Kimbra is an artist defined by her soul–and she’s ready to share even more of that with the world than ever before on her upcoming third album Primal Heart. Kimbra is a two-time Grammy winning artist for her collaboration with Gotye on the hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Her first two albums Vows and Golden Echo also received critical acclaim.
It’s been four years since her second album came out, and Primal Heart, set to be released April 20th, seems well worth the wait. In the meantime, Kimbra is on the road touring with supporting act Arc Iris.
Kimbra sat down for a phone interview with Music Existence a few days into the start of her tour, and one day after her powerful performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. She talked new music, tour, her search for home and what connects us as humans, and the many ways in which she bonds with fans.
Music Existence: What drew you to name the album “Primal Heart”?
Kimbra: John Congleton, who co-produced the record with me, made the comment that it was a really powerful lyric in the song “Human.” It says “I’ve got a heart that’s primal, and I need your love for my survival.” Then I went back and started listening to all the songs that were making up the record and I realized that a lot of them were about this kind of sense of instinct, what connects us as human beings and the things that make up the primal heart–which are, of course love, but also loneliness at times, pride and ego, a longing for transcendence and all these different things. I thought about what I wanted to do with the album, which was be more personal with people and be more vulnerable and kind of direct the way I spoke with my audience, and Primal Heart felt like the most direct way I could do that.
ME: The word primal can mean the beginning of something–is this kind of the beginning of a new evolution of your music?
K: I think of every record as a new evolution of my music. I think every record is just as important as the next or the last because the next album wouldn’t exist without this one. It’s important to play out every part of the creative process and this is just what I felt I needed to do as a sort of evolution of myself as a woman at this point. I think art mimics life, this is where my life is at and I wanted to be able to share that in what I do for a job.
ME: Would you say these songs are autobiographical in a way? For instance, “Top of the World” is about rising up and overcoming challenges, is that something that is very personal to you?
K: Everything has a personal seed, you know. In order to sing it authentically I have to feel connected to it in some way. But I would say “Top of the World” is kind of speaking to a kind of person that maybe I haven’t directly experienced as much. And when I say a person I mean people that are striving in the world to rise up out of things like poverty and actually kind of see themselves ascend into places of power. And the song talks about the issues that come with power, and we see that much in our world. I guess I am more politically aware than I have ever been because I live in America and I’m not from America. I think about how we watch leaders rise up and how their views can become so distorted by their power. I think in certain songs I try to put myself in the shoes of those who have suffered and I try to at times to take what is personal to me and then develop it into something that’s more relevant to the culture and to a kind of macro-issue that’s going on in the world.
ME: It’s been four years since your last record, Golden Echo, came out. In this span of time what were your inspirations for the new album?
K: I did a lot of traveling that wasn’t related to touring. I did a lot of things that were just for me–they weren’t for my career or the kind of brand of Kimbra and the whole business of that. It was just for me, Kim. Kimbra Johnson. You know the girl that grew up being in New Zealand. I was traveling for those reasons–seeing a lot of America, going to Ethiopia twice. I have really always been fascinated with Ethiopian culture and I went over with a non-profit organization who worked to help women with HIV build businesses. These things all inspired me to kind of take on that boldness I’m talking about and find that primality, that rawness, and to speak to the things that connect us because we are truly all the same wherever we go. This is the thing it sounds cliche and cheesy, but it’s true. We may not all look the same, we may not all have the same parts of the body, but we certainly are all connected in this deep core–this deep primal center. It’s very important to travel in order to see that I think.
ME: I 100% agree. I studied abroad recently and traveled and volunteered in different places, and it really was the most amazing time of my life–connecting with different people and cultures really does change you as a person.
K: Oh yes, absolutely. I’m really glad to hear that.
ME: And that brings me into my next question: One of the lyrics I really like in your song “Human” is “I’m a foreigner everywhere I roam”–do you have a place where your heart feels most at home?
K: Well, New Zealand is always going to be my spiritual home. When I go back there I feel such a deep connection to the land and the trees. We have so much incredible native forests in New Zealand. And the oceans and the skies are different. Everything’s different there. But in terms of a home for my creative energy, I think it is New York right now. I’m really happy living there and I set up a little apartment and studio that I love and I can see myself there for a while. I think you can find your home but still feel like a foreigner sometimes, you know. That’s more to do with the spirit than the actual body. You can feel confusion about your place in the world, even if you have a great job and you’re making money–sometimes it’s just more a statement of feeling like we’re all ultimately searching for home…in more of an existential way.
ME: Kind of like a home within ourselves. Like finding the right center.
K: Yeah! Exactly. And that’s the big theme on Primal Heart as well–finding that home within yourself and connecting back again with your core, with your origin. So I think in that sense feeling like a foreigner is more about that kind of self-discovery and trying to find a home inside.
ME: When you’re not making music or performing, or traveling, what fills your time?
K: I’m a big reader–I love to read books. I love to discover parks and different kinds of nature and try to make trips out of cities to do things like that. I like to do watercolors–I like to do a bit of painting. I’m not very good but I find it really relaxing. I’m very fascinated in religious theology and philosophy and I read a lot about spirituality and that’s a big part of my life as well. And cooking. I love to cook and make food. When I have time off the road it’s like any kind of domestic thing is really exciting to me because I never get to do it [laughs].
ME: With all the songs you’re releasing, you’re also creating music videos–what is important to you about this creative outlet?
K: Music videos feel super important. We live in such a visual world and I’ve always felt that visuals are a kind of partner to the music. It’s all about the sensory experience. You get the aural sounds revolving around your head and your body and the bass in your chest–then you couple it with visuals that transport you, and that to me is where you get that real connection with people. I also enjoy incorporating fashion into what I do with music videos. I love incorporating acting and sort of making it feel film-like or cinematic. I love to try and bring in my favorite artists and to collaborate with people I love and showcase amazing designers ‘cause its like, why not? It’s such a great space to actually show off amazing people, you know?
ME: You’re adding new layers and themes to songs.
K: Exactly! They’re little rabbit holes for people to go down.
ME: I feel like you’re creating a world. You don’t have just an album–you have the music videos, personal emails, and with Primal Heart you have a cool interactive website. What does this connection and inclusivity with fans mean to you?
K: I want to have a really long career and I want to speak to people not just right now, but into their lives when I’m getting older and when they’re getting older. I want to remain a relevant artist and I think if you build a connection with people early on and they build a trust in what you’re doing with your art and they trust it is coming from an authentic place and that you’re giving from the deepest part of who you are, I think that you can actually build a kind of family around your work, and hopefully it continues to expand. I feel so grateful to the people that do follow the music and I want to share with them the things I learn. I really like the mailing list thing because I get to do more than just tweet or something. I don’t really like having to summarize important things into one sentence. I enjoy being able to articulate in a longer format. I want to be able to share my heart with them and not just my music–but actually who I am because that just seems like it is going to create a longer relationship.
ME: What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned while making this album?
K: Ooh so many. Making an album is full of learning lessons, really. Let’s see…I think I’ve definitely learned a lot about trusting my instincts, which is not always easy to do because I think a lot and I’m always second-guessing things and going back and trying another option. But Primal Heart has also been about going deep into yourself and that sense of deep knowing–like you know when something’s right–like when you’ve done a vocal take and it might not have been the perfect vocal take but it was the one and you just have a gut instinct about it. I would say that’s not just something I’ve discovered on my own; people have taught me that. Having producers encourage me with my production and say ‘don’t doubt yourself, your instinct is right’ and having the guys in my band–they encourage me so much and trust me. We have such a great respect and that helps reinforce that gut instinct about what you’re doing. So that seems to be a really big lesson and it’s something that has to come with age I think as well.
ME: Yeah, you’re always learning and always growing every day that passes by. For your shows on tour, what can fans expect? How are you bringing Primal Heart to life?
K: It’s a very visual show. We put a lot of energy into not only the visuals that appear on these amazing screens but also the light show is super dynamic. I have two musicians who are on stage with me who are incredible electronic musicians. There’s a lot of live sampling, a lot of different textures and sounds–every minute something new is going on. And I’m kind of finding a new way to interpret some of the songs and I’m playing a lot of new material. So people are excited about the new album they’ll get to hear a lot of it at the show!
And another thing about the show is it’s heavy. People are kind of surprised–like we have that room shaking. It’s very tough and exciting. I think people are in for a real physical experience.
ME: For someone who is new to your music, hasn’t heard you before–how would you describe it? What would you say to them to have them come out to your shows?
K: Well, let’s see…I like to think of my music as a conversation of sorts. I think it’s somewhere people can find a kind of deeper understanding of things as well. I try to really speak to the confusion of the human experience a little bit. I don’t know…I think my music is a place where people can find some understanding. I think that’s a great reason to come out to a show if you feel and artist gets some of what you’ve been through. It’s soul music, man! That’s what it is! It’s soul music! I can’t think of a better way to put it.
Catch Kimbra on tour this February:
February 2 – The Mod Club – Toronto, Canada
February 3 – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL
February 5 – Ceder Cultural Center – Minneapolis, MN
February 8 – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR
February 9 – Imperial – Vancouver, Canada
February 11 – Neumos – Seattle, WA
February 13 – The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA
February 14 – The Theatre at The Ace Hotel – Los Angeles, CA
February 15 – The Observatory – Santa Ana, CA
For more tour dates in May, check out Kimbra’s tour schedule.
Cover photo image by: Micaiah Carter