Updated: May 28
I've met and worked with a lot of my favorite musicians during my career. It's been a trip. Sometimes it's luck, sometimes it's circumstance, but sometimes it's destiny. I first discovered Kimbra's music when my friend Dave Elitch sent me a link to a song by an Australian musician named Gotye. This was probably a good year before the song that soon became one of the biggest hits of all time "Somebody That I Used to Know" hit the US Airways. I was clicking around Youtube, as you do, watching interviews with Gotye about some of his unique approaches to making music when I came across the video featuring Kimbra. This soon lead me down a rabbit hole of music and videos that were so exciting and refreshing that I immediately started sharing with all my friends. Finally an artist that had pop sensibility and appeal but was pushing creative boundaries. "Could this change the landscape?" I thought to myself. Well it turns out that Kimbra was a huge Dillinger Escape Plan fan and that the guys in her band used to be in a mathcore band in New Zealand, very inspired by Dillinger, called "Fever Lake" (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIhjOrOs1Sc#t=90 ). WHAT!!! At the same exact time that I was playing Kimbra's music for someone, I look on Twitter and she is talking about how she Digs my band and was at our show in LA. Since then Kimbra has become one of my best friends. She is a truly awesome person and talented beyond belief. A Party Smasher through and through! Enjoy this one on one interview and official Trailer preview for a series of behind the scenes "Making of the Golden Echo" episodes coming soon. - Ben Weinman BW: You are one of the most uncompromising artists I have ever met, yet you have won Grammy awards, have close to a billion collective YouTube views, and are signed to a major label. You are one of the very few artists I have encountered that almost everyone I know, regardless of what genre they typically listen to, respects and digs. How do you manage to shut out the expectations of the industry and continue to create music that is both stimulating and original, yet appealing to a large amount of people? KIMBRA: I try to always follow where I feel led and excited. That is the most authentic and innovative place for me to write from. I feel most excited as an artist when I'm being inventive and experimenting with sound and subject matter. There are always expectations around what you do but instead of letting that be stagnating I try to see it as an incentive to be bold in my choices as an artist and a producer. Expectation from the industry is a result of them first having faith in you, so I tried to focus on that and then just put all my energy back into making the work the very best it could be. I think the best pop music is that which has the ability to speak on a universal level about relatable ideas but also a weight about it that leads people into discovering the layers and complexity within the song. Striking that balance is not always easy but I think it comes when you set out to tell an authentic story in a new way. I want make music that people can live inside sonically - the production is just as much a part of the songwriting for me. I've also grown to learn that the expectations people have for something are often proved wrong - so you may as well focus on what you can control - the art - and not the possible outcomes. BW: I remember the first day I met you in person. You were in the studio with John Legend and you skipped out to go listen to new Dillinger Escape Plan Demos in my car. Then you started talking to me in detail about the new Meshuggah record. Now this is not normal! Here you were getting ready to go perform on Saturday Night Live and had just come out of the studio with a massive pop artist, and you were taking time to discuss and rock out to mathcore. Do you realize how odd and refreshing that was to someone like me? KIMBRA: Do you know how crazy and amazing it was to have Ben Weinman of Dillinger say he's a fan of the music and even share new demos with me?! Haha. There is a connectedness between us because of our similar intention and sense of ambition behind what we do. I think we are both wildly fascinated by invention, in whatever form that takes. Bands like Dillinger and Meshuggah break down so many conventions and ideas about 'metal' and I am excited by artists who can also break the mould of formulaic pop or R&B. It may surprise people that I find influence from bands like Dillinger, I think you guys are unparalleled on a rhythmic and technical level which I find really inspiring but beyond that, there is also a conviction and fearlessness to the music which I find powerful regardless of genre. I think we connect with certain bands because they live out a side of ourselves that we may be less in touch with in the day to day world, they give us a space and permission to release that energy. I was always fascinated when you used to break down your guitar riffs with me and they were essentially incarnations of latin and funk grooves - I love this idea of taking influences from a different style of music and then reinterpreting it with a whole new palate of sounds. This is how music moves forward so I'm always drawn to music that challenges me to think about melody and rhythm differently. BW: What was it like collaborating with so many different musicians on your new record? KIMBRA: It happened so organically on this album, I'd naturally met so many awesome artists from living in LA and they would come jam at my house or at the studio with me. My favorite way of working was to play them the song and record their VERY first ideas - I wanted to honor their first impressions before they started to think about it too much, and from that place I would make a sample library out of all the takes we did and then filter through to work out what the song needed. Even with Van Dyke Parks, I was able to have this kind of relationship. It's like the various collaborators became colors in a palette that would be used to paint the canvas. I wanted every sound to feel intentional and full of personality, not just professional and vacant. It was really great to work with musicians who have such strong perspectives and aesthetic to their sound. I never felt restricted in executing the sounds I heard in my head, because there were so many amazing musicians I could call on to help deliver that and add to the vision. BW: What do you get out of collaborating with other artist & is it an important part of creating for you? KIMBRA: It never used to be. I actually found collaboration quite tough early on. It's an intimate dialogue with someone, especially to let them express a direct opinion on your work and then have an influence on it in some way. Unless you develop trust and a real mutual respect, it can be an invasive process. I think there was a fear that collaboration would somehow take away from my own sound of but as I have grown, I have actually discovered a strong sense of empowerment through collaboration. It has become a tool for me to push myself and learn more.. I love the idea of curating an energy in the studio - what happens when you put Thundercat in a room with Daniel Johns from Silverchair? What happens when you listen to Dillinger all day then write a song with John legend? What starts to subconsciously take place from the collision of these perspectives? Energy changes in a room when different people are present or observing. That's why it's such a sensitive thing but when you let go and have fun with it, it can help push you into a space you never would have ventured into on your own. BW: A lot of people outside of Australia and New Zealand don’t realize that some of the earlier versions of songs on your debut album, vows, were first written when you were as young as 15. How does it feel to write an entire album of songs now that you have so much more experience as a songwriter? KIMBRA: I feel that I committed to ideas more on this record. Wether they were production choices or lyrical sentiments - there is a greater sense of abandonment. The world is a different place when you're 18, and I have different perspectives now at 24. The heart and the intention behind the music feels the same as it was from day one when I learnt my first chord on guitar, but the colors I'm painting with are evolved, they carry a new weight - because life itself has a different weight to it. I see an album as a snapshot, a portal into a season of life and a certain collection of experiences. I felt more fearless on this album. I feel as though I am always chasing the spirit of my inner child when I create, kid's don't create from a space of what's 'cool' - they're just fascinated with creativity in itself and the idea of making something from nothing - I feel I am always trying to hold on to that space. Experience can give you a wealth of stories to pull from and a great amount of skill but the intention and abandonment to the art is the thing I still value most. A 16 yr old kid without life experience may still write with more ambition than a 30yr old with a tonne of stories but caught up in formulaic structures and tired ways of telling them. BW: Working on music with you has been an amazing experience but I have to say, Jamming out with you and the band in NYC for CMJ was bad ass. Your band is out of control and you guys really almost perform like a prog band. How much of what you guys do is improvised on stage? KIMBRA: I've never heard Stevie Cat Jnr play the same fill twice that's for sure, haha, he is a loose cannon in the absolute best way. Timon Martin (my guitarist) is one of the best musicians I know and approaches melody and rhythm from such a unique and angular perspective. I love working with a band that can fly off the handle when the moment feels right but also lock business down razor sharp when needed. I just brought in a new keyboardist called Taylor Graves who works a lot with Thundercat (and plays in a metal band called Death ). His Dad played in Oingo Boingo with Danny Elfman so he has this kind of Burton-esque cinematic space-age sound to all his textures. It's an amazing addition to the band and another example of helping curate an energy of unexpected worlds colliding. The process of playing live is a dance between reinterpretation and honoring the songs and decisions made in the studio. I get quickly tired of playing things the same way so we are always looking to find new angles for the songs in order to stay inspired by them. I want the band to have creative liberty to make the songs their own. I was a fan first and foremost of their work (Timon and Stevie played in a super heavy band called Fever Lake when I was in high school!) so I have huge amounts of respect for them as players and I love seeing how they interpret the songs. We never want it to become too easy and polished. We always make choices to ensure there are moments of improvisation and the potential for something unexpected to take place in the set. I feel lucky to have a fanbase who have come to expect and enjoy this spirit of reinterpretation from the live shows. BW: Now of course the hard question… Why do you do what you do? KIMBRA: Because it's the place I feel most alive and where I feel I can give my best back to the world. For now, anyway!