Since Amy Winehouse stumbled onto the American pop scene a few years ago, the Commonwealth of Nations has continued to export soulful white women with cute monikers such as Duffy and Adele. The new girl on the block may not have a name as catchy as her peers, but New Zealand native Gin Wigmore has the talent and the voice to stand with them. Just don't call her a soul singer yet.
“No... I'm just a little white girl from New Zealand,” Wigmore says from a hotel room in San Francisco. “Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin … I'm not on that level.”
Humility is an admirable quality when you're appropriating music made by people from another culture. Just ask Asher Roth. But the 10 songs on Wigmore's debut album, “Holy Smokes,” which went triple platinum in New Zealand, owe as much to '60s rock as they do to classic soul music. “It's a real mixture of stuff,” the singer and songwriter says. “Each song has its own identity. I'm really proud of the record.”
On the song “Don't Stop,” the influence of Motown's famed house band, the Funk Brothers, is evident when piano riffs punctuate Wigmore's pleas for her man to continue their relationship. It's an upbeat ditty that could soon find its way to a commercial for a company not named Toyota. Wigmore's connection with the label is more than aesthetic; she's signed to Universal/Motown. It's a privilege she covets. “My God. It's a little bit daunting,” the 23-year-old says. “I'm really stoked to be on the label.”
Wigmore has come a long way from her days as teenage songwriter in New Zealand, an island country 250 miles southeast of Australia. She won the International Songwriting Competition in 2004 for her song, “Hallelujah,” about the death of her father, becoming the youngest ever to win the competition.
“I was just coming to terms with what I lost,” she says about the song, adding that the memory of her father continues to inform her work.
Four years after winning the competition, she released an EP in New Zealand and Australia. Her debut album, released last year, was recorded in Los Angeles with members of Ryan Adam's backing band, the Cardinals. She now lives in Australia but hasn't forgotten her home in New Zealand. “It's a small little place,” she says. “Very safe. It's a good place to be from.”
Although she's never been to Virginia, Gin Wigmore shares her first name with the state and the band, the Cardinals, pays homage to the official bird of the commonwealth. She opens for Citizen Cope on April 28 at the National.
Amy Winehouse is often mentioned in reviews of Wigmore's material, but her vocal quality is more reminiscent of another troubled diva, Macy Gray. And Gray was one of the judges of the songwriting competition that Wigmore won. They met some time later and a visibly inebriated Gray offered Wigmore encouragement and sagacious advice.
“She said, ‘I voted for your song. … Stay sober!'” S
Gin Wigmore opens for Citizen Cope at the National on Wednesday, April 28. Tickets are $20. For information call 612-1900.