Pop diva Kimbra is usually backed by a full band during her dynamic live shows, but not out of necessity. She reveals her true abilities as an artist when she steps up to an iPad and an arsenal of loop pedals and spontaneously records her own vocal loops—including beat-boxed rhythm and a variety of harmonies—then combines the layered loops with her jazzy, often R&B-flavored melodies to become a one-woman band.
Although most American listeners recognize Kimbra from her fiery performance as Gotye’s body-painted counterpart in the music video for “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the stylish singer is currently skyrocketing to international fame through her own creativity and impossibly catchy songs.
New Zealand native Kimbra—full name Kimbra Johnson—began playing shows as a teenager. But it wasn’t until she borrowed an eight-track recorder from her high school music department—which allowed her to play with creating vocal layers, including the beginnings of “Settle Down”—that her songwriting really began to develop. After she was discovered by Mark Richardson of OutPost management at the age of 17, Kimbra moved to Australia to pursue her musical career.
Kimbra’s self-produced debut album, Vows—which she spent three and a half years creating, released in 2011—showcases a powerful, unique voice. Simultaneously playful and mature, bubbly and smoky, she effortlessly bounces from low, smoldering croons to effervescent squeals. And, as evident in the album’s title, Vows is a collection of songs that explores love, life and the promises people make to each other.
“I didn’t exactly plan for the record to be called [Vows], but then I went back and listened through to all the songs and read the lyrics, I realized that this idea of making promises was prevalent throughout the record,” Kimbra says. “It wasn’t always just romantic, it was sort of sometimes to myself—what would I vow to myself; what’s important to me? What would I vow spiritually … and to other people—friends. I think what we vow to do, what we promise to do, says a lot about who we are.”
On “Settle Down,” the promise of wedded bliss and a family is explored—“I wanna raise a child/ won’t you raise a child with me?” Kimbra sings—with the melody floating over her signature vocal loops and syncopated hand claps. On “Cameo Lover,” she implores the subject of the song to “open up your heart.” The song is a shining example of the way Kimbra’s voice can easily transform from bright and animated to sophisticated and sultry. One of the highlights of Vows is the brass-tinged “Good Intent,” an eerie number that highlights the smoky lower half of Kimbra’s vocal range.
“It’s integral to who I am to express myself,” Kimbra says. “I think music has the ability to give people a sense of escape and transcendence—bring a bit of magic into their lives. When I go see a piece of incredible art or I go to see an amazing rock band play live, I just feel this sense of incredible energy—like there’s something higher going on in the world. It’s just that beautiful feeling of being transported.”
And from those early roots as a teenager singing into a borrowed eight-track recorder, Kimbra has joined the ranks of other talented, soulful songstresses. She, however, differs in that she is one of the few who uses looping in her live show. She is backed by a band, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t give it her all.
“I feel like there’s a resurgence of female artists … I feel like we have ability to be just as kind of bold and fierce in the way that we approach music as men do. And that’s the approach I take, at least, when I play live—don’t hold anything back.”
w/ The Stepkids
The Depot, 400 W. South Temple
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m.
$17.50 in advance/$20 day of show
Thu., Nov. 20, 6 p.m. / $18