“It was the most fun I ever had making a record because I’m basically a more independent artist now.”
A lot of people can agree that the majority of pop music for the past few years has become increasingly formulaic, hollow, and lacking in substance. Still, there are artists in this realm that add a serious dose of originality, and one of those performers is Kimbra from New Zealand, who just self-released her fourth album, A Reckoning on Jan. 27.
As part of her tour in support of the album, Kimbra will take the stage at Big Night Live on Feb. 17. Kimbra and I had a talk ahead of the show about a music video she did for one of the new singles, having a collaborative songwriting and recording experience, playing shows around the globe, and how music from A Reckoning has been incorporated into her live show.
Back in October you released the single “Save Me.” The music video for the track has some stunning visuals with floating rocks, you laying in front of a waterfall, and you walking through a desert that eventually has you entering a valley. Where was the filming done for the video and what was the experience like being in these different landscapes?
That video was shot in Iceland, it’s a very magical and kind of ominous place as well. When we were thinking of locations to shoot a music video, we needed a terrain that could kind of be symbolic for all of this internal reckoning that was going on while telling the story of the strength in that song but also the vulnerability. That landscape was just perfect and it worked out that during COVID and all the craziness it was relatively easy to shoot there.
In terms of what it was like to shoot the video there, I honestly felt like I overcame a lot in the making of the video. It was pretty physically challenging, there were really cold winds, I was walking across landscapes that were super challenging and having to push myself to lay in that freezing water.
There’s this central character of the record which is the warrior, a protagonist that gives up everything, surrenders to this reckoning, and then builds herself back up while finding her strength again. The video was the perfect way to depict that central theme that’s throughout the record.
Very cool. For the making of the album, what was it like working with Ryan Lott from Son Lux as a producer? Did you work together remotely at all or were you in the studio together?
Honestly, it was basically all remote. We did one session together and then the pandemic hit, but luckily we’re both quite comfortable working that way. I’m quite a solitary producer, a lot of the time I just sit, try out ideas, and send things back. I really enjoy working that way because you get the collaborative thing but you also get a chance to take a second with it, close the door, and go internal. It was the most fun I ever had making a record because I’m basically a more independent artist now, I’m not on a major label, and although that was an amazing time of my life, there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
With this record, it was just me and Ryan. We got to make the record that we wanted to make, so that was very liberating, just a lot of fun and a lot of going on pure instinct. We weren’t overthinking things too much and I think we complemented each other. I brought a lot of the more pop sensibility and Ryan brought some of the minimalism I was craving with the ability to turn things off and just have the voice there. I think it was a really successful producer-artist collaboration.
Sounds like it was from listening to it. When it comes to that dual collaboration between you and Ryan, is that what makes A Reckoning stick out for you versus other records you’ve done in the past or are there other things about this record that stick out?
This record has a vulnerability to a lot of the ballads that I’ve perhaps touched on in other records but I feel like I’ve really leaned into it more on this record. I think there’s also a sense of strength and confidence that really comes through and I feel that has a lot to do with perhaps being freed from some of the difficulty of just working in a commercial record label world. There’s a lot of pressure, so when you make a big transition as an artist into the unknown it means that you take a lot more risks. There’s a real artistic freedom that I think is on the record as well. Sometimes on my other records I can hear myself thinking about it, kind of overthinking it, and on this record I feel like I’m very present in the music.
It’s strong and it’s not afraid, which is what A Reckoning is all about. It’s about facing yourself and I think there’s a strong influence from Ryan on the record too, it makes it feel like two artists made the record. It’s got a strong artistic backbone with two artists at the helm, which is really cool for me to not feel like it was so much me in my head. I got to bounce off another energy throughout the album.
That makes for a great record in my opinion. This tour in support of the album, which includes a stop at Big Night Live, has you going all over Europe and North America. Being from New Zealand, do you notice any differences or similarities between performing on each continent?
Definitely. There is a distinct difference between audiences where I’m from down under compared to America and that’s just based on different cultures. Americans tend to be expressive with the way they express themselves, they’re very passionate and they have a very outspoken culture which makes for an amazing show because the people are so excitable. Sometimes in cultures where people tend to be more like in New Zealand and Australia, it takes more for us to get really excited because we’re culturally a little more relaxed. Sometimes you’ll play concerts down there and it can be harder to get people as into it as with American audiences from what I find.
Also, America is kind of my strongest market and I feel like I have a really amazing fan base here. In Europe, it really depends. I’ll play in London and people sometimes don’t get as excited but then I’ll play in Manchester and it’ll be the most insane crowd I’ve ever had so it really does differ. In the bigger cities, people can be so inundated with music that it’s constantly a part of their lives and sometimes when you hit the smaller territories it’s more of, Wow, this band I’d never thought I’d see is coming to town! and people will just lose it. I’d say the craziest audiences I’ve performed to are in Mexico and Latin America, it’s just on another level. I’ll get really blown away when I go there, I sometimes can’t even hear myself because people sing so loud and you just don’t find that in certain parts of the world.
It’s awesome that you garner that atmosphere in Mexico and Latin America. A Reckoning has been out for a little while now, so how have you gone about including the music from the album into your live performance?
The shows so far have been very focused on the new music, I think we’ve been playing every track on the record except maybe for one or something. Obviously that’s the point of this tour, right? It’s to bring the music people are going to hear on the album to life in a way and tell the story of it. Of course there will be some old material, people want to hear their favorite songs from old records so that’s the skill of putting a set together and getting a balance. For me, I think a lot of the songs will come to life when you hear me performing them and you hear the band reimagining the songs. It’s really important to me that we play most of the album because it is a conceptual record and it’s journey, it’s not just about three singles and we’re out.
There’s a real protagonist who is going on a path of deconstruction and rebuilding. The show will be taking people on that journey.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.