Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kimya Dawson interview


When I last saw Kimya Dawson a couple of years ago, she hugged me. Not just me though; upon finishing her show in a tiny English venue, she hugged pretty much everyone in the audience. This is a typical way for her end a gig, and sums up the strong bond between the American singer/songwriter and her loyal fan-base.

Since forming anti-folk band The Moldy Peaches, Kimya has released five acclaimed solo albums, and through this year’s hit movie, Juno, has permeated the consciousness of mainstream music audiences. Her songs soundtrack many moments in the film and Ellen Page and Michael Cera sing the Moldy Peaches track, Anyone Else But You, in the closing scene. “I was on the set when they filmed that. Those kids were just super sweet. I know they were nervous I was there.”

The overwhelming impact of Juno means Kimya is hot property. While she is happy plying her trade in her own wonderfully understated and DIY way, record companies have been unsuccessfully dangling carrots in front of her in an attempt to cash in on the film’s success. “One of the super-huge ones offered me tons of money to do a publishing/album deal,” she sighs. “I told them: ‘No. I’m not going to make any albums you like and you’re going to pressure me into doing advertisements and projects that I’ll refuse to do.’ I don’t what to have the stress of dealing with somebody trying to convince me that something is a good idea.” She also recently turned down a request from McDonalds to use her music in their commercials.

Kimya has never been interested in fame or wealth, and although her raised profile finds her playing to bigger crowds, she tries to retain the intimacy her performances are renowned for. With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her delicate vocal and deeply personal lyrics, her gigs are captivating experiences. “I still do some small shows and house shows and I’ve always pushed for all-ages shows. I’ve been finding bigger spaces that still feel total comfortable, like old abandoned renovated churches that can hold a shitload of people, so that they can still be big but have a really good energy and vibe and not just be like, you know, a dude bar vibe, but to have an artistic feel.” She is always happy to deviate from her set-list too, although an injury is restricting her from being able to play her entire repertoire. “I think I’m getting tendonitis. My hand has just been fucked and my finger is hurting me so I’ve just been modifying the songs. I’ve just been playing them with my thumb which is how they were written. There are a couple of songs that I’m struggling to be able to play. I haven’t been able to play The Beer for a few weeks.”

However, happy as she is to take requests, don’t expect to hear any Moldy Peaches tracks. “Some people feel cheated that they don’t find out until they’ve bought a ticket that I’m not going to [play Moldy Peaches songs], but I’m like: ‘Wouldn’t you feel more cheated hearing a half-assed version?’”

While Kimya’s most-recent album, Remember That I Love You is new to people who have only recently chanced upon her because of Juno, it is actually over two years old. Excitingly, a new album has been recorded, and is due this year. She is just hoping to find a window in her hectic schedule to complete the artwork; if only there were more hours in the day. “It’s funny because I also had to do the artwork before we left on our last tour and I didn’t manage to do it then. Every day that I don’t get it done is just pushing the album release back a little bit.”

Arriving in Australia on the back of American and UK tours, Kimya admits she never thought life would turn out this way. “Becoming a professional musician wasn’t my dream growing up. We [The Moldy Peaches] just made up some songs, played them a couple of times, knew some dudes [The Strokes] that were getting big and who asked us to tour with them. We were like: ‘Weird. Okay.’ It was all pretty accidental. I went from being like: ‘I make expresso,’ to being like: ‘Wait a minute, I’m in Japan!’ It wasn’t like I set that as a goal and then worked at it for years. It just kinda happened. It is pretty surreal but I think I would have always ended up travelling anyway, so I feel super lucky.”

Her Sydney dates will be family affairs, with support coming from husband Angelo Spencer (above). Their 23-month old daughter, Panda (also above), will also be travelling with them. The combination of being a doting Mum and playing in larger venues gives touring a slightly different dynamic for Kimya and means, understandably, that she isn’t always able to hang out with all of her fans after shows. “A girl in Nebraska got really mad at me because I needed to get out of the venue and run back to the hotel to check on Panda. She said: ‘You loved having your picture taken with people before Panda was born.’ I was like: ‘Are you serious? You really want me to neglect my child so you can have a picture to show your friends?’”

While the affection between Kimya and her devotees makes such an encounter anomalous, her nature is such that she still wishes she could oblige every single request. “If I could be in ten places at once I would totally give them everything they need. I really try to give a lot of myself but sometimes people are like: ‘No, I need more. I can’t just have a hug. I need a hug, a picture, an autograph and I want you to call my friend on my cell phone,’” she laughs. Generally though, she loves engaging with fans; a fact that is illustrated by how pleased she is to receive my phone-call: “I’ve really been looking forward to this interview, because I know you’ve been following along for a while,” she excitedly tells me. During our conversation, the amity with which she chats to a long-term fan like me perfectly illustrates just how much she cares about the people who listen to her music. As Australia is set to find out, although fame and fortune have come a-knocking, Kimya Dawson remains quite the most sincere, grounded and kind-hearted person one could hope to encounter.

Interview by Rob Townsend


jon said...

great story bobby

Anonymous said...

Ah loved Juno.

Sabrina said...

I liked this article. Very positive, good job! I like how she didn't sell out to McDonald's. I don't know if I'd be that strong...hahaha.