Kimbra Talks Grammy, Greek Mythology, and the ’90s

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Photo by Thom Kerr

If the name Kimbra rings a bell, it probably has little do with her debut album Vows, even after it reached #14 on Billboard charts with its North American release and the massive success it garnered abroad. More likely, you’ve only heard her on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” a sleeper hit that won the pair multiple Grammys in 2013 for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The song was played relentlessly on radio stations and covered on shows such as American Idol, The Voice, and even Glee. While the New Zealand singer is definitely thankful for her overnight stardom, she’s looking toward the future with the upcoming release of her sophomore album, The Golden Echo. But despite the album’s name, her new work is no reverberation of the past; the unapologetically bizarre and in-your-face record will reintroduce Kimbra to the world as an intelligent and talented Progressive Pop/Electronica singer, worth far more than one catchy single. 

Most Americans know you for the massive success of “Somebody that I Used to Know,” for which you won a few Grammys. What was that experience like?

The night itself was a trip. The biggest memory I have was looking down the isle and seeing people like Beyoncé and Jay-Z and being like, “Wow, these are the curators of culture right here.” It was a really amazing experience to see them standing up and acknowledge the work that Wally [Gotye] and I had done…it was incredible.

It sounds like it must have opened a lot of doors for you. 

Yeah. I had a record out with Warner Brothers and, you know, being able to have that kind of instant exposure to people was a really amazing opportunity. And then it led fans to look into my music more, and it was great that there was already a whole album there. It gave me a lot of opportunities and obviously on this record I’ve maximized that and was like, “Okay, I know so many amazing people now, how can I make a record that I’d be really excited to listen to?”

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Photo by Thom Kerr

I read that the day after you won the awards, you moved to a sheep farm in Silver Lake. 

I knew I was going to be here [the US] for a few more writing sessions and just to work. In the past I would have just moved into an apartment for a bit, or even a hotel, but I just couldn’t stand being in another hotel man. I’d been on the road for two years in just a whirlwind, and I needed to find some ground again. Some stillness. I wanted to be around people or animals that didn’t see me as someone special. I think as a creative and an artist, it would be kind of blinding if you were just surrounded by constant praise or all the criticism.

Can you tell us about the new album? Where did the name come from? 

It’s named after a flower. The name of the flower is Narcissus Golden Echo, but I decided to simplify it. It came to me in a dream. It opened up the world of Greek mythology to me. The story of Narcissus is so important in this day and age. We’re constantly surrounded by reflections of ourselves everywhere we look. We literally wake up and the first thing in the morning we see is social media. So I felt like that was a part of the record in some ways—was all that story of finding identity within yourself. This beautiful, resounding frequency in the universe that calls out to you and draws you away from yourself, and then draws you to be connected again. There are really two main things: the story of Narcissus and what it feels like to find yourself, as well as what it feels like to be drawn outside of yourself. 

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And what about the cover art? 

It’s about a place you go on a journey—a place that’s the unknown. I’m on the front cover but being called away and outward, and that resembles the Golden Echo. I want people to go into this record and feel like they’re no longer in the same time zone, like you’re being taken somewhere else.

After watching your music video for “90s Music,” I saw that journalists were using terms like “gloriously weird” in descriptions. How’d this make you feel? 

I mean, it’s a pretty crazy song. People who have followed me from the start know that I like to experiment a lot, and I like to be playful with music. I like to throw a lot of ideas on the table and see what works.

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Photo by Thom Kerr

Where did the idea for the song come from? 

The song is all about that sort of celebration of remembering things, but how they come back in a fragmented way. They don’t come back in the same way that you first received them. That’s what the idea is. It’s futuristic sounding but the lyrics are all about throwbacks. 

If you could work with any big artist from the ’90s, whom would you choose? 

I feel like Timberland’s golden era was in the 90s, like with everything he did for Missy Elliot. He was just so on top of it.

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Photo by Thom Kerr

What’s one message you’d like to get across with this album? 

If you think you’ve lost all hope, there’s always a place that you can return to where you can hear and tune back into something that’s very much a place a love—whether that’s in an existential way or by being with someone else.