New Zealand songstress Kimbra quickly became a household name after her collaboration with Gotye hit number one on the charts worldwide and became one of the most talked about songs in 2011. Since “Somebody That I Used To Know” broke her into the mainstream market her records “Vows” and “The Golden Echo” impressed with a unique storytelling that was unlike anything anyone else was doing at the time. Over the past couple of years she has relocated to New York where she started working on her third studio album and now the final product is ready for the world to hear. The lead single “Everybody Knows” hears her experimenting with a heavier synth pop influence while delivering some honest and emotional lyrics. I recently chatted to Kimbra about the new musical direction that her third studio album “Primal Heart’ is heading towards as well as embracing that vulnerability that we sometimes mistake as a weakness and finding out whether she’s done any body painting since the “Somebody That I Used To Know” video shoot. Check out the interview below;
TB: “Everybody Knows” hears you tackling a heavier synth-pop sound. What was inspiring you musically at the time you were writing and recording?
K: I was listening to a whole range of music from Mr Twin Sister who are this cool band from New York to Little Dragon who I’ve always loved as well as the new Frank Ocean album. So I was listening to a lot of RNB and a lot more electronic pop music and I think yeah the new record does has an amalgamation of all of those sounds. But I think probably what I was most focused on was creating a really direct intention lyrically and direct sonic approach, moving away from the density of the past and trying to find that vocally focused sound. And I feel like this song really translates that kind of emotional core.
TB: Your third studio album “Primal Heart” is due for release early next year. Previously you’ve been vulnerable and honest in your music but have used a lot of imagery to show this. With “Everybody Knows” you are a bit more straight to the point with the heartbreak and growth you’ve been through. How did you go about opening yourself up differently in the creative process of this record compared to before?
K: It’s a bit of a boring answer but it’s just maturity isn’t it. Like, you get a bit older and you’ve experienced a few more things and you’re a little more ready to wear your heart on your sleeve. I think that comes from having a little more confidence in who you are and not being so attached to creating an identity, it’s more about now wanting to reach people emotionally and share a bit more of who you are. Cause I think you learn as you grow up that it’s really how we connect by finding parallels between our experiences. I feeling like I did have more to share personally. When I was writing my first album of course I drew on a lot of personal experiences but I was a lot younger and fascinated with surrealism and escapism and imagination and that will always be apart of my world but I think moving to New York has definitely grounded me in a certain way. It’s a city that really demands courage from you and you have to be really direct in the way you hold yourself day to day. So I think even that meant I approached my career and my artistry different.
TB: Do you still get nervous or unsure about sharing particular thoughts with the world?
K: Of course, it’s important to feel that. The moment I feel completely comfortable with everything I’m doing musically and emotionally would when I start to worry that I’ve stopped challenging myself and I think we owe that ourselves as artists to go to the places that aren’t easy for everyone to go to in their lives. I think we give others permission to explore that side of themselves. The role of an artist is to explore that duality inside of us and that can be super scary. I feel really lucky that I’ve built up a trust with my fanbase, people trust my voice and where I want to take the listener. So I think it feels different doing that on the third album compared to on the very first one which was still a really vulnerable record to me but I was still gathering my sonic identity and finding my voice. Now days I feel more ready share other sides.
TB: What is the most vulnerable song or moment from the new record “Primal Heart”?
K: It would be two songs. “Everybody Knows” is one of them as there’s a pretty confrontational lyric on a few different levels. And the other song is towards the end of the record, it’s called “Version Of Me”. I kind of wrote that song to get me through a hard day and explores tentative hopelessness of feeling like you’re repeating your mistakes and kind of finding yourself in a cycle of doing or being the same person over and over again. It’s a prayer of some sort to break free of cycles which I think is a micro issue for humans but also a macro issue, like look at the world, look at our government. We are kinda constantly in a cycle of one step forward and three steps back and every time I sing that song it’s super emotional on a few levels so I’m excited for that to come out.
TB: What does the title “Primal Heart” mean to you?
K: The primal heart is the beating soul of a human being and it explores the animal and spirit. I think there something so primal about out our desire for connection and love and a lot of this record is about searching for that and exploring pain as well. All of these things are very primal, they’ve all been with us since day one. But the primal heart is also about striving to evolve and transcend and I think human beings even though we have so much fear and greed and self preservation and all of these things that drive us into the same cycles we are also highly ambitious. We came out to be better. So I think those core emotions are what I’m really fascinated in on this record and I think it’s something the world needs right now, a message of unity. Instead of looking at differences we need to look deep inside and realise that we’ve taken all these years to evolve and we have so much of the same DNA that we did on the very first day on earth *laughs*. Kind of coming back to those core fundamental original truths of who we are, I find that really empowering and I find that it connects us.
TB: Visuals have always been a very important factor to your music. So how can we expect with this new era to look and feel for you?
K: Yeah! There’s already some big things like personally I’m just stripping back the characters I used to do like I mean I’ve always enjoyed doing that side of things and again that’s never gonna go from what I do but I’m more interested now in wearing my hair naturally *laughs* and wearing less make up and little things like that which are quite scary when you’ve been a performer your entire life and always created a character to feel larger than life. It’s kinda liberating when you’re like hmmm I guess sometimes the boldest thing you can do is just strip it all back. But I think there is toughness to the new imagery that I’m exploring, like there’s another video coming out soon which is going to be interesting because I really enjoy stuff that does make the viewer feel a little unsettled and stuff that feels empowering. I feel like I’m more connected to my womanhood now that I’m 27 and I think that shows in the way I want to express my self and visually as well. There’s a development in the directness that the visuals will imply and I’m super excited about the artwork for this record, it’s by far my favourite approach yet. It really embodies a vulnerability and finding a strength in that. We try to suppress vulnerability as weakness but I think a lot of the images around this record will explore it as one of our great human strengths.
TB: You’re going to be playing some intimate live shows soon where you’re going to preview some new material and play some old favourites. With this new sound I feel like your live show is going to evolve and be even more colourful. What songs are you looking forward to giving a bit of a synth-pop facelift?
K: Yeah I’ve done that with a few, I can’t wait to come back and tour down under because when I was in Melbourne last time for a festival I reimagined songs like “Two Way Street” and “Settle Down” and yeah just tried to put them more in an electronic space but also by applying totally new textures to it and even singing the vocal melodies in new ways and kind of approaching dynamics in a totally different setting. And it’s been really great to hear the response from people and feeling like that evening was special because they got to hear a version of those songs through the eyes of the new sound I’m exploring. And fans want to grow with the artist right, and I feel pretty grateful that people don’t just come to the shows to hear the record the same way they listened to it, they want to feel apart of this evolving musical experience.
TB: Well I was going to ask when you were going to come back down under and play some shows in Australia and New Zealand soon, it’s been a long time!
K: Right! Trust me it’s on the top of my list, I’m always like to my agent when am I going to get back to those countries for a proper tour and of course it is a priority. But basically I have Europe coming up and then America in January so lets hope that Australia and New Zealand will follow soon after that *laughs*.
TB: Last week you performed at a 10th anniversary gala in New York and posted some killer shots from the show on Instagram. How did it all go and how was it being back on stage?
K: It was an amazing show! I had like 50 dancers for the final section of the show and I performed material just from “Primal Heart” and I had string players join me for “Everybody Knows” and a couple of other songs. It was super exciting and it has made me feel like this new live show is going in a really exciting direction so it’s kinda test run for the european tour.
TB: It has been 6 years since “Somebody That I Used To Know” was released and I have to know, have you done any body painting since?
K: *Laughs* I haven’t done any body painting since then, I think i gave it a good run because even my first album cover had some extensive body painting. But after that shoot I was like yeah I’m going to give it a rest for a bit *laughs*.
TB: How long did that whole process even take cause it looks ridiculous
K: Oh dude, it was like a good 12 hours. We were shooting that all day and she would come and apply a little bit and then there would be another round of shots so it was a full day of just standing there and having body paint applied. It was crazy.
TB: So let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I’m going to ask you some little questions and you just answer with the first thing that comes to mind
TB: Most people think I….
K: Am bubbly, I think *laughs*
TB: If I could form a supergroup with any other band or artist it would be…
K: Andre’ 3000 from Outcast
TB: One question I can’t stand in interviews is…
K: When are you going to “Settle Down” *laughs”
TB: Oh my god, all the puns *laughs*
K: Dude, its the worst *laughs*. Any question with puns is like my worst nightmare
TB: My guilty pleasure song is…
K: “Barbie Girl” from Aqua
TB: My favourite place to go when I’m back in New Zealand is…
K: A place called Lake Rotiti, it’s this amazing beautiful lake with all these natural hot pools and it’s like my little sacred place.
Kimbra’s new single “Everybody Knows” is out now and her upcoming third studio album “Primal Heart” will be released in early 2018.