It's been two years since Kimbra played a show in her homeland, but life in the Big Apple has given the Kiwi pop star a new groove that she's excited to bring home.

After living in Los Angeles for more than two years, Kimbra still "never really felt like LA was home", so she moved to New York about a year ago.

"I loved LA for lots of things - it put me in touch with lots of different people and friends and it has these kind of crazy quirks, but the thing about LA is it's all about what's behind closed doors - you've really got to engage in it and find all these places to hang," she says.

Kiwi singer and musician Kimbra. Photo / JOHN MICHAEL FULTON
Kiwi singer and musician Kimbra. Photo / JOHN MICHAEL FULTON

"Ultimately, I've always had a really intrinsic connection with life in the streets here in New York. That energy is visceral and it's right there when you step out of your apartment, whereas in LA I spent most of my time in the back of cars - in control."

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She was missing "spontaneity", and now that she's found it, it's affecting her music too.
The songstress started up improvisation jam nights as a way to toy with on-the-spot creation with her friends - the likes of Miguel, Thundercat, Talking Heads' David Byrne, Questlove and John Lennon's son Sean Lennon have all been known to attend and participate.

They simply get on stage and just see what happens, but all in front of a crowd of hundreds.

"It's absolutely terrifying and that's half the reason I did it," she says.

When Kimbra's co-headline Golden Electric tour with Janelle Monae was cancelled due to Monae being ill, the singer was disappointed and restless and began the improvisation gigs to channel her energy.

"People gravitated to the project I think because it gave a real freedom for people who had their own careers and stuff but wanted to just jam and make music in a totally different environment and it provided that for a lot of different artists," she says.

""It really forces you to trust your instincts and engage with your sense of trust with yourself as a musician, which is important for any artist."

That newfound trust and freedom seems to have translated into her latest single Sweet Relief but it's unclear whether her upcoming third album will follow in the same funky, Prince-esque vein.

"There's a certain freedom to some of my music at the moment, which I think has probably been informed by some of the music at those jam nights - I think it's just getting in touch with that sense of trust and playfulness and ... we'll see if it shows on the next album, who knows?"

The track itself was just a stand-alone idea rather than part of any "bigger picture" - it was simply something Kimbra made and wanted to share.

She was "lucky enough" to perform the track at a tribute to her late friend Prince in Minneapolis because, although she'd written the song before he passed away, "it felt like it had taken some influence from him and what better way to pay tribute than to make art inspired by the artist?"

"I think he always creeps in as an influence for my music. It wasn't a conscious thing, it's just that so much of what I love was informed by what Prince did as an artist, so it's always there in the back of my mind."

Whatever direction it takes, Kimbra's third album is expected to land in the first half of 2017 and before then, she's returning home to play this year's Rhythm and Vines festival for the first time since 2012.

And although she won't test a festival crowd with an improvised set, she says she does plan to play some of her new tracks (as well as the old) and is "so excited to come back and play for my Kiwis in the homeland".

LOWDOWN:

What:

Kimbra's return to NZ

Where:

Rhythm & Vines, Waiohika Estate, Gisborne

When:

From December 29 to 31, Kimbra plays December 30

See:

rhythmandvines.co.nz for info