Once you’ve heard Gin sing, you won’t forget the name.
For the uninitiated, here are the basics on the sublimely talented Gin Wigmore.
Gin is 23, a Kiwi, a gifted songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and she sings like you’ve never heard anyone sing before.
Gin was born in Auckland, lives in Sydney and has just recorded her brilliant debut album, Holy Smoke, in Hollywood’s famed Capitol Studios.
Gin created Holy Smoke with Mike Elizondo as her producer [Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Eminem, Nelly Furtado, Maroon 5] and with The Cardinals as her backing band [as in the very same Cardinals from Ryan Adams & The Cardinals].
Cardinals’ guitarist Neal Casal has described Gin as “unquestionably one of the most exciting new artists to emerge in many years. Her songwriting is at once diverse, intelligent, melodic, and soulful. Her voice is raw and emotional, with phrasing far beyond her years. Her debut record is a fully realised statement of intent, promising a great career ahead.”
Fellow Cardinal Jon Graboff says: “Gin’s songwriting seems to subtly embrace so many different musical forms and lyrically, there’s often a maturity and depth that you wouldn’t normally associate with someone so young. There’s profound connection between her and all the great, soulful singers who’ve come before her and she adds a new chapter to that story.”
Exactly how did a blonde-and-blue-eyed young Kiwi find herself in Hollywood’s most famous recording studio, sitting on Frank Sinatra’s old leopard skin chair and putting down tracks for her debut album with one of the world’s best rock bands?
If you’ve already heard Gin Wigmore sing, a lot of those questions answer themselves.
Personally, Gin has always felt she’s had a sort of guardian angel – or rather a team of guardian angels – guiding her through the formative years of her music career.
At 16, Gin won the US-based International Songwriting Contest with an aching acoustic ballad called “Hallelujah”, a song she’d penned in honour of her father who’d recently lost his fight with cancer. [Holy Smoke is also dedicated to her dad.] “Hallelujah” was actually one of the first songs she’d ever written, but it made Gin the competition’s youngest ever winner, and also the first unsigned artist to win the major prize, beating 11,000 songwriters from 77 countries.
In late-2007, Gin signed to Island Records in Australia, the local label’s first ever signing. In 2008, she released her critically-acclaimed debut EP, Extended Play, which featured “Hallelujah”, as well as another epic ballad, “These Roses”, alongside celebratory tracks such as “SOS” and “Under My Skin” – songs that left a lasting impression on anyone who heard them.
“Make mine a Gin Wigmore,” wrote the New York Post following the release of the EP. “Smart songs that would work in a coffee house or an arena.”
“One of the most stunning debut EPs ever,” wrote The Daily Telegraph in Sydney. “A star is born.”
On the back of the EP, Gin started touring extensively through Australia and New Zealand. Aside from her own shows, Gin was invited to play support act on Australian tours by Pete Murray and Sparkadia. In New Zealand, she performed on an arena tour alongside John Mellencamp and Sheryl Crow.
In August 2008, Gin was signed to Universal Motown Records USA by label President, Sylvia Rhone and undertook her first US promo trip in October, performing shows in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles to rapturous media and music industry audiences. “Her voice is quirky and intoxicating, her tunes fun and charming,” blogged Perez Hilton.
Extended Play went top 10 at home in New Zealand, and together with her next release, as guest vocalist on a track called “Brother” by Kiwi hip-hop outfit Smashproof, made Gin a certified new star in NZ. “Brother”, released in January 2009, would go on to top the local singles charts for a record-breaking 11 straight weeks. So how did Gin get here? What forces have conspired to present Gin Wigmore as such a fully-fledged, exciting and original young performer on the verge of international acclaim?
“It’s weird, I’ve had a really different musical upbringing,” offers Gin. “My record collection is ’50s, ’60s, ’70s – it doesn’t really go past that. I haven’t hung out with young bands, I haven’t hung out with young people. I’ve hung out with mostly 45+ [year-olds], all these people who have come into my life that are a lot older who have taught me so much. I’m only 23 but I feel a lot older than that at times. Wisdom has just been splashed on me every day for the last 10 years.”
In fact, from the age of 12, Gin was hanging out in recording studios. As a young teenager, she also had a part-time job in the mail room of Universal Music in Auckland, the same label that years later would be set to take her music to the world [both Island and Motown are Universal imprints].
Gin’s earliest foray into making music herself came at 13 when she started helping her best friend’s dad produce some demos in his home studio. She would occasionally also help out with backing vocals at weddings and parties.
The following year, she was performing at open mic nights in a local bar. “The problem was that I won one night,” Gin laughs. “And you had to give your details and your age and I was only 14. And they were like, ‘Gin – you’re underage? You can’t be in here.’ So they said, ‘Gin, you can’t play here any more.’ After that, I didn’t play any more. So it was double-edged sword. I was really stoked, but also gutted that I couldn’t play anymore.”
It wouldn’t be for another couple of years, after she penned “Hallelujah”, that Gin would refocus on what quickly became a music career.
Now, only a few years on, Gin has produced this rather remarkable debut album, Holy Smoke.
Gin says that the days she spent in Hollywood recording Holy Smoke with The Cardinals and producer Mike Elizondo were quite simply the happiest days of her life so far,
“It was amazing,” Gin gushes. “We were standing in the amazing Capitol Studios, working in Studio B, sitting on Frank Sinatra’s chair, it was just ridiculous. Aretha Franklin has walked through those hallways.”
Gin and the Cardinals formed an instant unshakable bond. “Every day we were coming into the studio so pumped, we’d stay in there for 14 hours. It was awesome,” she says
Holy Smoke was recorded in the same way they used to make all those classic records that Gin loves so much, with her and the band all in the same room together, face-to-face.
“It’s just a great way to make a record,” Gin says. “It’s the best feeling when you’re cutting something live and you’re all looking at each other and you’re out of breath and you’re going, ‘Man, that was it! That was it!’ And everyone’s going, ‘Yeah, that was it!’ It’s just like you all had this magic on you for that three minutes.”
The Cardinals bring to Holy Smoke an intensity and musicality that lifts Gin’s work to a whole new level. But up front, singing for her life, it’s Gin Wigmore’s raspy vocal style that defines this recording.
The 10 songs on Holy Smoke – led by the unmistakable urgency of lead single “Oh My” – almost defy description, a unique hybrid of pop and soul and blues and down-and-dirty rock & roll, often in the same song.
“I wanted all new songs,” Gin says. “I’m in a new chapter of my life. I think I’ve grown up a lot in the last five years so my songs on this record, the majority belong in this new chapter of life, so they show a whole new side to me as well.”
Once you’ve heard Gin sing these songs, you won’t forget the experience. For the uninitiated, as well as everyone who can already call themselves fans, prepare yourself for something special.
This is Gin Wigmore’s debut album, Holy Smoke. Everyone will soon be in agreement that it is a major work from an important new artist.