When it comes to song intros, there are few in the history of pop music that are as distinguished as the classic “boom, bo-boom CHA” (excuse my sloppy onomatopoeia) of The Ronette’s Be My Baby. Though the iconic beat has been imitated with reverence a countless number of times since it hit airwaves in 1963, it seems as though it has found a newfound prevalence throughout the current crop of pop enthusiasts. In fact, you couldn’t swing a virtual cat around Hype Machine without collecting a swag of indie-pop tunes paying their respective tributes. Joining the growing legion is rising kiwi-raised, Melbourne-based songstress Kimbra with her soulful new single Cameo Lover. As Kimbra explains, her appropriation of the beat makes a little more sense than most.
“Yeah it’s definitely a drum beat that’s been used more than a few times,” she states. “I guess (the Be My Baby) reference is conscious and unconscious. It’s a beat that kind of represents a strong thudding of the heart, that really cool part of the song it’s all about this idea of opening up your heart. I guess it wasn’t really conscious at the time, it just felt right at the time when I was programming the song to bring in that rhythm; it just had this really great momentum about it. I’m happy for people to make comparisons to other songs, it’s just a reallygreat beat,” she laughs.
Cameo Lover follows the breakthrough hit Settle Down as a tasty sample from the upcoming debut album VOWS, a record that has been generating feverish anticipation for more than a few months. “I still don’t have a definite date myself, but I know it’ll be in the next few months,” Kimbra divulges.
“I’m doing the finishing touches and tweaks myself, and then we’re just negotiating the release details. It really is very close – I’m just as excited as everyone else to get it out there. These things take time, but I’m going to be proud of the work I present at the end of it, so that’s the important thing. I just want to make sure it’s right, you know?” she offers.
The finished product looks likely to encapsulate a confluence of musical reference, emboldened by a somewhat surprising choice of hip-hop maestro M-Phazes as producer. “I definitely spent a good part of my life listening to all that Motown and soul, so it definitely feels like a natural genre to sing in.
“There’s definitely that strong reference to that era,” she adds, “but with M-Phazes working on parts of the songs as well – like in some of the verses there are these 808 drum beats. It kind of brings these two worlds to the song; like these hip-hop parts are kind of playful, with these theatrical pop moments. But then in the chorus it sort of goes into this more Motown feel. So I’m hoping it’s not just one genre, but this kind of collision of sounds that we explore through the song,” she muses.
Within the realm of indie-pop (particular in tall-poppy-prone Australia), there seems to be an expectation for female singers to fit into the mould of a quaint, soft-spoken folk-singer. It’s a trend that seems to be undergoing a slow but steady depredation, thanks in part to singers of Kimbra and her ilk. “It’s such an interesting label, isn’t it?” she raises in reference to the term ‘indie’. “I’d like to think I’m doing something that’s left-of-centre, and my core values when it comes to writing music push me to do something different and push boundaries.
“The term ‘indie’ perhaps means artists that are a little away from the mainstream, trying to something that’s a little quirkier, a little more underground and away from the most formulaic version of pop. But at the end of the day I still love listening to pop music, and pop can be really anything. Like Michael Jackson and Prince are some of the most progressive artists to ever exist, but it’s still ‘pop’. Artists like Janelle Monáe are writing pop songs, but in a way that defies formula,” Kimbra states.
In what’s becoming a signature flourish to Kimbra’s live performance, a usually funked-up cover is thrown into the setlist, with the same reworking rarely being played in the same town twice. “Yeah we like to have a few under our belt, we’ve done the Prince one (I Wanna Be Your Lover) a fair bit; we used to do a Dirty Projectors cover while we were on the Little Red tour. And we’re actually going to be debuting a new cover for The Corner Hotel show,” she laughs.
“It’s just a case of keeping it fresh for us and keeping it fresh for whoever’s coming to our shows. Like you don’t want to be coming along and seeing the same set every show, so it’s fun for us to be giving something new each time.”
At the risk of making a corny reference to one of her hits, it looks like Kimbra has in fact settled down in her new home, “I’ve been based in Melbourne for nearly three years now; time really goes fast,” she quips. “I feel pretty at home here now, I’ve had the time to make a good number of friends and feel quite settled.
“New Zealand will always be the place I grew up in, but I’m feeling really happy in Melbourne at the moment, it’s great,” she beams. “It’s just a bigger place – Melbourne has four million people, where the whole country of New Zealand is four million people, so there’s a whole lot more music and art just crammed into the city.
“You can be around like-minds all the time, which is really great when you’re coming from a small town.”
KIMBRA plays a huge show at The Corner Hotel – along with Yeo and North East Party House – this Thursday April 15. Tickets from The Corner box office, 9427 9198 and cornerhotel.com. This epic evening is all in order to launch KIMBRA’s brilliant new single Cameo Lover – make sure you buy it, download it, hassles radio peeps to play it for you, whatever. It’s awesome.