Fall for Kimbra

BY MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 10/18/2012

But as the Gotye-buoyed pop star rises, don't expect her to commit.

Kimbra
Photo By Thom Kerr

Considering the title of her debut album, "Vows," taken from the lead single "Settle Down," you might think New Zealand pop singer Kimbra is anxious to plant some roots. But as the 22-year-old star-in-the-making's career takes off -- thanks largely to her appearance on Gotye's global chart-burner "Somebody That I Used to Know" -- "settling down" doesn't appear imminent. And that's fine with her.

Written when she was 16, using a borrowed eight-track from her high school music room, the loopy, Tune-Yards-evoking "Settle Down" started as a joke, Kimbra admits, but has taken on new meaning as she's grown up.

"So much of ["Vows"] seemed to reflect this subconscious thought process you're always having about the idea of commitment and making promises to people that are supposed to be eternal," the artful crooner said.

While a white picket fence might be a ways off, the genre-melding songbird, whose influences range from Billie Holiday to math-metal act Meshuggah, had no trouble committing to music at a young age. Kimbra crafted her first songs around age 9, and her teenage years were filled with jazz choir and wee-hour bedroom writing sessions. At 17 she went pro with her tune-tinkering, signed with a manager and moved to Melbourne, Australia, where she began the 3 1/2-year recording process for the jazz-infused "Vows."

"It was frustrating, to be honest, having that much time and being so driven to put out a record, but being constantly told to wait," she said. "But looking back, I am glad that I waited and that I didn't rush to put the songs out while they were in a form that I didn't think was necessarily the best they could be."

The prolonged refinement period, aided and hindered by a revolving door of producers, helped the Kiwi starlet sculpt an album that's adventurous but never aimless. On the breezy "Cameo Lover," Kimbra showcases her purebred pop chops amid swelling horns and pouncing pianos, while the intimate "Old Flame" -- an undeniable highlight -- favors her distilled jazz vocals and rhythmic smarts. A bluesy Nina Simone cover (an artist Kimbra has been compared to) nicely breaks up the R&B/burlesque sass of "Good Intent" and "Come Into My Head."

While recording, her first producer, Francois Tetaz (who also produced Gotye), would challenge the pop prodigy to articulate her goals for each song -- which wasn't always easy for a young woman fresh out of school, not fluent in studio-speak. But after boning up on production techniques, Kimbra was able to clearly convey her ideas to her veteran producers.

"That was a big lesson for me, going from this kind of naive girl and then actually being able to walk into the studio and have a very strong idea of how I envision the track," she said.

After opening dates for Gotye and Foster the People, Kimbra's current trek is her first headlining run in North America -- a nice career step, but one that hasn't allowed much time to flesh out new material. "I'm just waiting for the moment when I get to sit down and have some stability again, have a home again and actually sit up in my studio and start refining these ideas," she said.

Maybe she'll at least settle down long enough to record a follow-up.