New Zealand pop artist, Kimbra, is coming to the Paradise this Sunday—her first time back in Boston since 2014. We spoke with the international pop star, who made her splash with the 2011 hit “Somebody That I Used To Know,” about stage aesthetics, giving back to an Ethiopian charity, and hanging out with Skrillex.

KD: You’ve always had such a unique aesthetic involved with your music. I want to know, are there going to be any big costumes or visual elements in your new tour?

K: Always! I think that’s something that’s important to me that I’m creating a show that’s more than just music and kind of visceral for people, you know? An experience that can be multiple mediums. So there will always be an element to the show. Fashion is just another way of expressing myself onstage so I’m kind of working on that for the show right now. But it is a different show and there’s a slightly different band setup. I’m now kind of the master of the rig when it comes to the drums: whether it’s triggering or drum machines and manipulation onstage [with elements of] DJ stuff.

I’m kind of trying, not to replicate the record for people, but in a way that breathes new life into it, you know? I have two guys on each side of me that are doing musicians’ work and it’s a very big sound even though there’s less people onstage. And we have a really amazing lighting design and visuals that my friend has been making. And I think what’s much different about this show is I feel it’s the most personal show I’ve done yet. I feel like I can have more space in the arrangement, really connect with people, and embrace that sense of intimacy.

KD: Was it a conscious decision to make things sound different from the record for you?

K: Well we’re going to evolve songs from the old records just because I think that keeps me excited about doing it. I think it’s exciting for fans to hear a whole new kind of rendition. In terms of songs from Primal Heart yeah, I mean, I want to showcase them in a way that’s [like the old record] but also makes them feel special in the live space. So that people, when they hear the final album, it is different to the live performance. I think that is intentional.

KD: I saw in your Instagram feed that you were talking about Ben Weinman from Dillinger Escape Plan being your friend and your manager. I want to know what it’s like to be on the road with someone that you consider to be a friend?

K: He has come onstage with me before! He joined me onstage so that was amazing. That was before he was like, working with me. We were just friends back then. So yeah, I think it’s possible it can happen again. It’s been a lot of fun kind of going into this new thing together because we’ve been friends for so long and I really admire him, he’s an amazing musician as well.

KD: I want to take a minute to talk about Tirzah, the Ethiopian charity you’ve been involved with.

K: Yeah! The trip didn’t have anything to do with, well nothing to do with music. I just did it as a kind of thing for my spirit. I think I felt I needed to step outside of myself, maybe? You know, the world of self reflection… writing songs about yourself gets old. I just wanted to give back in a different way. And I had heard about people going on this particular trip and I really [liked] the values of Tirzah. Because it’s about actually listening to the stories of women.

I just wanted to be an anonymous person in the group that could go along and just offer my hands and ears and eyes and I was really changed by the experience. I came back, living in LA at the time, and I said, “I have to move,” and I moved to New York. I think Ethiopia inspired that in a way, just because I felt hungry for a different kind of energy in my life. So I went back another year, to follow up with the women I had met, and it was amazing to have friends on my trip back to Ethiopia. I actually knew a lot of people and could partner with these incredibly inspiring women and all that they were doing.

KD: That’s so great to be working with an organization to empower women because in today’s American cultural climate there’s a lot of powerful men being taken down and women taking things back. Has this cultural climate affected your songwriting? Is it reflected on your upcoming album at all?

K: I mean, of course, you’re affected by the environment that you’re in. You can’t help but let things from your subconscious rise up. I was pretty interested to see that the song “Everybody Knows” that I put out seemed to resonate with people in quite a lot of different levels. It was out around the time of the first news about Harvey Weinstein and I think many chose to interpret that as kind of a direct line towards that situation, lyrically. It’s true, of course, that things can be interpreted that way, and I write my songs with a kind of personal lens but then I also see what other people are going through and try to speak to a place that maybe more than one person can connect with.

I think I realized, as that song was circulating, that it probably could be seen as a song speaking to that and for me, it was more coming to the light and seeing things for what they are and having the courage to actually speak to that and actually move out of that situation and grow from it. Not necessarily in the same way that other performers had been speaking out, but I saw that it could certainly speak to that impression. I think that’s the powerful thing about music: the soundtrack culture can speak to so many different situations. I welcome that. I welcome people to see those reference points in my music and see where I might be alluding to situations that I’m observing or situations I myself have some experience.

KD: Now that you’re based in New York, do you find that it’s as isolating as a lot of young people who move there say it is? Was that isolation affecting you as you were writing this new album?

K: I don’t really shy away from loneliness, I think that I’m comfortable. I like to go out and read by myself in the park, I like to spend time alone. But I actually don’t feel as disconnected here as I used to in LA sometimes because there’s so many cars there and… everyone’s on the street here so I’m always walking into other people. And I think what connects us most is our pain and I see a lot of pain in New York and so in a way when I see a lot of homelessness, it helps me actually to feel more connected with the world sometimes because I realize that so many of us are struggling with things. No, I haven’t experienced a deep loneliness here, I’ve actually felt, maybe even more connected to people than I ever have before.

 

KD: What was inspirational for you for this record? Was there any particular art or literature or anything that was really inspiring to you?

K: Always! I had been listening to a lot of different R&B artists and the hip hop genre. I’ve been really inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s work, Frank Ocean […] Solange… I think she made a real statement with her record. I love the new Grizzly Bear album a lot […] I liked another New York band called Mr. Twin Sister…

In terms of art and literature there are a few that continue to really inspire me. I think on my last record I was really into a sort of Dali headspace, though on this record maybe the work of someone like Caravaggio spoke to me more. The way his paintings depict the more human side of religious texts and I think I wanted to speak to that really human type of vulnerability. I was reading a lot of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Those are some that come to mind.

KD: So I saw a picture with you, Skrillex, and Thundercat in a room together.

K: [laughs]

KD: I want to know; how does a supergroup like that get into a room together?

K: We were all just hanging out at this show with Taylor Graves, Thundercat, and his brother and I think Skrillex might have texted me. He was like ‘Come to my house!’ and I was with them and I was like ‘Should we go?’ and they were like ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ And then we just went to his house and he’s playing us beats and we’re just hanging out and then before you knew it we were making a song as well, which has never seen the light of day, by the way. But you know, it’s cool, I love when things like that happen. It’s just so, kind of one thing leads to another. It’s not like some record executive sat us down in a room and told us to do something.

KD: So when a group like that is sitting down together does anyone take the lead or are you all just pretty collaborative and open to everyone’s different ideas? Because you guys come from such different musical backgrounds, it’s so interesting.

K: Yeah I think we all have a real mutual respect for what we’re all doing though, we all respect the musicality in each other’s different genres and the craft, you know? Like Skrillex is so different to what me and [Thundercat] do but his craft is so evident. The way he like, how fast he is, how he works so quickly, how he knows where a hook is, all of that stuff. I think it was actually kind of natural for us all to work together because we trust in each other.

KD: How would you describe your album without using any genre tags?

K: Intimate, bold, heavy in a sense of sonics, confrontational, instinctual. There’s something about instinct on this record.

Kimbra plays the Paradise this Sunday, 1/28.

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