Navigation for The Music Mix


She was 20 when I first met her, petit and animated with gorgeous bright eyes floating above a knockout smile. She came in to select tunes for a Music 101 mixtape. Nina Simone, Rufus Wainwright and Prince all made appearances alongside an emerging artist from Kansas named Janelle Monáe. I’d never heard of Monáe and I listened intently as this articulate and uniquely knowledgeable Hamiltonian unfurled a potted biography of this rising R n B star.

Almost four years later Kimbra’s disappointed her tour with Monáe has been cancelled, but it’s a measure of her talent and ambition that she met and collaborated with one of her musical heroes living on the other side of the world. “I initially wasn’t all that open to collaborations” says Kimbra as she readies herself to perform a new track from her second album The Golden Echo in Radio New Zealand’s Auckland studios. “When I first moved to Australia with François Tétaz I was nervous about the idea of writing with other people, it wasn’t a natural place for me necessarily, but after the time touring and the success of the Gotye song a lot of opportunities opened up for me and I thought why not really give this a try and just work with different people. Friendships sparked out of that, like Daniel Johns (Silverchair) and so many other people that I now see as being friends for life and probably collaborators for life, because they push you to think differently. The interesting thing about Daniel is that it’s like he’s making music for the first time. You’d think being in the industry that long you’d be kinda jaded, like here we go a again, but it’s the same with Van Dyke Parks, it’s like you’re walking in with a five year old and they’re like wooo! We’re sitting in the sandpit and we’re just going to create something, it’s really special! So I almost get more of this beautiful naive energy I get out of them, which I love.”

That beautiful naive energy was pouring out of Kimbra as she chose the tunes for that mixtape back in 2010 and she was clearly bubbling when she swept the boards at the New Zealand Music Awards a couple of years later, but now I sense she’s distracted with other thoughts. I can’t put my finger on it, and she’s such a pro you’d hardly notice, perhaps it’s all those miles she’s travelled in the last four years. It could just be a long-haul flight from her current home town of L.A. and a demanding  48 hour press schedule that started not long after she touched down. She couldn’t even fit in a moment to catch up with her folks during the hectic visit. The fact is we were lucky to have her all to ourselves for an hour alone in the studio four years ago.
Kimbra pic crop

Nick and Kimbra with engineer Andre Upston in the background. Photo: Tony Nyberg

During this session for the current release she’s got four cameras on her, a newspaper journo following her for the day, management, record company rep, a stage tech, our engineer, her two band members as well as myself. We all need various things from Kimbra and she juggles the situation with aplomb. It must get lonely in the middle of all that carry on.

The Golden Echo is out in the US a week after its release in New Zealand and she’d blooding a couple of new band members on this upcoming American tour. There’s bass player Frank Abraham, who has the challenging task of getting his fingers around some bombastically difficult bass lines that made it onto the new record courtesy of Thundercat, the bass player who introduced Kimbra to Taylor Graves, whose keyboard parts pepper the album. Graves is also a handy backing vocalist and he mentions a distinctive sound that he hears in music coming from these parts. “Soul” he says languidly, from behind a pair of dark glasses that perfectly reflect the black and white keys of his two synths. Graves was also impressed by Kimbra’s recent live collaboration with Electric Wire Hustle which will hopefully surface later in the year. Graves and Kimbra hit it off musically while recording The Golden Echo where some the finest session musicians in the world jostle for space in the mix, alongside her long-time band-mate and collaborator Stevie McQuinn Jnr, who also joins us for the session.