THE KIWI TAKING THE STATES BY STORM RM
She’s not your archetypal Bond girl, but playing foil to Daniel Craig is something Gin Wigmore took in her stride when the movie Skyfall came out two years ago. The Kiwi singer didn’t have much acting to do. She wasn’t even in the film, but she was in an advertisement for it on television, a crosspromotion for the movie and Heineken beer. As Craig ponders potential assassins on a moving train on screen, Wigmore can be seen in the background performing her song Man Like That.
It’s just one publishing success among many in the past few years where Wigmore’s music has been the soundtrack to an ad. Johnnie Walker whisky, Nationwide Insurance and Alfa Romeo are just some of the brands that have incorporated her music into their campaigns. Just what it is that makes her strident pop such a marketing winner she’s not quite sure.
“Probably my voice is different,” she says in her throaty rasp, “which pricks your ear up when you’re watching an ad. And then because I’m very song-focused and I like a good chorus, I love all that stuff. It’s not completely left field, but it’s catchy.”
There’s no disputing Wigmore’s voice is distinctive: a menacing soul-pop wail that sits somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin. Flirting on the outskirts of her songs are also elements of country, jazz and blues. She likes the fact her style is hard to pin down.
“I don’t settle on one particular style genre,” she says. “I don’t want to be bored.”
The 29-year-old from Auckland hasn’t allowed herself much time for boredom. Since winning the International Songwriting Competition at 18 with Hallelujah, a song about her father, who died of cancer, Wigmore has plotted a steady but constantly evolving career.
Since moving to Australia eight years ago the singer has released two critically acclaimed albums: Holy Smoke (2009), which she recorded in the US with Ryan Adams’s band the Cardinals; and Gravel & Wine (2011), produced by American singer Butch Walker. Both albums boast overtly poppy singles, including Oh My and Hey Ho on the former and Black Sheep and Man Like That on the latter. She also had a No 1 in New Zealand in 2009 with Auckland hip-hop outfit Smashproof, lending her vocals to the song Brother.
Much has changed in Wigmore’s life and career in the past few years. Now based in Los Angeles after a long stint in Sydney, the singer has spent most of her time touring and record-
or ing in the US since those albums were released. Now she’s about to release a new one, Blood to Bone, which was conceived and recorded in her adopted homeland. She also got married last year to Jason Butler, singer in American posthardcore rock band Letlive.
“He’s in a completely different realm of music,” she says, “but it’s surprising how much it crosses over.”
Wigmore, who until meeting Butler had been in a relationship with Australian drummer Andy Cook, met her future husband when she travelled across the US as a performer on the Vans Warped tour, an annual event that features predominantly punk and hardcore acts.
“I was such a fish out of water on that tour,” she says, “because there was all of these established punk bands and then little old me with my spaghetti western-dressed band and Gretsch guitars.”
However alien she might have felt, Wigmore warmed to the energy of the music around her and to Letlive in particular. “I didn’t realise how disciplined that music was,” she says, “and how political in the lyrics. It’s intelligent music. I didn’t understand it initially I guess because I wasn’t part of it.”
Aside from meeting Butler, being out of her comfort zone also had musical benefits. The tour, she says, “gave me confidence to try a whole bunch of things with my voice. That’s where the courage came from. That’s where I got the falsetto from.”
This is a reference to pushing her voice into new territory on several songs on Blood to Bone, including This Old Heart and In My Way. While her previous album combined pop hooks with a blues influence, garnered from a trip around the southern states of the US, soaking herself in the roots of that music, there’s an electronic edge to the new one, most apparent on the first single, New Rush. The punchy chorus of “I have this feeling that I can’t go back” reflects also the singer’s desire to keep exploring new styles.
New Rush was co-written and recorded with producer Charlie Andrew in London, but for the bulk of the album Wigmore worked with Stuart Crichton, whose credits include Kylie Minogue and the Pet Shop Boys. She co-wrote and coproduced with him, despite initially having reservations about whether she would have much in common with someone whose resume included a wealth of mainstream pop acts.
“I saw his catalogue and I judged him on that,” she says. “The sort of work he was doing I didn’t see myself aligning with; that style of music. It was an interesting point in both our lives. We were both bored. He wasn’t happy with what he was doing. It was kindred spirit time.”
She says the album feels like “a huge jump for me because I’ve been so involved. Before I would write the songs and then hand everything over to a producer. It’s a massive jump for me because the buck stops with me this time.”
Crichton, as a songwriter, is part of the same small New Zealand publishing stable, Native Tongue, that has served Wigmore so well in recent years by getting her music into advertising. That revenue stream has allowed her freedom to spend time writing rather than always being on the road.
“That has given me a year and a half to work on writing the songs for this record,” she says, “which is different to not being able to pay your rent.”
With her star rising in the US and Europe, particularly in Germany, it seems unlikely Wigmore will have money concerns in the near future, but she’s not content to rest on her laurels.
“The plan is just getting my music on as many platforms and as many stages as I can to present it to the world.”
She’ll be here to do that on a short tour next month. Home, for the foreseeable future, though, will be in the US.
“It’s the peak out there,” she says. “It’s as big as you can go. Even if you chip away at the lower levels in the States there are still a lot of people to play to. It’s cool to be opened up to that. I’m thriving a lot in the States and being around Americans.” She’s taking nothing for granted, however. “I’m a very different person now to when I was 18 and knocking on record company doors,” she says, “but the idea of why I got into music is still the same.
“I have the same fire.”
Blood to Bone is released through Universal Music Australia on June 26.
will tour Australia next