Photo © 2017 by: John-Michael Fulton
DK: Good day Kimbra, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today; how are you?
Kimbra: Very well thankyou! Happy to be back in New York & entering into 2018!
DK: How has the new year been treating you so far?
Kimbra: I spring cleaned my apartment which felt so good. I also shared a new song last week which was one of my favorites from the ‘Primal Heart’ collection called ‘Hi Def Distance Romance’ (exclusive to my mailing list!) so that has been exciting.
DK: Awesome yes, and you also gave your mailing list subscribers some behind the scenes of the recording of the album too, so it definitely pays to sign up on those mailing lists!! There is so much to talk about with you; you’ve accomplished so much, even in this past year alone and have so much ahead of you too, but let’s start with your new album due out April 20th entitled ‘Primal Heart’. I understand that this is the album you’ve been wanting to make for some time now with a more direct focus. What can you tell us about it so far?
Kimbra: It’s a reflection of where I’m at in my life and speaks to a new courage and boldness I’ve stepped into since moving to New York. I also reflect on vulnerability a lot throughout the record and through the help of co-producer John Congleton I was able to move into that space more on this record. I wanted it to feel very personal and for every decision to feel very intentional and in service of the core emotion. Being a producer and a musician, I get easily infatuated with detail and forget to focus on the vision, so I’m proud of myself for finding that groundedness on this album and the strength to expose myself in ways that I hadn’t before. It’s lyrically a lot more self-aware and rather than an escapism from reality, it feels very rooted in confronting reality.
DK: If the songs, ‘Top of the World’ and ‘Everybody Knows’ are any good indicator on the rest of the album, I would say you’ve had some major growth between ‘The Golden Echo’ and ‘Primal Heart’ and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. I know in a previous interview, you mentioned a maturity about the new music and I would have to agree that those two songs alone embody the best of all your previous works and you have added so much more meaning and emotion to them. The songs have definitely gotten the hook in me, for sure. If I may break down these two songs a bit, ‘Top of the World’ has got such an amazing blend of vocalizations and influences, please tell me about them…
Kimbra: Thankyou! Yes I was inspired to take a new path vocally on this song. Often I am very rhythmic with my phrasing but it usually stays in a melodic space. On this song I let myself explore more of a ‘spoken’ space. I’d done some sessions with Donald Glover around the time (although they’re yet to come to fruition) who really inspired me to explore this side of myself vocally and I wanted to channel an ‘urgency’ and feeling of protest in this song…. this ascension to a kind of delusional state with echoes of a ritualistic, tribal, even spiritual war-cry. I think all of these things stem from what I am interested in as a person.
DK: There seems to be at least a couple different messages flowing through ‘Top of the World’ that I wanted to ask about, can you elaborate on it please?
Kimbra: There are references to ambition, ego, greed, religion, institutions that gain power under the guise of a seemingly sacred cause. It’s also just a reflection on the primal striving for power and connection. Of course, when one see’s only the goal they are chasing, they quickly become blind and cut off from reality. I see in all of us this ability to disconnect and let our ambitions become places of sabotage. But it’s also a reflection on the world around me right now. It has been very intense to live in America for the past few years and you can’t help but draw analogies to the culture and even politics you are surrounded by.
DK: It can be overwhelming sometimes too. Then, there is the fashion and symbolism in the video that is going on in the song and I have my theories, but rather than guess or surmise, it seems best just to ask you and I’ll throw an additional question to you too on how the song and video relate to you personally, if at all?
Kimbra: The song relates to me personally (and hopefully to others) as a warning. I always feel quite emotional singing the line ‘they built me up to be beaten’ because to me, it speaks to the many systemic structures and constructs that we trust and hope in, yet they so often crumble and spit out the very people they praised moments earlier.
DK: Yeah, that line in particular with you laying down at the end; such a powerful way to end it.
Kimbra: The symbolism in the fashion & set design speaks to this idea of building an empire of power and climbing a ladder to reach some supposed place, but realizing it can’t exist. The structure must destruct in order to start a new cycle. I’m very interested in cycles and the way they reoccur throughout history, religion and cultures. The final suggestion of the video is that the whole story is on a loop and the character in the song will inevitably continue to rise & fall.
DK: Very impressive Kimbra, I’ve really been personally inspired by this video in particular and have been rewatching it a lot observing different nuances each time, like with the pillars crumbling, and then being slowly restored in other parts of the video. A lot going on in it indeed! Now, in contrast to ‘Top of the World’, there is ‘Everybody Knows’ which has a very light, easy to appeal sound, but a much deeper topic and tone that seem that they can connect with many people on many levels. It is hopeful and seems to reflect how you, yourself have grown so much, but how, in the song and video, the person has also reached a new level of growth and overcome great personal challenges. Would that (rough) assessment be somewhat accurate?
Kimbra: Yes, on point! I talk a lot about some of these things at a blog I keep called The Catacombs. The last few years especially were very defining for me in terms of accepting pain and growing through it. The song for me is an anthem for seeing things ‘anew’ and acting from that place of strength and instinct which I think can only be found through the exposing self-knowledge gained in suffering.
DK: Continuing on about videos, how close to your original vision for the song have your videos been and how much input (direction) have you had with them?
Kimbra: The videos have always been highly collaborative and personal for me. These two were especially personal because I went back to collaborating with my long time friend Guy Franklin who directed my first video ‘Settle Down’ (and about 5 more after that). We had both been living in America for a while, and felt ready to make more focused statements as artists. We had been fascinated with decorative videos in the past but for these visual pieces we wanted to capture a very personal tone and a kind of groundedness which the music seemed to also convey. Our process is based around a lot of conversations, references back and forth, sometimes our conversations are like therapy where I’ll go back to the first moment I wrote the song and all that was going on at the time. He really likes to get inside my world when we are creating together. Sometimes it’s quite a heavy and emotional process for us both.
DK: I bet and it must be so rewarding to work with someone who you know so well and knows you implicitly as well. With your (more focused) vision for this album, how have you approached it musically when considering your desire to evoke a more emotional connection with your fans?
Kimbra: I think it’s quite simple, we made space for the vocals in the mixes and took out anything that didn’t serve that core emotion I was trying to convey. I wanted to reach out through the speakers and touch people. This meant being ready to leave things a little imperfect at times. I also chose the moments of sonic density very carefully. I didn’t want this album to feel claustrophobic, I wanted it to breathe.
DK: I can’t wait and almost get the chills thinking about how amazing it is going to sound! With all the traveling you do; and I swear, it doesn’t seem like you’re ever in one place longer than a few days at a time… lol… how do you find the time to focus on writing?
Kimbra: There’s always seeds. They pop up to remind me that they’re still there and sometimes I’ll pour a little fuel on the fire and dive back in when I get the inspiration but ultimately I trust they’ll come back and make themselves known when they are ready. I try not to force myself into writing unless an idea forces itself on me.
DK: Would you say having taken guitar lessons early on helped your career in any significant way? Had you had any vocal lessons at any point? Your vocal range is truly beyond inspirational!
Kimbra: Thankyou! I wasn’t formally trained but I had a coach when I was younger who spent a lot of time teaching me how to protect my voice and use my body as a singer. It was very physical and I’ve continued to build on that as I get older. I think singing is all about the body and the way you hold it and use it in order to color and sculpt the sounds that come out. I also think learning guitar quite young made me a lot more rhythmically intuitive as a singer. It’s all connected.
DK: For young artists who might be just starting out, what advice would you offer to help them in their career?
Kimbra: Whenever you get really comfortable doing what you’re doing, it’s time to change things up.
DK: If I were to pick one word to describe you, it would be very hard, but I would have to say ‘brave’ would be the strongest word to come to mind. You really are brave and it has really served you and your career well. Have there ever been chances you’ve taken in your career that did not go as well as planned and if so, how did you handle them?
Kimbra: Of course! In order to be fearless I think you have to have spent a lot of time experiencing fear. I have realized that when I relinquish control over what I do and surrender to the moment, this is where the magic happens, but I am often extremely meticulous over what I do probably because I fear it may not be perfect. But of course the moment we accept our imperfections, we transcend them and go beyond them. I’ve had many performances or moments in my career where I fell short of what I hoped for or wanted but sometimes those are the moments that have connected most with others so I am learning to relinquish my role as the highest judge of what I do. My impact is bigger than me and my limited perception of it in that moment!
DK: Wow… that is so powerful Kimbra; words to definitely live by indeed. In a world where we’re almost drowned in music all the time now… how do you manage to keep true to your sound without it inadvertently sounding like anything else?
Kimbra: I keep my reference points very contrasted and almost juxtaposing at times. I’m trying to find the points of overlap between the varying styles of music I like. For example, I see a lot of similarities in the grooves of math-metal and funk or latin music. I want to try and write music that is relatable using seemingly unrelated influences. That’s a lot of fun to me!
DK: Getting back to ‘Primal Heart’, you created the ‘Primal Heart’ experience on your official site at http://www.kimbramusic.com/, have you heard any creations from that as yet?
Kimbra: Yes I’ve listened to a lot of them! And I’m actually planning something exciting regarding those creations which is yet to be announced….
DK: The album cover is very wild, colorful and free flowing, but the light bars behind you seem to go against that overall feeling. Other than lighting, was there any significance to them in the image?
Kimbra: To me they represent something of that systemic structure or the constructs one must emerge from in order to be free. Me and the collaborators talked a lot about the theme of ‘emergence’. Sonically I think this record has that feeling and to me, the artwork is a perfect interplay between the trappings of human nature and also the evolution we are on to emerge from that. Well, that is my hope.
DK: I know it is very, very early yet, but with having released the ‘Vows Remixes’ album back in 2012, do you foresee an ‘Primal Heart’ remix album any time in the future? Or maybe even a live release?
Kimbra: Yes, I can’t give away too much right now but let me just say there will be some very exciting reworks to come.
DK: Very cool… I personally love remixes, so that is truly exciting! How much time do you get per day/week to be on social media and has proven to be the best connection for you with your fans?
Kimbra: My favorite way to interact with fans is via my mailing list (I hope everyone will sign up!). It feels the most personal because I can write an email in a way I might write to a friend. There’s some kind of different privacy to it as well, I like the idea of popping up in someones inbox and speaking directly in a long-form way rather than people skimming through a post with a quick ‘like’. I’m looking for ways to develop a deeper dialogue and I’m also giving away exclusive’s via the mailing list which makes it feel more special.
DK: Like the aforementioned behind the scenes glimpse of the Primal Heart recording. If you don’t mind, please tell me more about your involvement with Tirzah and Sew Many Lives?
Kimbra: I travelled to Ethiopia twice with Tirzah. Tirzah partners with charities on the ground to help empower women and children affected by HIV. They believe deeply in the power of hearing and sharing stories and I had an incredibly powerful time meeting these courageous women and walking alongside them as they embarked on the journey of building their own sustainable businesses. Sew Many Lives was created by a friend of mine who also travelled to Ethiopia with me (Leslie Harden). She focuses on encouraging people to use their sewing or knitting skills to make warm clothes for the homeless on the streets of New York during winter. I love the idea of small actions like that having the power to restore dignity, which can be the first step in changing lives.
DK: Thank you Kimbra, I will include the links for people to find out more about them and how they can get involved too. Shifting gears now, you’ve done some touring late last year and are picking back up in Boston on January 28th… how have the shows been going so far for you?
Kimbra: The Europe tour was so much fun. People were so positive toward the new material & so open to hearing new arrangements I’ve been playing of older songs. I feel so blessed to have a fanbase that love to get experimental and follow me down the rabbit-holes of curiosity. The energy was so visceral in those rooms and I can’t wait to get into that space throughout the USA.
DK: I honestly cannot see how heavy touring bands can keep playing the same versions of the same songs over many, many years. While I understand they may be classics, I am a believer that music can and should evolve and grow. I am hoping that the weather holds up for you given how this weather is going now for the northeastern states… but I know we’re all very excited for your show here in Chicago on February 3rd at Concord Music Hall… are there any dates planned after February 15th at this point?
Kimbra: Yes! But you’ll have to wait for those! :)
DK: With all that you accomplished last year, I know it is safe to say you’ll accomplish twice as much this year, but of those potential accomplishments, what would you like to see yourself do in 2018? Still thinking about that move to Japan? :-)
Kimbra: Definitely continuing to consider it!! Japan really inspired me. I would like to continue doing travel trips that are not just music-related. I’ve really enjoyed taking time to travel anonymously, for my spirit and for the sake of an adventure, because life is not just about your career. The moments where I’ve stepped away then come back have given deeper purpose to what I do.
DK: I can definitely see how helpful that would be and again, it has served you so well already in all that you do. One last question for you if I may, more for fun, but still relevant, what would you say are 5 things that people can do to help make the world a better place?
1. Completely abandon road-rage when stuck in traffic (it literally does NOTHING to move things along)
2. Spend more time in silence (meditation / contemplative prayer)
3. Visit the countryside of New Zealand (it heals the soul)
4. Volunteer at the closest community outreach in your area once a week (you are happier when you are giving back)
5. Look up more and down at a cellphone less (myself included)
DK: Well, I know you’re super busy and I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to chat with me today Kimbra…. Keep on following your heart and keep on inspiring the world!
Kimbra: Thankyou xx
Be sure to catch Kimbra in the following cities:
JAN 28 PARADISE ROCK CLUB BOSTON, MA
JAN 29 BROOKLYN STEEL BROOKLYN, NY
JAN 30 9:30 CLUB WASHINGTON, DC
JAN 31 UNION TRANSFER PHILADELPHIA, PA
FEB 02 THE MOD CLUB TORONTO, CANADA
FEB 03 CONCORD MUSIC HALL CHICAGO, IL
FEB 05 CEDER CULTURAL CENTER MINNEAPOLIS, MN
FEB 08 WONDER BALLROOM PORTLAND, OR
FEB 09 IMPERIAL VANCOUVER, CANADA
FEB 11 NEUMOS SEATTLE, WA
FEB 13 THE REGENCY BALLROOM SAN FRANCISCO, CA
FEB 14 THE THEATRE AT THE ACE HOTEL LOS ANGELES, CA
FEB 15 THE OBSERVATORY SANTA ANA, CA
SEW MANY LIVES: