Ever since she was an asthmatic child in remote Hamilton, New Zealand, Kimbra Lee Johnson enjoyed rising to any occasion, refusing to let her condition deter her from becoming a professional singer.
“I loved the idea of fighting through things that you’re not necessarily equipped to be super-skilled at, because it makes you push even harder. And part of discovering myself as a vocalist was pushing myself to my capacities. It’s an amazing place to make music from,” says the artist (now billed as Kimbra), who came to prominence via her Grammy-winning 2012 duet with Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
Kimbra, 24, is the current face of Australia’s “Asthma Take Control” campaign, although hers is reined in. “I still have my inhaler onstage, but it’s become more of a security blanket,” she says.
She keeps on testing her limits.
For her sonically adventurous second solo record “The Golden Echo” – which she’ll introduce in San Francisco concert next week – she left her adopted city of Melbourne for Los Angeles and a whole new set of restrictions, like not being able to drive. Or walk everywhere, like she used to Down Under. “Something about this city challenged me, and got me thinking outside the box,” she says.
Working from the theory that great art should provoke conversation, Kimbra liberally seasoned her heady “Echo” mix with diverse talents like Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Daniel Johns from Silverchair and Mars Volta mainstay Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
The songs run an equally disparate gamut, from the jazzy ballad “Teen Heat” (“About the time when you’re learning about your body, yourself as a sexual being,” she says), a techno-clanking faux-radio broadcast dubbed “’90s Music” (“it’s nostalgia coming back to you in a skewed, angular, fragmented way”), and the Chic-funky, but claustrophobic, “Madhouse.”
“With “Madhouse,” I wanted to take the listener to a state of, well, madness. Where everything feels narrow, you’re caught in projections of yourself, and there’s no way out,” says the composer, who penned most of the tracks in her Silver Lake bedroom, with a herd of sheep outside the window.
Restless after recording, she decided to road-test new material in dive bars around Hollywood, often anonymously, sometimes with just a last-minute Twitter announcement. She didn’t mind being sandwiched between local cover bands. She was determined to win over every last patron, no matter how drunk or distracted they were.
“It took me back to that evangelist place,” she says. “Back when I was playing to three people in Australia, and you’re in that pulpit, preaching, like, ‘You’re going to listen. I know you don’t know who I am, but these songs will be amazing!’”
IF YOU GO
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 20
Tickets: $20 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com