Somebody You Ought to Know: Kimbra

Why the New Zealand-born singer moved to a sheep farm on the outskirts of L.A. to find inspiration for her solo album

It was the earworm of 2011, a solemn indie ballad about lost love that unexpectedly became a multi-platinum single. In the process Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” catapulted singer Kimbra, who had added backing vocals, to fame. (The striking stop-motion video in which Gotye and Kimbra were hand-painted while nude didn’t hurt.) After the song’s phenomenal success, she had a choice to make. The New Zealand-born artist could’ve made a play for Hollywood. She certainly had offers. Instead Kimbra chose moved to a sheep farm on the edge of Los Angeles, hardly the typical setting for a pop star. But what emerged was an exuberant, experimental record steeped in nature and Greek myths. We caught up with Kimbra, who’s now on tour playing songs from The Golden Echo.

Where do you draw inspiration for your performances? They’re so energetic and eclectic.
The live show is where I came from. I’ve done studio work, but the place where you get to connect with people is on stage. I’ve always looked up to artists like Bjork and Nine Inch Nails for their approach to live performance. When I saw The Mars Volta live for the first time, I couldn’t believe the artistry on stage, the way the singer would throw the microphone around and make it a real rock show. You can find a lot of ideas to make your live show feel like its own little universe.

After winning a Grammy why did you decide to step back before diving into your own album?
I moved into a very secluded place in Los Angeles; it was a farm with a bunch of animals. I shut myself off from a lot of the Hollywood scene that I could have thrown myself into. I really wanted to reach into the place where I write music, the headspace of a young child. The imagination, the nature, the animals. It takes away a lot of my boundaries and I can be very free. Yeah, there’s a certain amount of expectation on the next record, but I tried to turn that off and focus on making the record that I was inspired to make.

You don’t think of secluded farms when you think of Los Angeles.
That’s right. It was a real juxtaposition having a place of such stillness in a city that’s known to be so hectic. In some ways, I feel that juxtaposition is shown on my new album. There are moments of such chaos and moments of real stillness that I think came from the environment it was made in.

The Golden Echo alludes to the Greek myth of Narcissus. Are themes of that story woven into the record?
There are a lot of references to self-reflection. At the time I was finishing the record, I had a dream about a flower called Narcissus Golden Echo. I’d known about the story of Narcissus, but I just thought, “How [relevant] for our culture, someone who is infatuated with their image in the water and can’t see past the surface.” The Golden Echo is a textured record; there’s a lot for people to dissect. It’s about looking past that surface and down into the depths. There’s a lot of positivity that comes from that sort of self-reflection, but there’s also a dark side where you can’t see outside of your own bubble. There are songs that do both of those things on the album. It’s about what self-reflection can do to someone. I don’t want it to be dark, though. It’s about transcendence and, out of that space, finding hope and light.