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Kimya Dawson and Her Family Hit the Road

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Saturday, 29 March 2008

To put it mildly, most members of the underground music scene do not wear mainstream acceptance well. Maybe it’s simply a matter of too many eyes and ears on a musician at once that makes underground and independent musicians uneasy; under the big, bright lights, musicians that occupy what they consider to be small niches that shouldn’t, theoretically, get much attention and wither and dry up. Those that worry about that prospect should take heart however, because Kimya Dawson has found the solution: she’s simply chosen to ignore the recent upswing in public attention that she has experienced and continue to follow the path that initially drew her to music in the first place—it’s a fun form of self-expression that leaves the possibilities open to the levels of the wildest imaginations.

Currently blazing across the country with her husband, and fellow musician, Angelo Spencer and daughter Panda in tow, the singer slowed down for a moment to discuss her surprise at the recent attention she’s garnered due to the appearance of her music in several soundtracks over the last year, motherhood, new and upcoming projects she’s undertaking and the exquisite balance that she has struck between those different aspects of her personal life and career. It is possible to swing both a personal life and a successful career in music; and if skeptics find that difficult to believe, they should look no further than this fantastically idiosyncratic songwriter. 

Bill Adams vs. Kimya Dawson

Kimya Dawson: Hello?

Bill Adams: Hello, may I speak with Kimya Dawson please?

KD: Hi—you know what? My phone is roaming right now. I’m in northern California.

BA: Oh dear. That could be problematic.

KD: Would it be possible for you to call me in about an hour? I should be closer to civilization by then.

BA: An hour? Sure, that’s no problem. About eight o’clock my time? I guess it’d be about five yours…

KD: Yeah, that’d be great.

BA: Sure. No problem.

KD: Thank you.

BA: Certainly. I’ll talk to you soon.

KD: Bye.

KD: Hey.

BA: How’re you doing?

KD: Pretty good.

BA: Are you back in the land of the living?

KD: That’s right.

BA: Cool. So how’re things? Are you performing tonight?

KD: The first show is on the eighth in Phoenix. We’re just making our way there.

BA: Oh okay. Is the whole clan with you?

KD: Yeah. Always.

BA: Nice. I wasn’t sure how that worked out exactly; if you had them on the road with you or if they stayed home while you toured.

KD: Yeah, papa’s playing these shows too and Panda’s always along for the ride.

BA: That’s cool. Now, was that the impetus for creating Alpha Butt as well? Doing stuff for kids and all that?

KD: Well, it was and it wasn’t. Even before I started playing music, I always worked with kids. My plan was originally to teach and then I ended up doing music instead. The house that I grew up in was a daycare center and I always worked at schools and camps growing up until I started to do music.

BA: Oh, I see.

KD: I always wanted to do something with that, but I just went a different way ultimately.

BA: But it’s always been pretty omnipresent.

KD: Yeah. I feel like a lot of little kids like my stuff anyway and I thought it’d be nice to make an album slightly more geared toward them. Maybe just leave out words like ‘cock’ so if they want to play it at school they can. I feel like it’s the freest I’ve been on any recording; it’s really loose and chaotic and fun.

BA: I can kind of understand that because you get to be as goofy as you want to be on a kids record. You don’t have to play down to them necessarily, just play what you want, have fun and they’ll catch on to that. Just play to them.

KD: I’m actually playing with them, which I think is what makes it so nice. There are one-year-olds, two-year-olds, and kids that are seven and nine years old too playing on the album.

BA: Oh really?

KD: Yeah.

BA: In a roundabout way, is that how you got hooked up with Tiny Masters of Today as well?

KD: Yeah—well sort of I guess. I heard them on MySpace and I sent them a message that said I thought they were good and it turned out that they were little Moldy Peaches fans and they dropped a line back saying they liked my stuff too. Then they asked me to sing on their album.

BA: Nice. Now you also wrote a bit on that album right?

KD: Yeah—on the song “Trendsetter.”

BA: You’ve been pretty busy in that regard lately—or at least in regards to song placement. In the last year or so you’ve had a bunch of music on movie soundtracks and things like that. Juno just got nominated for a bunch of awards, and then there was Guatemalan Handshake and Glue right?

KD: Yeah.

BA: How’d you get hooked up with that?

KD: I’m not sure. People involved just liked the stuff I guess [chuckling].

BA: And I read somewhere that the man who wrote the score for Juno also tried to model a bunch of the music in the score after yours too right?

KD: Yeah.

BA: Are there any plans to continue with endeavors like that? Maybe do an original score for a film?

KD: I don’t have any plans for that yet, but I did just get word that the guy that made Glue is making a new film and asked to use some of my stuff again which is really exciting because I don’t know if you’ve seen Glue, but it’s insanely beautiful.

BA: I haven’t seen it yet.

KD: Yeah I love it! I told him that he can use as many of my songs as he wants for as little money as he has. He’s just so good.

BA: And these people just sort of tracked you down online or through the label?

KD: I know with Glue, the filmmaker, Alexis DeSantos emailed me and then sent me a rough copy of the film. I totally fell in love with it right away. The filmmaker that made Guatemalan Handshake emailed me directly as well and the same for Juno; a woman that was working on the film had ordered some of my art before so when Jason put word out in the office that he was trying to figure out how to get in touch with The Moldy Peaches she spoke up. I recognized her name when I got the email and she told me which paintings she ordered and it just sort of went from there. We’re buddies now, and we got it done.

BA: So in a lot of cases it was a case of six degrees of separation.

KD: Yup, pretty much.

BA: I gotcha. Now, insofar as new material, I know that Remember That I Love You is about two years old right?

KD: Yeah. That came out when I was pregnant.

BA: Right. I remember seeing a birth announcement around the same time. I think K Records sent it to me [Kimya laughing], and it was around that time that the album came out.

KD: Yeah I think the record came out in May and Panda was born at the end of July. I think. I’m not sure—I was out of it.

BA: Ah the joys of local anesthetic.

KD: Nope, actually it was natural.

BA: Oh really?

KD: Yeah.

BA: Wow. My better half would be very proud of you [both chuckling]. She had two kids and I think she wanted to do the first one naturally and that didn’t happen, and then the second one she knew better than to try and do it naturally I guess. I don’t know—I wasn’t present for either of them; I’ve only heard the stories.

KD: I figured, if you’re going to go through something like childbirth… well, I wanted to know what it was all about. [laughing] I wanted to feel it. I wanted to be there and be completely alert when she came out and I wanted her to be completely alert when she came out.

BA: I think there’s something to be respected in that. Now, other than the Alpha Butt record, which—correct me if I’m wrong—is already out…

KD: No, it’s coming out in August on K.

BA: Are you also working on more new grown-up songs?

KD: I don’t have anything else planned right now, but the Alpha Butt stuff isn’t totally kid-exclusive. It’s got something for everyone.

BA: How do you sit down and write a record like that though? Is it a matter of saying something so simple as ‘I want to write songs for a particular group of people’ or is it just a matter of writing a bunch of songs and discovering when that process is over what you’ve got in the end?

KD: Some of the songs were songs that just sort of came out from singing to Panda in the car when she was freaking out or singing to her when I was changing her diaper or when we were going to sleep. Some of them are just little songs like that and some were more intentional. For example, we recorded with our friend Jason Carmer who recorded Hidden Vagenda with me. He has a kid that’s only a couple of months older than Panda. We were at his house in Berkeley and decided on a whim to make baby songs. We got real goofy and made up some stuff and tested them out on the kids. If they danced, we knew it was pretty spot-on.

BA: That’s exactly how I recorded the last kids record I reviewed. I put it on in front of a captive audience of a four and five-year-old and watched what they did. If they liked it, they danced, if they didn’t, they sat down.

KD: Or walked out of the room I’m sure.

BA: Exactly. Now, are these songs in the set lists as well?

KD: Yeah—I’ve been playing them a lot.

BA: So the shows now have a little something for everyone to a certain degree anyway. I mean, as you said if you have an audience that’s full of kids, you’re not going to play a bunch of songs that say ‘cock’…

KD: Well, I mean, I’ve played very few kid-specific shows. I played afternoon shows at boys and girls clubs that were just for kids. I know I said ‘balls’ at the boys and girls club, but I haven’t said ‘cock,’ The kids laughed. They think ‘balls’ is pretty funny.

BA: What kid doesn’t? I don’t even think there’s a grown man that doesn’t find it funny.

KD: Yeah, but it’s not like I’m dropping F-bombs at the boys club. A lot of kids come to my regular shows too and I don’t censor myself if there are kids in the audience at those. I figure, if they’re there, they heard the music at home and either it goes over their heads or their parents have talked to them about what they think is appropriate.

BA: So your shows at night are also all-ages?

KD: Yeah.

BA: Okay, that was one of the things I was curious about.

KD: In the U.S. at least, the shows are always all-ages. Overseas it can be a little harder. Like in the U.K., a lot of places are fourteen and up and that’s standard there, but in those cases I try to do some daytime shows that are kid friendly. In the States though, they’re always all-ages. Babies and children are always welcome.

BA: Okay, I know you’re doing Buffalo, NY, on this tour, are you doing any Canadian dates on this tour as well?

KD: No, we have some friends that are coming to tour with us and they’re from overseas and it’s just complicated. We don’t want to cross any borders.

BA: Who’ve you got coming out with you?

KD: A band called L Orchidée d Hawaï—they’re from France.

BA: Are they going to be on stage with you or opening for you? Is it just you and your husband playing your sets or…

KD: No, I play my stuff by myself and he plays his stuff by himself and then they play. So there are three bands on the bill. Three acts.

BA: Okay, I was a little confused by that. How many shows is this tour?

KD: I haven’t counted, but we get home in two months. The first show is on the eighth, and the last show is going to be around the first of May and we have about four days off in between.

BA: Oh really? So you’re looking at a pretty hard grind.

KD: Yeah, it’s a good one. It’s a solid trip.

BA: That’s cool. So what other plans are on the books right now?

KD: Well, we have this tour and then we’re home for a week and then we’re going overseas to the U.K. and Europe for about a month. It’s a small U.K. tour and then, I think, three shows in Europe and then we’re spending a week in the town that my husband is from hanging out with his friends. After that, we’re home for two weeks before we head to Australia.

BA: That’s really cool. I assume that none of these are firsts for you from a touring perspective…

KD: I’ve never been to Australia or New Zealand so that’ll be a first and we’re really excited for that.

BA: What’re you expecting to see while you’re there from a reception standpoint? Has there already been a bit of a buzz going on?

KD: I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve been getting emails from kids there for a couple of years—I guess one of their bigger indie stations, Triple J, has been playing my stuff for a while—and so I know there are kids there that are excited. And I know that Juno is doing really well over there too. I’m excited about it because we’re going for two weeks, but we’re only playing something like six or seven shows so we have a lot of off time. Think we have three or four days off in New Zealand just to poke around and see beautiful things.

BA: That’s cool. Have you noticed that the soundtrack work has improved visibility as far as the live shows are concerned?

KD: Yeah—I haven’t done a lot of shows yet that are really BIG—last tour was one where we promoted the soundtrack so there were a lot of in-store shows. They were all indie record stores along the East Coast and they’re only so big and each had a group of people that weren’t able to get inside. The two shows in New York and the one in Philly, a lot of people came and everything sold out, but it was all places I’d played before. This trip, when the booker told us the venues that were being offered, I couldn’t believe it; some of them are enormous! We’ll see what happens though.

BA: It has to be a little exciting for you though.

KD: It’s a little weird. I mean, it’s like, I’ve been doing this for years and been happy playing at any level, but it’s nice. It’s amazing if there are like five people who come that like what I do. I try to look at everyone in the room so if there are a few people or a few thousand people, I’m just grateful that they’re there. It’s actually harder when the shows are bigger because I like to hang out after I play and meet people but when the shows are really big but when the shows are really big, I feel like I’m spreading myself pretty thin and it gets stressful. I feel bad because I can feel that some people are upset that I’m not able to give them the time that they want to chat or get hugs and take pictures and stuff like that. So it’s exciting on one hand and sad on the other because my tours have always been really personal and intimate. It has been a matter of playing the show, then making some friends and then everybody goes rollerskating together. It’s different now. I feel like a lot of kids freak out more when they see me. It’s not like their buddy came over to sing them some songs, it’s more like spazzing out because it’s that girl from that movie.

BA: Behold! Kimya-mania!

KD: [laughing] Weird.

BA: That’s cool. Well, thanks for taking a couple of minutes to do this—I know it sort of got thrown at you at the last minute…

KD: That’s okay, it makes the driving go faster.

BA: That I don’t doubt. Have a good show tonight.

KD: Thanks! Oh—there isn’t one tonight.

BA: Oh that’s right. You told me but for some reason figured you were on the road so you must be on your way to somewhere.

KD: Well, we’re on our way from Olympia to Phoenix. I think we’re going to make it to Berkeley tonight and stay with Jason who we recorded Alpha Butt with and take some pictures and work on some album art.

BA: Oh okay. Now I was going to ask about this because I do have a four and five-year-old here and they need to stop for a bathroom break roughly every half hour in the car. Is it hard touring with a kid?

KD: Well, she’s still in diapers so that’s not really a problem. We left really early this morning—she sleeps until around ten typically. We left at eight this morning so she slept for a couple of hours in the car. We stopped in Ashland, OR, and got some breakfast, went to the park, played on the playground, went to the co-op and got some food… we hung out for a few hours in Ashland. Then we left and we have a DVD player in the car so we watched Pee-wee’s Playhouse and she fell asleep. Now she’s taking her nap and she’ll probably wake up soon so we’ll stop and get some dinner and hang out a little before we get back in the car and drive another hour or so. It’s just a matter of lots of long breaks.

BA: So as it stands right now, it’s fairly ideal. You’re not jumping in the car and grinding it out to one place and so she’s not getting restless… at the moment anyway, it’s pretty ideal.

KD: I sort of set it up so that most of the drives are only three or four hours long. There are a couple longer than that but most of the longer ones are doable I think. They’re spread out too many long ones in a row—no back-to-back six-hour drives I don’t think. What we’ve set up is a pretty relaxed tempo.

BA: I assume that, when you’re onstage, your husband watches your daughter and then you swap back and forth…

KD: Yup.

BA: Okay, I was just curious. Well, thank you very much—sorry for dragging it a little longer, but thanks for entertaining it. Have a good day. Safe drive.

KD: Thanks, you too. Bye.

BA: Bye.

More on Kimya Dawson here: www.kimyadawson.com and myspace.com/kimyadawson

Download – Kimya Dawson – “Loose Lips” from Juno Soundtrack – [mp3]

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