Music Interviews
5:07 am
Sun August 17, 2014

More Than Just 'Somebody': Kimbra's New Groove

Originally published on Sun August 17, 2014 8:39 am

The woman who pops up halfway through "Somebody That I Used To Know," hijacking the 2011 hit to tell her own side of its fractured love story, has been busy since then. Kimbra's breakout turn singing alongside Gotye gave a pop-world boost to an eclectic career; on her latest album, The Golden Echo, she explores soul, funk, jazz and even disco.

Not that she's heard it much lately. In an interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer, Kimbra says that the moment an album is finished, it's time for her to stop listening to it.

"I live inside these songs 24/7. I sleep and I dream of them. I wake up and I start editing the vocals I did the day before," she says. "They become your teachers, you know? I'm learning things from the song, I'm learning things about myself; it's all very insular as a process. The day that you master a record, it becomes someone else's story."

Hear more of the conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The name Kimbra may not be that familiar to you, but maybe her voice will be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW")

KIMBRA: (Singing) You said that you could let it go and I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know.

GOTYE: (Singing) But you didn't have to cut me off.

WERTHEIMER: That is Kimbra with singer Gotye on the very popular, award-winning song from 2011 "Somebody That I Used To Know." And she now has a new album. It's a mix of soul, funk, jazz and even disco.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRACLE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) From the moment I met you, I'm ready to fade. I ran into a brighter day.

WERTHEIMER: The new album is called "The Golden Echo." Kimbra joins me from NPR West. Welcome.

KIMBRA: Thank you. Hi.

WERTHEIMER: I was wondering why you call this album "The Golden Echo."

KIMBRA: Well, it actually came from a dream that I had in the last month of making the record. I felt these words come to me one night as I was falling asleep. And I went to investigate where this title came from, "Golden Echo." It lead me to a flower called Narcissus Golden Echo, which is a kind of daffodil. From looking at that flower, I was led to the story of Narcissus and went kind of venturing into Greek mythology for a while. And I kind of started to realize that there were two really strong energies on this record, not only lyrically, but even sonically. I guess that's what "The Golden Echo" means to me is kind of about being tuned into a sound that calls you outside of yourself.

WERTHEIMER: Let's listen to another song, which is from "The Golden Echo," and it's called "Carolina."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROLINA")

KIMBRA: (Singing) Going to ride to Carolina, drive for miles to see the light. Find my feet in Carolina. Some man I'll meet to take my mind off.

WERTHEIMER: So where does this come from, Carolina? Are you talking about North or South Carolina or some other Carolina?

KIMBRA: (Laughter) Well, I've never been to North or South Carolina. I'm very interested in ideals and escapism. I think, often, we put places on a pedestal when we know nothing about them. And we say, like, wow, that must be Paradise. And I think there's something about North Carolina, South Carolina. I mean, I've always imagined that it would be this kind of peaceful place. And it symbolizes to me something very iconic-ly American. That's really what the song is about, is kind of picking this place you've kind of made up in your mind as where you'll find happiness or contentment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARONLINA")

KIMBRA: (Singing) ...New life in Carolina. I don't know why, soon we'll find out. Find a house with an ocean view. Work it out and be somebody...

WERTHEIMER: You're quite young. I mean, you're just in your early 20s, but you've been doing this kind of thing. You've been performing for a long time, haven't you? I mean, you were in a school choir.

KIMBRA: Yeah. I joined a choir at school I guess when I was about 13 or 14. And it was called Scat Choir. And they did covers of Gershwin songs and also Frank Sinatra and Beach Boys. The idea of the choir was to all, you know, learn quite interesting harmonies. And so I think that was one of the things that first attracted me to jazz cords. And all of that rubs off on you as a songwriter when you're learning about deconstructing vocal parts.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that you draw inspiration for some of the music that you do now from those years when you were a kid. There's a song on this album called "Teen Heat." Is that where "Teen Heat" comes from?

KIMBRA: I'd say even younger than the teen years. There's something very - the spirit of fearlessness. When you're a kid, you're kind of not too concerned with what people think. And you just kind of do things because you're fascinated by them, and you're excited by them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEEN HEAT")

KIMBRA: (Singing) I'm thinking hard. Breathing from head not heart. But I don't want to ruin a good thing.

And I think there's a certain stage as a teenager when you're learning about yourself, you're learning about your body. I channel from that place a lot because I have very distinct memories of how potent those years were.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEEN HEAT")

KIMBRA: (Singing) The friction pulling me, started everything, and it feels so good.

WERTHEIMER: We were interested in another song that is on the new album called "Goldmine." And here's a clip from it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDMINE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) Move, you can't touch it with your two hands. You can't find it with the third eye. I've been thirsting in the mud lands.

Around the time of writing the song, I was listening to a lot of chain gang music from the slave era and gospel from that time. And I just became fascinated with the sounds, the chains scraping along the ground, the - yeah, the thump of sort of feet on the ground. And there's a weight to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDMINE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) 'Cause I got a goldmine, it's all mine. Nobody can touch this gold of mine. 'Cause I got a goldmine, it's all mine.

The arrangement is a lot sparser than other songs on the record. I wanted to really get that hypnotic feeling of this being like a war cry, you know, something that people could kind of feel empowered by.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDMINE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) They all run into the gold rush. They all run into the river.

WERTHEIMER: You said in an interview in Australia that after the record was mastered, you never wanted to hear it again.

KIMBRA: I live inside these songs 24/7. I sleep and I dream of them. And I wake up, and I start editing the vocals I did the day before. And I get back into finishing whatever parts I'm working on that day. It is an all-consuming process. They become your teachers, you know. I'm learning things from the song. I'm learning things about myself. It's all very insular as a process. The day that you master a record, it becomes someone else's story. I mean, obviously you're playing bits now, and I'm hearing them, you know, which I haven't for a long time. But I feel like they're taking on a new life now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALTZ ME TO THE GRAVE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) Remember oceans, violet parasols.

WERTHEIMER: Kimbra joined us from our Los Angeles Bureau. Her latest album, "The Golden Echo," is out on Tuesday. Kimbra, thank you very much.

KIMBRA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALTZ ME TO THE GRAVE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) ...Irises. I was so sure it was fate.

WERTHEIMER: Now B. J. Lederman's no pop star, but he did write out theme music. And this is WEEKEND EDITINO from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away on maternity leave. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALTZ ME TO THE GRAVE")

KIMBRA: (Singing) I've loved this world with all I have. Now I'm ready to go. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.