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KIMBRA On top of the world

She gained our attention as the female counterpoint to Gotye in 2011’s Somebody That I Used To Know, but all the while she was carving out her own sound with predating singles Settle Down and Cameo Lover leading up to her debut album Vows. Now with the release of her third album, following the creative and expressive The Golden Echo, Kimbra has transcended and perfected self-realisation, musical maturity and technical experimentation with her opus Primal Heart. ANTHONY JACKSON spoke with her half way across the globe from her studio apartment in New York ahead of her Australian Tour, playing Rosemount Hotel this Saturday, July 21.

First off I love Primal Heart. Congratulations on the release. How are you feeling about it?

Thank you so much! Yeah it’s great, it’s funny, it has only been out about for a short time so it still feels kind of new, going out on the road this time and having people sing the songs already and know all the lyrics, it’s a really good feeling and it really confirms that it is connecting with people. I’m really excited, especially to come out and play them in Australia because no one will have heard that songs live out there, where as I’ve been playing them for a little while out here in America, so it feels like a very exciting time!

You are about to embark on your Australian tour and we can’t wait for the Perth show at the Rosemount Hotel. How did you prepare for the tour?

We have just come off a long seven week long tour and are now heading to Australia, that tour went really well and it was great preparation for what we are bringing to Australia.

People can definitely expect a really wonderful visual show on this touring cycle, we have really been playing with the visual aspect a lot more and of course I always like to highlight fashion in my shows.

Sonically it is very different from what people have heard before, I’m going for a more electronic sound in terms of the live show, there’s a lot of amazing synth work, there’s still guitars and bass but most of the drums are now coming from various gadgets I have on stage where I get to control the triggering of drums and manipulate them live on stage, there’s no live drummer, but I feel like it is the most energetic set up we’ve had yet so I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of that.

How about the creation of the new album? Coming out of The Golden Echo era, into writing and recording, how did you get to the release of Primal Heart?

I made some pretty big moves in my life, I started working with a new team out here in America, I moved my life from L.A. to New York, I went to Ethiopia a couple of times, which were very personal trips and really about spiritual growth and wanting to expand my idea of the world a little. I think all of that stuff bleeds into it.

A big thing for me was making my own studio, actually designing it in my apartment and buying instruments that I wanted to represent the sound, that’s quite an empowering thing to do, to not just be working out of other people’s studios. Deciding to co-produce the album with John Congleton and letting him have a big input on the record, that was a big part. By that point I had done a lot of writing and he really helped me focus it, which we did out in LA, the final part of the album, but I consider the writing of the album to be mainly done in New York.

I love the last song, Real Life, and how it drifts out the end of the album. Now that is a song made up of almost entirely just your vocals. How did you create that song?

Oh! That song was done entirely at home in my studio apartment, I even mixed the song myself as well, it went straight to mastering. It was really just a sketch, I know that lyrically it had a lot of relevance to Primal Heart, it was a poem and I was playing around with a new piece of technology that I bought. I was trying to find new ways to use it and then I found that if I played this vocoder and sung along with it, I mean it’s uber geeky so I won’t go into it, but I discovered  a new sound, and I just thought “Oh I’ll write a song!”. It ended up feeling like a great closer to the record and I really wanted to add one more song and it felt like a very intimate way to end with the audience. It’s funny because I would have never dreamed that it would have ended up on the album because it’s so raw and untouched by anyone else, but I guess maybe that’s what makes it special.

How do you initially go about writing a song? I know for some people it starts as chords on a guitar or piano, some a vocal melody. When you decide to sit down and write a song what is your first step of that process?

I’m actually beat driven, because I write and produce a lot of beats at home, just sketches ideas, or if I’m working with another producer I’ll just be like “Hey! Show me what beats you have.”, and if I feel like a groove, if it is exciting me and it’s making me want to move, I’ll start seeing colours or images or if a vocal melody comes to mind around that rhythm, then I’ll get excited and start to develop it. So it’s really about sparking curiosity and that often starts rhythmically, then other times I’ll write on guitar because guitar was my first instrument and that was the more traditional way that I grew up writing, but I’d say it’s either on guitar or with beats, starting with a drum beat then writing a bass line and then maybe getting a vocal melody from that.

Do you come up with the beat with your voice or do you use a program?

I’ll use the Maschine which is made by Native instruments or on Ableton or maybe I’ll work with my great collaborators like Timon Martin that plays in my band, we’ll sit down together and start on a groove. I also work with a lot of samples, so if I have a certain vinyl that I like, or a certain snare from a different song that I like, I might chop that up and bring that into the session and begin something based off other things I hear, recycling them, so it can be different every time. I just think rhythm is so important, but sometimes it is with the voice, I’ll beat box a beat, I think I have to have some sort of backbone a lot of the time.

You worked with Skrillex on your single Top Of The World, how was it working with him?

Yeah! That’s a perfect example of a song that started like that.

I was at his house hanging out and he was showing me things, I was showing him things and then he just showed me that beat, there was nothing on it except for that tom beat, then I started singing along to it almost as if it was a bassline and then from that point we both thought, “Oh! This is inspiring!” so I started bouncing off different rhythmic verses, but it was the beat the started that all of that, it was that feeling of urgency.

The first single off the album Everybody Knows sounds like it comes from a very personal place, are you singing about personal experience?

I think I was referring to something I’d felt, it’s kind of hard to write from a genuine place when you can’t picture something in your mind. But I definitely drew on the experiences of others when I wrote that song as well because there was a lot of things going on at that time. I watched a woman in particular speak out about things that felt unjust and about her reclaiming her strength. So when it came time to finish the lyric, maybe I didn’t have the same experience, I had explored my experiences already and I wanted to find another angle to go with the lyrics, so that is when I would connect with another woman’s story to finish that lyric. In terms of my own personal connections to it, I think it is very much about reclaiming strength and finding courage, and part of finding courage and independence is really about facing the truth of situations and also facing situations that may be toxic. That could be interpreted in many different ways for people, but of course part of growing up is opening your eyes to that and of course like everyone I have been through situations where I had to be honest with myself about what is actually a part of me and what isn’t anymore. 

You mentioned before that you started writing songs on guitar when you were younger, did you come from a musical family? Did you study music in school? Have you always had that love for music?

I started learning guitar really young, I started learning around 12, but before that point I had been singing a lot in musicals and I loved musical theatre, I loved singing, I sang the national anthem as a kid at various rugby games sometimes, I just loved the chance to use my voice.

But then I really got into songwriting, although I had been writing little pop songs from the age of 8, it was that need to express through writing as a kid, that was my little language. It became more serious when I learnt guitar, because then I was actually able to write songs that were a bit more advanced.

I hear that you are breaking into acting and are working on an upcoming movie?

Yeah! The movie is a really sentimental place for me, it is set in New Zealand, obviously where I am from and it is actually set in the hometown where I grew up which is also really special. It features all the great New Zealand music which I grew up with so basically my role in the film is a young indie musician who plays songs from that catalogue, famous new Zealand songs and that becomes the sound track to a love story that plays out and I just wanted that chance to try something like that. I think the only thing that would hold me back from taking on a role like that would be fear, and I am trying not to rule things out from fear at this point in my life, I want to be open to these experiences. It’s great working with New Zealand actors and with New Zealand music which is such a big part of who I am as well.

Is this the first movie you have been in?

Yeah, basically. I mean, it is the first acting thing that I have done, I sing in the movie as well, but it was all a big learning experience and I really enjoyed it.

When does it come out?

It comes out this year…

How did that come about?

Oh! I was offered the part! (laughs).


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