It's hard to talk about New Zealand-born pop sensation Kimbra without mentioning the Gotye collaboration that brought her worldwide fame — you know, the one that's still playing in every coffee house and gas station across the world. But Kimbra Lee Johnson is more than "Somebody That I Used To Know," and her solo album, Vows, mixes retro tunes with art-pop sensibilities and displays a bell-clear voice that more than stands on its own.
We caught up with Ms. Johnson in L.A. to talk about her thrift-loving style, where she gets her inspiration, and what she thinks of her multiplatinum hit these days. Along the way, Kimbra dropped some style tips, and we learned what New Zealand bands we've been missing out on.
Photographed by Mike Rosenthal
Kimbra's Beetlejuice cardigan from Lippy, a New Zealand label. Her scarf is from a thrift shop in Madrid. The dress from Salvation Army in Australia. Talk about an international wardrobe!
What musical artists or style icons inspired you growing up?
"I was inspired by the creativity of artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, Cornelius, and Bjork firstly for their music but also their theatricality with their visual approach as well. Style-wise, I like a lot of Japanese street fashion and get inspired by a lot of old Disney films. Nowadays, I get inspired by film directors like Tim Burton, photographer Tim Walker, and artists like Salvador Dali."
Red shoes by Australian label, Nude Footwear.
If you had to describe your personal style in five words or less, what would be it be?
"Bold, youthful, feminine, creative."
Are there any New Zealand-based bands we should know about?
"Opossum and Unknown Mortal Orchestra!"
Kimbra's pink jacket is vintage, and her black leggings are by Australian label, Claude and Me. They've got tulips and asparaguses on them!
Thrift store or haute couture?
"Thrift store always! Melbourne has fantastic op-shops like Lost and Found and Shag."
Kimbra's collar shirt is also vintage.
What's one cheap score you've found recently?
"An amazing leopard print nightie-type dress with a little fake-fur-lined collar THAT also doubles as a light summer jacket!"
Kimbra's collared top is by Alice McCall.
What's your reaction hearing your song with Gotye played absolutely everywhere for the past year or so? Do you still get a kick out of hearing it on the radio?
"I don't listen to the radio much to be honest and I've been on tour all year so there's not much time for TV etc, but I do still hear it a lot, in odd places, like falafel joints in Berlin or blasting out of a car in Istanbul when I played a show in Turkey! It's still pretty crazy because I remember us tracking the vocals in my humble little bedroom, it's funny to think how far it's reached across the world."
Kimbra's red scarf is from a second-hand shop in Madrid, and her vintage green floral dress is from Portland. The shoes are vintage as well, picked up from a trip to NYC.
Rings by Australian label YouTH.
Your style is so whimsical and fun. How do you decide what to wear when you're putting an outfit together?
"It's very dependent on my mood and definitely the weather — I can't handle being too hot or cold. I always wear scarves (it's a good way to maintain throat health – ha!), but it also can really make an outfit sometimes by adding a splash of color!"
What's your favorite thing about playing live? Alternately, what's the hardest part about touring so much?
"The best thing is the beauty of being able to connect with someone and create a spontaneous and transcendent moment for them. The hardest part of touring is conserving energy because the amount of output is very high when you're doing this every night. But I am glad there are challenges to overcome, I don't like things to become too comfortable or easy."
Kimbra's top is by Alice McCall, and her skirt is from a vintage shop in Vancouver. The black jacket second hand was a $5 steal from a garage sale in Vancouver!
What makes a great outfit to perform in? Is there anything you have to watch out for?
"I keep my eye always on fabrics. Not so much the shape or fit - because that can always be altered or changed (there are about a hundred safety pins in most of my performance outfits!). A great stage outfit for me, comes from an inspired compliment of patterns and colors – even if they clash at times! – and a strong sense of movement and creativity. I like people to feel transported by what they see on stage in conjunction with the music. Outfits can really add another dimension of depth and fantasy to a concert."
Vintage red shoes from Madrid.
What about when you're not performing?
"Day to day, I love matching vintage/second hand finds with a pair of shoes or a top from a designer, there are a lot of great Australian designers that I enjoy supporting."
Where did you get these sunglasses?
"Those sunglasses were $5 from a little place in Chinatown in LA! My friend picked them up for me as a gift. Most of my clothes are all secondhand."
What are you up to in 2013? Do you have follow up for Vows? More touring?
"We are playing summer festivals here in Australia and New Zealand but once the new year hits, I will be getting into writing new material. I am excited to get into new music, I have a lot of sketches from this year on tour and some exciting people on the cards to work with."