Organic Goldmine: The Look and Sound of New Zealand Songwriter @kimbramusic
If second albums are supposed to be difficult, then Kimbra (@kimbramusic) didn’t get the memo. The New Zealand-born singer-songwriter’s sophomore effort, The Golden Echo, was released to great acclaim in August 2014, lauded for its free-flowing textural eclecticism and refusal to conform to any of the usual rigid conventions of modern pop. Nearly a year may have passed since then, but the 25-year-old is still drawing from that world to great effect — most recently with the newly debuted music video for the album’s trap-inflected centerpiece, “Goldmine.”
“‘Goldmine’ is a pretty special video for me, because I made it with two of my friends who I’ve known since we were about 15 in New Zealand,” says Kimbra, over the phone from Atlanta, where she will spend the next week putting in studio time with local producers. The two friends she refers to are Berlin-based filmmakers Chester Travis and Timothy Armstrong, who, alongside Kimbra, have created a fascinating stop-frame animation for the song, which required a staggering 4,300 square feet (400 square meters) of heavy-duty gold foil. The resulting video is equal parts eerie and surreal — a far cry from the Technicolor spectacles that accompanied previous singles “90s Music” and “Miracle.” “‘Goldmine’ to me is a song about finding that safe and sacred space, where you find your inner strength,” says Kimbra. “That often doesn’t come in a loud, obnoxious way, it comes from the quiet moments, very contemplative moments, when you realize that you can draw strength from everything around you.”
While the stark, gold-on-black color scheme of the “Goldmine” video might be a visual departure from Kimbra’s usual aesthetic, it’s a testament to her creative depth that it doesn’t feel at all out of place within her body of work. Likewise, a list of Kimbra’s collaborators reads like a music critic’s iTunes library left on shuffle overnight — having worked with everyone from experimental metalheads The Dillinger Escape Plan to instrumentalist Thundercat — but she’s managed to retain a uniquely coherent thread throughout.
“It’s something I think about a lot,” she says. “Especially because I’m just about to work with certain producers that have a very particular Atlanta style. It really comes down to the fact that because I’m producing the music as well, because I’m very involved in all parts of it, it’s always going through your filter. So you’re not just an artist walking into a studio: do your part, walk out and that’s it. Instead I’m taking every part of the music home and going through it all. It’s about looking at all of the elements and thinking, ‘Do these line up with my aesthetic?’”
Kimbra (born Kimbra Lee Johnson) admits that sometimes she might not always even be able to put her finger onto what that aesthetic exactly is, but that it’s rooted in something organic: organic sounds and an organic approach. Fittingly for someone who grew up in New Zealand (a childhood spent climbing trees, she says with a laugh), she’s acutely influenced and inspired by the environment around her. She famously moved to the solitude of a remote sheep farm in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, the day after winning several Grammys in 2013. And when she’s not showing off photos of friends and her on-stage platform heels and feather boa, she can be found enjoying the more natural elements of her new home of New York City, a move that was inspired by a recent trip to Ethiopia.
“I arrived back in L.A. and I had all day there, and I just went, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ That was the moment for me when I had to move to New York,” she says. “Honestly, there was just endless inspiration [in Ethiopia], and I don’t just mean musically. I was over there working with women with HIV and it was really about hearing people’s stories, about sitting down with them, giving them your love and your heart to understand what life is like for them, and for them to understand what life is like for me. It’s like now it gives more weight to my music because I care about the music having a greater reach, because maybe I could help these women more, for example. It also just puts things into perspective — sometimes we think our career is just everything, you know? Oh my gosh, it’s not.”
—Mike Sunda for Instagram @music