Kimbra has a new album, Primal Heart. Listeners might trace common threads to Golden Echo or Vows, but as Kimbra sees it, her latest is different. No longer painting fantasy, she’s drawing listeners close. Sharing intimate truths.
The journey Vows started isn’t over. But the script has changed. At 28, Kimbra’s discovering new sensations of inner strength. Putting more of herself onto this record than ever before, there’s a degree of vulnerability. And darkness.
Primal documents her life over the last four years. A far cry from her childhood home of Hamilton, New Zealand or adoptive Australia, she’s been living cloistered in LA before ricocheting off to New York. It’s here that she’s sought independence and discovered a spiritual centre.
Even when speaking from the heart, Kimbra remains cryptic as to her lyrical meanings. Whether by nature or sly design, she isn’t ready to give it all away. It leads to a different line of inquiry.
Her record carries powerful messages. But in a world slipping towards darkness, can music really make a difference? Kimbra Lee Johnson sits close to agnostic but feels there’s something there.
Whether its connection between artist and audience, or bonds amongst listeners themselves, music induces connection. A fleeting but potent meeting of minds. But when the giddy euphoria of the movement recedes, something sticks.
Ever a seeker of human truths, Kimbra may not hold the answers. But there’s something compelling to her thoughts, and with Primal Heart, you’re with her on this journey. It’s a little darker, yet carries a fiery element of redemption. But of course, that’s open to interpretation. You could just as equally throw back your head and dance. This music courses with a kinetic charge.
These contrasts go to the core of Kimbra’s music, and perhaps the artist herself. Complex yet beguilingly simple. A perfect paradox.
Music Feeds: You grew up on a little group of islands just east of Australia called New Zealand! It’s a small country but one with a rich history of producing these great pop eclectics. People like The Finn brothers, the whole Flying Nun thing and even OMD’s ‘How Bizarre’…
K: That’s right!
MF: Do you see yourself as part of a greater tradition?
K: Well I’d really like to be considered part of that. That’s such a big part of my own influence. Now that I’ve lived throughout the rest of the world I see what you mean! There’s something going on. There was a little bubble there for a moment and of course, it continues.
We have a special originality coming out of New Zealand. Maybe it is from just being so far away on this remote island. I do feel the world is yet to really know enough about New Zealand’s music. It’s really something special.
I’m probably feeling more sentimental than usual because I’ve just been a part of a New Zealand film [Daffodils] where I debuted in an acting role. But I sing too. I sing songs from the Flying Nun catalogue as well as things from The Mint Chicks to the Finns to Chris Knox. Just classics!
I left when I was 17. That’s a long time ago now. But I think I carry a lot of it with me still.
MF: I’d like to talk about the new LP Primal Heart [out today]. It’s a very upbeat and kinetically charged album, but from the get-go it feels darker. Is it painting pictures of a more turbulent world than your previous records?
K: I think of my last record as being quite ‘in the clouds’ in a sort of beautiful and youthful way. I was like a kid in a playground, painting with all these colours and reaching into all of the obscure ends of my influence. Just dancing in this cloud.
Even living in LA recently was kind of like living in a cloud. I didn’t drive, I just kind of just took one highway. I had a single producer and worked in the same studio. I’d go to these strange little bubbles and meet people who were idols of mine and then go back to the studio. In a way, it felt like everything was existing in this strange place of imagination.
But then moving to New York, I found that I had really grounded myself. I found a deeper sense of social conscience. I started looking around the world and thinking, “Wow. I’m really being confronted with all of humanity’s complexity”. I made trips to Ethiopia at the time of making this record and it was all there on the street, all in front of me.
So whether it’s darker or more turbulent I don’t know. But it’s generally more grounded. It’s less face-in-the-clouds. It’s more present.
I feel more present as a person, you know! I’ve made decisions that are for me. Moving to a new city and not being in LA just because I know that’s where the industry is. I’ve reconnected with my spiritual centre. When you’re writing from that place, there’s sometimes a little more seriousness to it because you’re confronting things in a more serious way, right?
MF: But at the same time Primal Heart is still one hundred percent music you can dance to!
K: Totally! I’m glad you say that. I don’t think the purpose of art to is to be just a total downer. I think the beauty of music is that it can kind of lead us into these wonderful moments of revelation and transcendence. It can take us out of ourselves for just a moment, everyone needs escapism too!
I think in a lot of my music in the past I’ve been being escapist and creating characters. This serial land of Disneyesque pop. With this new record, I’ve wanted to speak from a place a little more from my own experience.
In the past, I might of taken you on an adventure right? Say if you were doing an interview like this I’d take you all around the city and show you a million things, but now, with this record, we just sit down. We just grab a cup of coffee and just look each other in the eye. Just talk and be still. It’s focused. I don’t know if that makes any sense! But that’s the way I like to think of it.
MF: It does!
K: In the mixing process for this record I wanted to think about that. I wanted to be out of the speakers and maybe even uncomfortably close to people.
MF: There’s a lot of great songs on the album, but one struck me as having this really intriguing lyric. It’s the lead single ‘Like They Do On TV’. The words are, “We’re stronger still than our fathers.” Can you tell me a little about that song?
K: Hmmmm, what did you take from that?
MF: Well I guess people can read their own meanings into things. I thought it was a very empowering statement. I love songs that present this idea of the narrator as a person sitting there watching TV, taking it all in or something like that…
K: [Laughs] Right, right. Reflecting on their own lives!
I think that part of Primal Heart is actually speaking a little bit to this idea of evolution. Not just the physical evolution of man but the spiritual evolution. This idea that hopefully we are ascending towards a greater consciousness.
I hope! I mean, I hope we’re not just repeating history over and over again, which sometimes seems to be the case, especially living in America! I think of Greek mythology and that idea of ‘rise and demise’, ‘rise and demise’. Things just going on over and over again.
But then you think of how incredible we are to have come as far as we have as a species, that maybe we’re kind of on this trajectory toward something very meaningful. To say we’re stronger now than our fathers, I guess, comes from my longing that we will continue to evolve. That through all the confusions and complexities we will find some kind of deeper wisdom.
And there’s something very confronting about being able to say that because I think, as you get older, you realise that the things you once held as ideals – like your parents, right? You saw your parents as God when you were young. They were your entire definition of morality and all your social constructs came from what your parents decided.
But then you grow up and have experiences for yourself. You realise your parents are still children, working it out. They’re still working out how to be vulnerable, you know what I mean? So I think there’s a little bit of a sense on this song of me coming into myself as an adult. A person not under the influence of others all the time. Stepping into that authority as a woman, now 28.
There was something in that lyric. “We are stronger now than our fathers, can’t you hear me calling out our names?” Stepping into that space of agency. It takes time right!? It takes some suffering as well. You have to go through some things before you start seeing life through a lens which isn’t defined for you by somebody else.
MF: Like you touched on before, music can really help people through the hard times, but do you think it can make a difference? Can it change the world for the better?
K: Hmmm… Well you know I question it at times. When the world seems really heavy you go, “What am I really doing? What is music really doing?” You wonder can it really change things on a global level.
But I can’t deny the energy sometimes at shows. Whether they’re the ones I’m playing or the ones I go to where you feel this collective sense of optimism or a sense of connectivity, which is very powerful. Sometimes music can take you to a space, you experience… your best self maybe.
Your self springs to life with joy. You feel unity emerge with your fellow neighbours on each side of you. People you might never give a second look at the supermarket or other places, but now suddenly you’re united!
So even just that, in concept, is breaking down boundaries and breaking down walls. That connectivity between strangers. I think there’s something powerful in that.
There’s also something powerful if the person walks out of a concert space or turns off that record and following them out is an energy that’s created, which inspires them to run after their dreams or to have a hard conversation.
We are products of our stimulus around us right? That’s why we all get really anxious with social media. It’s bombarding us! But when we’re immersed in music it’s taking us to another place, a more evolved way of thinking. Maybe it’s sharing with us some childlike sense of joy, humility or vulnerability that has an effect.
It leads you to shift your views on things. Maybe have the courage to confront something that you didn’t think you could before. If someone finds a way to express themselves they haven’t found before? That’s a very powerful thing!
MF: One last question. You’re about to embark on this huge tour. You’re hitting The States really hard, but can fans be expecting you back Down Under anytime soon?
K: Absolutely. I mean it’s a big priority for me to get back down to Australia because it’s the place where I really set up my career and established my fan base. I feel a real connection to my fans there. They saw it all from the start and really get my whole journey.
So yes! Absolutely it will happen. I can’t confirm any dates just yet but we’re already talking about later in the year and getting out there for a good run. So watch this space.
Kimbra’s new album ‘Primal Heart’ is out today! Grab it here.