Interview: Kimbra’s ‘Primal Heart’ Is The Fierce Album We All Need

Kimbra is poised for a reckoning when she shares her ‘Primal Heart’ with the world on January 19, 2018.

The Kiwi has shared many facets of herself as a songwriter and performer since releasing her debut full-length record Vows in 2011, which catapulted her into the spotlight and spent seven weeks on the Billboard chart. This time around Kimbra fully embraces her creative breadth, as she plays with synths, samples, ballads and powerful anthems.

After the release of 2014’s Golden Echo, Kimbra moved from Los Angeles to New York City and found herself feeling right at home among the hustle and bustle. “I’m naturally someone who likes to walk a lot, its been a big part of my growing up being in New Zealand” says Kimbra. “I make a big effort in New York to get out, to upstate and different parts. As much as L.A. was an amazing experience, I’m enjoying being able to take the subway and simple things like that. I didn’t drive in L.A., so I didn’t have as much freedom as other people.”

Kimbra set up a studio in her NYC apartment and let the energy of the city serve as her muse. She enlisted John Congleton (Nelly Furtado, Blondie, St. Vincent) as her co-producer, and collaborated with a number of artists including Childish Gambino, Dave Longstreth and  Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore), who created the tonal color for “Top of the World.”

“I was in L.A. for a bit and Sonny said, ‘why don’t you come hang out at the house and see the studio?’ He played me this interesting tribal-like beat and these aboriginal-sounding, ethnic vocal ideas.” Feeling inspired Kimbra asked if she could try finishing the song. “Top Of the World” emerged soon after. “A lot of my collaborations come together through mutual friendships and mutual appreciation,” says Kimbra.

A big influence of Kimbra’s has been R&B, and Primal Heart is no exception. She gravitates towards the genre’s music, production and style, and considers Primal Heart to have the most R&B and hip-hop influence of anything she’s done before. “I’ve always been pretty influenced by R&B, especially the way its been going these days with Frank Ocean and Solange Knowles, amazing artists I’ve been following for a while that are now becoming so big in the mainstream…I think it’s so exciting to see this genre, what I like to think of as real soul music, becoming prevalent again.”

Of course the current political climate has shaped Kimbra and her music as well. She admits that “Top Of the world” was inspired by current events: “Living in America at the time of the Drumpf election and watching how ego and greed can take over a country in such dramatic ways…I wanted to write about what that solution looks like and maybe feels like to go through. Putting myself in that position of what it would be like to go through that ascent.“

Kimbra has explored the theme of rising and falling before. Her previous record, 2014’s Golden Echo, is based on Narcissus and the Golden Echo. “What’s always timeless about Greek mythology is the story of the rise and demise and how it speaks so much to the human condition.”

On her second single “Everybody Knows,” Kimbra revels in her rise after a fall, feeling vindicated and transformed as she sings directly to her adversary: “I was young and gullible, but baby I grew. Now the whole world’s watching you.”

Themes of empowerment ring throughout Primal Heart. Kimbra has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind and she’s made a point to surround herself with strong women. Now she’s celebrating as women, and men, bear witness to their own breakthroughs as the world watches what happens next.

“I associate with really wonderful women that prove themselves with their work. I think what is needed more than ever is to see men really speak up for what women are doing in the world. It’s about equality here isn’t it? It’s about everyone standing up and speaking out for each other. I think it’s an exciting time for the world because we get to see that message extend beyond women fighting for this, and men standing up for this as well.”

Kimbra has written countless songs over her career, I ask if there’s one in particular that she’s most proud of. After a pause she says “Settle Down.” “[The song’s] evolved so much for me and what it means as a woman. For my fans, I can see the song means different things to different people as they’ve grown with me. I think the power of that song is that it still feels relevant when I sing it and not some silly song I wrote when I was kid (which I did, I was 16). It feels like a song that still has a place for my career and for my fans.”

As the New Year approaches, it’s a time to slow down, reflect on the last twelve months, and spend time with loved ones. For Kimbra, she gets into the holiday spirit the way many of us do, by listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” While it’s a festive time, for Kimbra, it’s also a sacred time for beginning again. “There’s something powerful about fresh starts, for everyone, and this idea of getting another year to look ahead and reset or realign your values. I’m really big on setting intentions and values that I remind myself of, if not yearly, daily. I think I’ll definitely be doing a good journal entry on all the things I want to not only improve about myself but work towards. I’m all about self-development. We all have a lot of work to do on ourselves.”

In 2017 Kimbra hit one of her biggest personal milestone’s yet: a trip to Japan. “I flew to Japan for the first time this year and it was one of the highlights of my life, to experience that country and all the culture that comes with it. I’m a huge fan of not only Japanese music but Japanese film and fashion. My time there felt really defining for my whole life.”

For Kimbra whether she’s in the studio, traveling, or just being quiet with herself, it all comes down to one thing: freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom to wander, freedom of the sexes, and ultimately freedom of our own limitations. On Primal Heart Kimbra unearths the best version of herself; the part that lets her fully feel and embrace “what it’s like to be human.”

Kimbra’s Primal Heart is out January 19th, 2018 via Warner Brothers Records.

photo by: Courtesy of artist