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Kimbra steps up
Kimbra. Picture: Supplied.

Timing is everything, especially in pop music. Kiwi songstress Kimbra, in addition to stunning good looks and a vibrant, sultry voice, is blessed with perfect timing.

When the singer, born Kimbra Johnson in Hamilton, New Zealand, lobbed in Austin, Texas, for the supersized music conference South by Southwest, the incredibly successful Gotye duet, Somebody That I Used to Know, was climbing the US charts en route to No. 1.

For those who have been living under a rock, Kimbra sings the final verse on the hit, which has garnered plenty of attention for the hardworking 22-year-old musician, who is savvy enough not to let any opportunity go to waste.

When Gotye was invited to make his US television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in February, Kimbra made a mad dash from her adopted home of Melbourne, where she was touring with the Big Day Out, to Los Angeles to sing her four lines. Immediately after the performance, she flew to Adelaide, literally arriving there an hour before her BDO set.

She has continued to perform with Gotye, supporting his recently completed US tour and singing Somebody That I Used to Know on iconic comedy series Saturday Night Live this month.

Kimbra, who launches her debut album, Vows, in the US next month, describes those TV appearances as "scary".

"If I had to go up and do a 30-minute set with my band, that would be less daunting than doing those four lines with Gotye," she said during an interview at a downtown Austin hotel last month. "There's so much that rides on those four lines. I feel a responsibility to make it special."

The success of Somebody That I Used to Know has led to some serious buzz for Kimbra. There was a great response at her SXSW showcases, which included celebrity blogger Perez Hilton's One Night in Austin event. MTV, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times were among the media lining up to speak to the young antipodean star, who admits to burning the candle at both ends.

Kimbra and her bandmates were out until 4.30am the day of our interview. They got stranded too far away from her hotel and resorted to sending an SOS via Twitter to get a lift home.

"We bumped into a guy who is a really big fan of the band and he was like 'I'll take you home' and I was like 'You don't seem too creepy'," she laughed.

South by Southwest was merely one stepping stone on Kimbra's attempt to crack the US. Her Australian tour, which mixes headlining shows with regional festival Groovin' the Moo, will lead into more Stateside concerts in support of LA indie pop maestros Foster the People.

That band's leader, Mark Foster, saw Kimbra at the BDO and invited her to join them for their arena tour. The pair have also teamed up, along with DJ A-Trak, on the single, Warrior, a collaboration funded by sneaker company Converse.

Kimbra said she and Foster clicked and he could pop up on her next album. "I think we'll work together again. It's great just to feel like I've made that connection with him."

The New Zealander has made connections with plenty of artists, also working with the likes of Miami Horror, John Legend and pop producer Greg Kurstin, whom she said might be another source of inspiration for the follow-up to Vows.

"Everything (Kurstin) touches is pretty amazing," she said. "He even did this track for Kylie Minogue called Wow which I think is really great."

The other ongoing collaboration is with white-hot Perth fashion designer Jaime Lee Major, who created the outfits Kimbra wore at the ARIA Awards last November, when she collected the best female artist award.

The singer, who started out fashioning stage costumes out of $20 op-shop dresses, said she loved Major's bejewelled dresses, some of which are worth more than $6000.

"She's a very progressive designer and all about creating an experience for people," Kimbra said. "If you go to a show, if you get a visual experience from the band, you take away so much more.

"And it keeps it fun as well. When I'm doing a show every night, it's just a bit of fun for me to be, like 'What am I going to wear tonight?'"

Kimbra said she felt "a real sense of gratitude" that her music career was finally taking off.

Like Gotye, she is a perfectionist who spent more than three years recording Vows, a collection of baroque pop with jazz, Motown and R&B flourishes highlighted by the singles, Cameo Lover, Settle Down and Good Intent.

"There were a couple of years there where nothing was really happening," she said. "I was quite frustrated because I was sitting in my room and I wanted to get out there and do it. But my manager was like 'No, you're not ready yet. You've got to develop', and it just frustrated me.

"Now, it doesn't feel like it's going too fast or I can't keep up because I've done that groundwork and I've set that foundation. It's fast but it's well-paced and it feels like it's the right time for it to be happening." <div class="endnote">

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