writing this record — the challenge was to bring these influences together in a way that felt distinct and truthful. I also watched a lot of Disney films while making this album and drew influence from old films.
“Settle Down” got a lot of blog love in the states. That video is great. What was the response like?
The response has been great! I think what makes the video for “Settle Down” quite unsettling is also what makes it attractive to people. It seems to provoke thought and challenges people’s perceptions in some way, which I think is great. I love when visuals can partner with music to create something memorable, and I’m glad we were able to achieve that. I have continued to work with the same director, Guy Franklin, for all three of my videos.