Kimbra is at Brooklyn Steel tonight for the second show in a run of North American tour dates in advance of the springtime release of her new record, Primal Heart. She’s in DC tomorrow night at 9:30 Club as well, so I got caught up with her on the phone a few weeks ago to find out what we can expect from these gigs, and what it was like to write a collection of songs that feels more stripped back and personal than some of her older, slightly more abstract material. We also talked about charitable work, life in the hustle and bustle of NYC, the importance of human connections and more, so read up on all of that below, grab tickets to see her live, and pre-order Primal Heart (out 4.20 on Warner Bros. Records) here!
So I’m super excited for Primal Heart to be released! But it’s not slated to drop until springtime, right? Are you chomping at the bit to have it out?
I am, but also, I’m excited that I’ve got some more time to add some additional things. I’ve had some projects bubbling that I really wanted to have come out around the same time as this record release, so this actually gives me the chance to get those things prepped, and to put out even more music, really! I’m going to have a song out every month leading up to the album release, and a video, and I’m taking them on the road, so to me…you know, an album is a relationship that I’m building with people, so I’m hoping it’ll be one that lasts a long time. I’m really thankful that I have a fan base that understands my vision; there are a lot of things that come into play, and I’m excited to have more time to get it all going. I released a new song to my mailing list a few days ago to thank them for being so understanding, and that felt especially good, because it’s actually one of my favorites on the record.
And with the record, you’ve said in some other interviews that you took a bit more of a direct approach with the lyrics; did you find that to be scarier or maybe even easier when compared with some of your past material that was a little more abstract?
Yeah, a lot of the past stuff was more character based as well. I’m always writing about my life, but sometimes I’ll exaggerate it for a more theatrical effect. I think on this one, I don’t know, it felt much more like I was sitting down with someone and having a coffee, looking them in the eyes and maybe holding their hand, and just telling them what I’ve been going through. I don’t think I’ve had the strength to do that as much in the past. It was harder, yes, of course, because it’s so much easier to run away from the center, whereas I really challenged myself to go into the center on this record. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of psychedelic aspects on it, and all of that imagination, but it just feels more grounded, and it’s a lot to do with my life. I moved to New York, and I did that for me. It was a time when I was very confronted with reality. I’m on my feet every day, I’m on the subway, I’m with people, and I’m seeing things about the world that I didn’t get to see as much of when I was in LA. I think a lot of that makes it more natural to go into that space, you know? Because art should reflect life, and my life is a lot more focused now. I have a home, I’m not living in Airbnbs constantly. I’m settled, and I think that gives you a little bit more of an environment to reveal yourself. Does that make sense?
Completely. I was also going to ask you how you’ve found the creative lifestyle to be this last year or so in the midst of this fucking awful political climate. I know it’s happening worldwide, but the United States is certainly at the center of a lot of the bullshit.
You can’t ignore it, can you? I mean, it’s all around. I’m from New Zealand, and we have problems, everyone has problems, but I’ve just never been exposed to this kind of political climate. New Zealand is a small country, so it’s a little bit easier for us to be progressive. But you can’t ignore it, and again, in the past I used to see myself as a New Zealander living in America, so “It’s not my place to talk about that. I’m not from here, so I can’t really talk about racism, because I’m not really…” and now of course I see that is so ignorant and silly and immature, because we’re all humans, and we’re all living in the world together, and we all have pain and vulnerability and suffering. We’re all part of that bigger picture, so living in New York really confronts you with that, and yes, I think that meant as a creator that I felt more of a responsibility than ever to speak to the things that I was witnessing, and not always in abstract metaphor, but sometimes quite directly. I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly obvious to everyone what I’m writing about, but I’d say it’s more obvious than past records. This stuff is a process. Maybe by my sixth or seventh record I’ll just be like, a process artist. [Laughs] But for now it feels like a development for previous records, because I have more courage to speak to things and have an opinion, to be allowed to have an opinion. I guess it doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you grew up, we’re all humans. We all have a primal heart. This is what Primal Heart means to me, this sense of being connected at the innermost part of who we are. No one is free of that responsibility.
Yes, a friend of mine started an organization called Sew Many Lives, and they provide handmade clothing to the homeless. I’d really love to do more local work as well, but the two trips I took to Ethiopia were really life-changing. I mean, I went twice in a row, it meant that much to me. I just had to get back because it had gotten under my skin. I don’t really see myself doing charity work, though. They were doing charity to me – I was with these women suffering from HIV with five children, trying to start a business, hearing their stories of unbelievable things that have gone on in their lives…that was the charity, was just being able to learn, to see their strength, and getting to partner alongside them as they built their business. That was an incredible honor. There are a lot of connotations with the word “charity” that make me think, “Oh, us Westerners going over and helping out the poor people.” But I’m not really a believer in looking at it that way. To me, it’s like, just connecting with other human beings…we all have a lot to teach each other, and of course if I can financially help, or help with my music, it’s even more incredible. But the thing that these women remember is the connection and the friendship. When you come back the second year and they’re serving you food in their house, a restaurant that they built from the ground…it’s insane how empowering that is.
Yeah man, you should check out their work. It’s really special.
Well speaking of human connections, I know you have a really great fan base, and I’m sure they’ve been really excited about Primal Heart. Have you received any feedback from them about the songs that have been released so far?
I’ve kind of been blown away by the response. It’s really scary when you put something out and it’s a lot more stripped and exposed, doesn’t have all the formulas for a big hit or something. Like I’m not dressing up in crazy outfits, I’m just kind of wearing a white dress in a field, or standing in a black room and half rapping. It’s kind of nerve-racking to be like, “What if people just don’t like this?” [Laughs] But they’ve been so supportive, and what I feel very lucky for is that my fans seem to really get the soul of what I do, and the intention. And if you get that, if you get the trust from people, then you can kind of do anything as an artist, as long as it comes from that place of authenticity and conviction. I don’t know, it seems like people are really getting to live with this music, and have it affect their lives from what I’ve been hearing so far. Let’s hope that continues!
Yeah, and it seems like a really nice balance where you are telling your stories, but people can also still project their own meanings onto the songs. Have you gotten any very interesting interpretations from listeners that you would never have thought about?
There have been some pretty out there ones in terms of like…well, not “out there”, but for example, “Everybody Knows” is a song that lyrically is certainly about courage, and justice and oppression, and I didn’t necessarily write it directly in mind to speak to the #MeToo movement, but it wasn’t long before people started to pick up on the fact that it could be an anthem for the Harvey Weinstein thing, and even people from my record label being like, “It’s cool that you wrote a song speaking to that.” I was like, “Well, it was actually about some other things…” but of course I was very aware that it was an ongoing thing when I wrote the song. It wasn’t a movement yet, but it was something I was seeing a lot of people go through in terms of having to build the courage to expose things and then also grow from it, you know? And that’s basically the heart of that song – taking that fragility and turning it into strength. But yeah, when people went all the way to comparing it to that, it was kind of like, “Wow, it’s amazing that a song you write can suddenly have an even bigger meaning than what you intended at the start.” And then of course I did partner with Safe Horizon for a video that my friends in Berlin made. A kind of remix of the song was done, and it goes a little bit deeper to that side of the lyrics. I think it’s great when you can get different lives out of the same song.
Absolutely. Now, what can we expect for the live setup you’re bringing on tour?
You’ll be at the New York one, yeah? It’ll be the second show of the whole tour, so that’s exciting, and it kind of feels like a hometown show, because it’s where I wrote the album. I think it’s going to be a pretty heavy spirit in the room. This is my favorite band and live show to date, though. I’ve loved having the insane funk breakdowns and crazy drummers, but now it’s a little bit more of an electronic space; I try to do a lot of improvising on my gadgets, I have a spaceship of equipment that keeps me entertained, but I also have two really incredible musicians with me. We’ve really put a lot into the multimedia kind of experience, and we toured it around Europe where it went really well, so I’m just really excited to bring it to America.
And speaking of being excited, what else are you stoked on for 2018 apart from this batch of shows and the eventual record release? Any goals or resolutions?
Yeah, I’ve had a dream for a while to do a release of poetry and photography with my father; he’s a doctor, but he’s also an amazing black and white photographer, and I know he’s shy to put out his work, but I’d love to actually help him realize that, and couple it with some poetry that I write which I’ve never really shared with people. It’s kind of a dream to maybe get something published with him, but we’ll see!