Kimbra takes us behind her riveting new single ‘Human,’ her upcoming album ‘Primal Heart’ and making a major cross-country move.
Kimbra, the two-time GRAMMY Award-winning, critically acclaimed New Zealand songstress known for mixing pop with rock, jazz and classic R&B, is back with an epic music video for her new jam “Human,” from her upcoming album Primal Heart (April 20.) She breaks it all down for us here!
What was the recording process like for Primal Heart? You’ve been through some pretty big changes over the past few years…
I took a bit of time — there’s never really time off, but I took a road trip across the country and moved to New York. Moving here was a big shift. I wrote a lot of the album in my home studio that I built out of drum machines and synths that I bought. I created the palette that I was going to paint with for this album.
I knew I wanted to take on a different philosophy with Primal Heart; one that would be about searching for that kind of raw emotion that doesn’t need too much decoration to reach the listener. Big shifts happened in my own life — I felt like I was maturing and making decisions for myself and my spirit. Moving to New York was big for me, and I went to Ethiopia twice doing work with a charity over there. I stepped out of my bubble…LA can get narcissistic. It’s good to escape sometimes and work out what I want to really say.
What were some of the challenges?
It’s always challenging when you choose to be more vulnerable on a record. Trying to reveal that very core emotion — that’s challenging, because it’s scarier to let people see all of the rough edges. I had moments of doubting that, like, should I get features? Should I get my famous friends to come by? [Laughs] But I just let it be me.
“Human” references the album title. How did that come about? What does it mean to have a “primal heart?”
It came out in the writing session. “I’ve got a heart that’s primal/because I need your love for my survival.” We all kind of looked at each other, like, that’s pretty deep. I started to be like, what does it mean to have a primal heart that actually needs to give love and receive love? There’s this need for community, but it’s a little wild. I started to explore on this album…each of the songs speaks to something that lives in the primal heart, what I believe is the raw material of a human being. Those things are ambition, capacity for love, transcendence, but also greed and ego. That’s the paradox. I’m always writing about duality.
How do you like living in New York now?
I f*cking love it here. The sense of being alone in the city, but also connected at the same time, is so strange. But it’s quite freeing, because I feel, at all times, connected to the vitality of life outside of me. That’s what’s been fun about New York. I go on solo dates! We all live different, crazy lives, and it’s freeing to be in the cesspool of human diversity.
I feel the same. What can we expect from your tour?
I’ve been touring in Europe, and we played a lot of the new record and the response was great. We’re reinterpreting a lot of old material — everything has been filtered through a new lens. I’m a master of the beats! And I can manipulate things on the fly depending on the room. But I don’t have the big funk/soul band like I used to. We’re like a Daft Punk-y, Swedish synth vibe. It’s futuristic. We have a crazy lightning and production design. It’s going to be a multi-medium experience.
Who do you want to collaborate with next?
Kendrick Lamar. Someone who really breaks the mold. Or a duet with Rufus Wainwright. I’m a huge fan! He’s an iconic, classic singer. I love him.
How did “Somebody That I Used To Know” change your life?
It gave me a great platform to reach the hearts across the world. That’s been such a gift. My music departs from the style of that song, but people had a personal connection with my voice or my performance of it. That means a lot to me. I’m authentically giving my honest soul and I’m really proud of that song! It’s cool, because these things can be a trap if they don’t represent the artist, but that song did come from a deep place.
I have to ask: where do you keep your GRAMMYs?
They’re in my studio! They’re up on this shelf where my cables are. They’re not really on display so much. It’s a funny one. I’m super proud of them, but awards are not why I make my music. I am inspired when I have those moments of self-doubt…and then I go, oh, shit, that’s cool to be acknowledged at that level, that I [mean] something to people on a large scale. So that gives me courage to keep going!
On to the more random ones. How do you feel about social media these days? Do you feel the pressure to be really active?
I do feel the rub on that sort of [social media] stuff. I’m traditional in the sense that I love the mystery of Ziggy Stardust and Bowie or Prince, but I don’t think I could ever totally disengage. There’s something beautiful about not sharing your entire life on social media and creating a bit of distance, but I’m trying to find the medium where I can express myself in a more longform way. I enjoy blogging and the newsletters I’m doing, because I’ve struggled with Twitter! I want to be able to connect a little deeper, exchange something a bit more…it’s a funny one to balance, but I’ve found blogging has helped me share more.
What’s it like when you recorded “Good Intent” in Simlish for The Sims 3?
It was weird and interesting. Especially with a song that’s a bit sensual in nature, to be doing it in this clunky language…but it was fun!
What’s the weirdest or most unique venue you’ve played?
I played in an aquarium in Vermont! I did a set with a friend who plays in Alexander F. We were expecting fish to be in the vicinity but they were around the corner. I was kinda bummed. Like, where are the fish? That’s the only reason I came.
Which band would you drop everything to join if you were asked?
Oh my God, so many. Earth, Wind & Fire or The Mars Volta. That’s a really good question. De La Soul. I’d definitely like to join Destiny’s Child. [Laughs]
What’s your advice to humanity?
Spend more time in stillness and silence. I really believe in the practice of silence. I’m very disciplined about meditation and prayer each day, and I think we live in a world of so much talking, chatter, debate, so many opinions. There’s something grounding about silence. I wish there’d come a day when governments would do nonverbal prayer before they meet, actually sit in silence together and find their center before they choose to speak. I find words have more impact after you pause and think about what you really want to say. I think the world would do better if we embraced that more.
Finally, what’s something you’ve been passionate lately outside of your work?
Japan! I played seven shows out there this year, and it was unbelievable. I stayed to explore and couldn’t believe how inspiring that culture was.