The Writer’s Block: Kimbra on Singing for Yourself, Writing for Your Soul and Her New Song “Save Me”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Around 2012, the world got to know Kimbra Lee Johnson when the song “Somebody That I Used To Know” hit the airwaves in a major way. The track, which was by the Belgian-Australian artist Gotye and featured Kimbra, became a global sensation unlike few songs before or since.

But Kimbra is more than just a featured singer. She is a standout artist in her own right. Want proof? We caught up with the New Zealand singer and songwriter to ask her about her experience as a writer, what happens when she feels a gnawing sense of doubt, what advice she has for younger artists, and much more.

Check out the Q&A with the 32-year-old two-time Grammy Award-winning Kimbra and her newest track, “Save Me,” below. The new song is part of a new album that the artist announced this week, A Reckoning, which is set to drop in 2023.

American Songwriter: How did you get started in songwriting?  

Kimbra: I began writing songs when my family would take me out on the boat we had in New Zealand, where I grew up. I would gaze out at huge volcanoes in the distance and melodies would rise up for me. I made little poems and would play around and put things together from as young as the age of 8 years old.

AS: What do you believe goes into writing a hit song?  

Kimbra: A hit song often lands on something universal while also being incredibly specific. It usually has a feeling of familiarity but also feels unique! My favorite kind of hit song is one that feels like you’ve heard it all your life and connects you to a singular moment in your life.

AS: What was it like being part of one? 

Kimbra: It’s totally crazy. People feel so connected to you without knowing anything about you really. It’s also so special to feel like I’ve been part of a soundtrack to someone’s life.

AS: Have you ever experienced writer’s block and how did you get past it?  

Kimbra: I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block, I just believe that we lose confidence in ourselves and this absolutely leads to a kind of blockage. I often get past this kind of block by trying something totally different. Writing on a new instrument or completely changing the lighting in my studio.

AS: How do songs typically come together for you? 

Kimbra: I usually start with a beat. Then I begin to sing melodies in a kind of gibberish. Then I begin to self-translate and work out what I’m saying while adding more lyrics to deepen the sentiment. 

AS: When working with other artists, what is that spark, or the moment when you know it’s going to be a good session or a great song? 

Kimbra: When we look at each other like little kids and laugh. Whenever I laugh or cry I know I’m making a great song. 

AS: Is it hard to let a song go? 

Kimbra: Yes. I have not worked out how to do that with grace yet. 

AS: What is the hardest part for you when it comes to staying motivated to keep practicing songwriting? 

Kimbra: I find it hard to stay motivated when I’m cut off from community. I thrive creatively around people and stimuli. I need to be around it to stay inspired.

AS: What was the biggest facet of taking your songwriting to the next level? 

Kimbra: Meeting the right collaborators and deciding to be fearless around telling the truth. 

AS: What advice would you share with songwriters who are just getting into the business? 

Kimbra: Sing for yourself, write for your soul. Love what you do first before you ask others to love it too.

Photo courtesy The Oriel

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