With ‘The Golden Echo,’ Kimbra Applies Lessons Learned from Gotye Hit: “There Are No Rules”

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The first time I visited the Wikipedia page of Kimbra Lee Johnson — known to most simply as “Kimbra,” the 24-year-old singer from New Zealand — I thought someone was trolling her. Not that Wiki is exactly a reliable source, but famous people’s pages are typically groomed meticulously by their fans. Under genre, though, Kimbra’s page read: “pop, indie pop, electropop, jazz, soul, R&B, progressive music, progressive metal.” Then I spent more time with her music. I’ll add now: they forgot funk.

Next week, Kimbra will release her second album, The Golden Echo, on Warner Bros (it’s streaming right now). The adventurous, live-band romp through pop and soul through the ages will be Kimbra’s first new album created (though not released stateside) after Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” became The Inescapable Song of 2012, thus launching Kimbra’s name to a level of cultural familiarity she had only known Down Under. As Kimbra tells it, the acclaim that accompanied the No. 1 hit cracked her mind right open when it came time to make a follow-up to her 2011 debut, Vows. “I saw what could happen with a song that essentially doesn’t hit the chorus until two minutes,” she said.

Flavorwire: You definitely pack in a lot of different styles on The Golden Echo, as exhibited alone by the guests you hosted during the album’s recording sessions: John Legend, Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Bilal, Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, Van Dyke Parks, Michael Jackson drummer John “JR” Robinson, Flying Lotus, Omar [Rodríguez-López] from The Mars Volta, etc. This is a formidable guest list.

Kimbra: When we say “collaborators,” it makes it sound like they have this big moment on the record, where it’s like, “featuring Mark Foster and Matt Bellamy!” It was a lot more organic than that. I made a lot of friends on the road when I was touring. When I moved to L.A., I would immediately start that conversation: “I’m working on a record, you should come on, you should come hang out!” A lot of the time, it was the other people, like John Legend, who were interested in collaborating and reached out to me. When there’s that mutual respect between two artists, that’s a really great space to create a song that’s not just like a label putting you in a room together — it’s actually organically happening out of friendship. So it wasn’t so much an intention to be like, “Okay, how many songs can I have featuring different artists?” As you can hear, it’s not that kind of record at all.

For example, my co-producer Rich [Costey] works a lot with Muse, so he sent the song to Matt [Bellamy] like, “Hey! Check it out, this is a song that me and Kimbra are working on, if you have an idea, send something through!” Matt really liked the song, and did have an idea, and sent something literally the next day on email. Same with Mark Foster [from Foster the People], who said, “I like this song – can I come down tomorrow? I have an idea.” So it was this really nice magnetic thing that happened with this record, where it kept seeming to attract people. People just wanted to be a part of it, which was really an honor for me. I like the idea of trying different energies in the room. What happens when Thundercat is jamming with me in a room? Or when Daniel Johns from Silverchair comes down and we decide to write a pop song together? That’s interesting to me. It’s less about making a big statement moment for that artist and more about how can I have musician that every time they play something on the album — whether it’s the smallest thing or the biggest thing — I feel like it has personality. That’s what you get from people of that kind of caliber, and that kind of approach to music.

FW: Is there anybody who sticks out as being really surprising? Like, you didn’t expect that to come from them.

Kimbra: They all constantly surprised me, because you have it in your mind, “Okay, I’ve done this kind of music, this is what people expect from me.” Even the fact that all these people wanted to work with me was surprising. “Really? You’re into my music?” Ben Weinman from the Dillinger Escape Plan is playing on my songs? I find that so humbling. You can never prejudge a musician and what they like.

To be honest, a lot of the collaborations didn’t make this album as well. The song I wrote with Dave Longstreth [from Dirty Projectors] was this crazy kind of R&B-African jam. But that didn’t make it on — no one’s heard that yet, but it’ll come out someday.