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Kimbra Wants to Push All of the Boundaries

We caught up with the "Somebody That I Used to Know" breakout artist and talked heavy metal, 90s fashion, and Greek mythologies.
September 8, 2014, 2:30pm

Kimbra may have first made her way into your ears as Gotye’s sidekick in “Somebody That I Used to Know,” but the New Zealand singer isn’t just a guest artist. Her 2011 full-length debut Vows was a solid exploration in art-rock and pop and she's taking those sounds one step further on her follow up, The Golden Echo. On it, Kimbra proves once again that she’s meant to be front and center, this time showing her more experimental side with ethereal R&B (in the raw and powerful “As You Are”), sultry layered vocals à la Aretha Franklin (“Nobody But You”) and funky electro-soul (in Love in High Places,” where she sings about the power of her love).


“90s Music,” the first single, is a dizzying swirl of R&B, pop, and soulful rock that nods to the Spice Girls, Missy Elliott, and Lisa Frank-dominating era in which Kimbra grew up. Its video is fittingly a sensory overload of bright fur coats, cartoon visuals and lots of scrunchies. With artists time-traveling through music videos and referencing 90s culture (see: Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy” tribute to Clueless), the world is in a place where moving forward with trends essentially means moving backwards; nostalgia has become a key factor in this day in age. The Golden Echo explores the past and puts its own twist on the retro sonic highlights.

We spoke with Kimbra about Greek mythologies, bringing back 90s fashion and moving on from “Somebody That I Used To Know”

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from you. What have you been up to since you released your debut album?
Kimbra: I went over to America to start writing submissions for my record The Golden Echo and I ended up staying. I thought that it would be a small trip, but I first fell in love with California. I found a place there that was a farm with animals. It kind of changed my whole perspective on the place. I locked down there and started the pre-production on the record at this place in Silver Lake, wrote a bunch of songs, went into the studio with Rich Costey in Eldorado in Burbank and made the record there.

Are you still living there?
I only just moved out. I felt like the album is done now. It was the perfect place to serve that season in my life, and I was spending a lot of my time outdoors, but after a while I thought I needed a new space now. It’s still very close to my heart though. I love to keep moving and shifting my perspective to think outside of the box. I’ll probably keep moving around.


How have your musical tastes and sonic inclinations changed since your debut record?
I think it’s a natural progression. When you change where you live, it’s a big shift in your influences. I’m always consciously trying to listen to different music that will challenge me and make me think differently about melody and rhythm. I love a lot of heavy metal because I’m very challenged by the types of rhythms in it. It makes me listen to it and pinpoint them in the music. I think it’s evolved because I’ve had a lot more of a focus on the production of this record than I have in the past. I’ve always produced it a bit, but with this one I dive into every aspect of the song feeling intentional. I don’t want anything to feel “filler;” I want everything to provoke something for the listener. There’s definitely more of a focus on an aggressive rhythm approach; I use a lot more live drums on this album.

I’m touring with a live band. That changed the way I was making music because I wanted to have more live musicians on it. I wanted to bring a lot of my friends on board to help create the sound palette. Juxtaposition was a big theme as well: I wanted to throw different ideas into the room that maybe seemed like they wouldn’t fit, but you made them fit. Then I found out that they could go together. That’s definitely another reason why the song has really evolved.

You can definitely tell that you’ve been trying to push boundaries on this record. Is there a theme that resonates throughout the album?
A lot of the inspiration actually comes from the title of the record, The Golden Echo. It’s originally named after a flower called Narcissus Golden Echo. I discovered this simple flower. It’s said that Narcissus was looking into the reflection of himself in the water—a Greek myth of course. He dies and changes into a yellow flower, which takes the name Narcissus Golden Echo. When I discovered this flower, I went into Greek mythology quite deeply and was very fascinated by the theme and the story of, Narcissus—a man caught up in his own reflection.

The Golden Echo, to me, symbolizes energy being put outward to get beauty given back. I feel like there are two strong energies on this record: one that is chaotic and one that is contemplative and still. So, these two worlds are explored on the album. The imagery reflects that as well. The album cover has references to Greek mythology and those worlds colliding where land meets sky.


You’ve collaborated with a lot of people on this record including Muse's Matt Bellamy. How did that come about?
I wanted everyone on this album to bring his or her very distinct personalities. I’ve been lucky to meet so many amazing people: musicians and producers that I have a mutual respect for. They all brought a lot of things that are unique. They provided me a way to grow. When I ran into a wall, I’d have my friends come down and help me find a new way of seeing the song by putting their flavor on it.

So, you’ve always been super colorful. I’ve seen your style change over the years. Can you tell me a little bit about your amazing outfits in the ‘”90s Music” video?
That song is honestly like a collage. I wanted to push all of the boundaries. I think in the music we wanted to do the same kind of thing. It was about a cool part of your life, but you remember it differently. It’s fragmented, more psychedelic and changes your kind of experience. With the outfits, we wanted to reference some of those ideas that were prevalent in the 90s but give them a different feel. It’s again putting two worlds together that shouldn’t work, but somehow they do. I love when you have that moment where you go, “Damn, I never thought those two pieces would go together, but they just create this amazing look.”

Where do you find style inspiration?
When I was younger, I loved looking at street wear blogs from Tokyo. The Japanese culture is so inspiring to me in terms of their fearlessness with style. I have a lot of favorite Japanese producers and musicians as well. It’s something that I love because you get a chance to be really experimental with the things you pick out. I like to go home, change them and mix them with crazy things and still look like what I do onstage. There are a lot of Australian designers I love like Emma Mulholland and Jaime Lee Major who I’ve worked with. I like to support upcoming fashion designers wherever I can.

How has your life changed since “Somebody That I Used To Know?” Do you still keep in touch with Gotye?
Yeah, totally! He’s one of my very close friends. It’s great because we’ve shared this crazy ride together. I’ve been sharing my new work with him and he’s been so so supportive. I guess my life is different because I’ve seen a lot more of the world. I’ve experienced a lot more things since that song, and I’ve had a chance to connect with an audience that’s beyond what I could have dreamed. It’s given me an amazing platform to do that.

It definitely boosted your career. What’s your favorite track on the The Golden Echo?
That’s hard. It’s probably a track called “Love In High Places.” It talks about the elements of nature and simplicity. It’s a song that really comes from the heart and one that I had the most involvement production-wise. I guess it’s a song for me that comes from a place of real contemplation and truth. I think that’s an important thing for me to explore. Amongst all the chaos, it’s really important to have a chance to breathe.


Ilana Kaplan is also a child of the 90s. She's on Twitter - @lanikaps.


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