Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kimya Dawson interview

We called up our dear old friend Kimya Dawson for a chat about her new album and her upcoming tour of Australia:

“It just sort of happened.”

Kimya Dawson's seventh album, Thunder Thighs, is an unexpectedly expansive affair. Covering everything from gentle acoustic folk, big choral numbers, ten-minute epics and some rapping, it lands a long way from her initial vision. “My original plan was to do a home-recorded four-track album, just like my first three records. It didn't work out that way.”

In fact, at one stage, it looked like it might not work out at all, as Kimya found herself suffering a serious bout of writer's block, which occurred after she had given birth to her daughter, Panda, “I made [kids' album] Alphabutt and The Bundles' album with Jeffrey [Lewis], but I was really struggling for a while with writing my own stuff. It was like I was clogged.” This led to her assuming that she would have to put down the guitar once and for all, until everything became clear. “It took me a couple of years to realise that's supposed to happen when you have a kid; your brain is supposed to just focus on them. Then, as your child becomes more independent, your brain starts to work again.”

So, gradually the words and the melodies started to flow once more, and it became apparent that they were taking a different shape. Kimya explains how certain songs felt loud to her when she played them and that there was something bigger about them in her mind that she couldn't really place. Many of these new compositions grew to the point that they would no longer make sense were they recorded at home alone. So she got others involved, including the Olympia Free Choir, Aesop Rock, Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes and even Panda, who is now five. “There are so many parts of the album which are about coming together with, and leaning on, your friends. I had all of these people, both in the Olympia community and the wider music community, available to be a part of this project. It was really a gift. The first song (below) and the last song on the album are recorded alone on the four-track, and I figured they would be good bookends because that was the original intention, but in between, the whole process just got way big. It felt really good to let all these different elements that co-exist in my life right now come together. I have this choir stuff and there is this quiet, alone stuff and then there is, you know, getting to know people in the hip hop world. And I have a kid, so some of the songs feel really kiddish.”

However, along with its fun elements, Thunder Thighs still contains the kind of raw emotion you would expect from a Kimya Dawson record. Indeed, Walk Like Thunder finds the songwriter at her most vulnerable ever. The tough, ten-minute journey deals with her near-overdose ten years ago and the tragi death of two of her friends to illness. “Some of the songs were really hard on my soul. I had to just push through. As I was writing Walk Like Thunder, I didn't think I would ever play it. Admitting that kind of vulnerability was one of the only things that I had left because I've told people everything about me. Admitting to feeling like I wasn't taking care of myself was a really hard one.”

While she says she avoids writing love songs, there is little else she won't address. Another subject that the softly spoken and wonderfully friendly Kimya touches upon on her new record is the inverted snobbery she has experienced since Juno. “I don't give a shit what people think about me,” she shrugs. “But people were badmouthing kids who were just getting into me after they'd seen Juno. I'd get emails saying, 'I was a fan before Juno. Not like all these fake fans. You must hate your new fans.' And I was like, 'Really? You think I would hate them?' It's weird, the elitist 'I liked this before you did' attitude. People get into what they get into. Once music enters your being, you can't change how your brain responds to it. Today I posted on Twitter saying 'I feel like listening to Dave Matthews,' and someone replied, 'Dave Matthews sucks. I'm really disappointed in you for saying that.' I was like, 'What? So what if I like Dave Matthews? My brain might like Dave Matthews. Is it not cool to like something that you like?'” To qualify this point, she adds, “I listen to Phil Collins all the time. You can't control what you're into.”

If you happen to be into Kimya Dawson and you live in Australia, then the good news is that she is heading there soon for the first time since 2008, and is looking forward to being fully fit this time round. “I was having a really hard time with tendinitis in my wrist,” she says of her only other visit. “I was in a lot of pain. So I'm excited to come back and to feel like I am really there. There are a lot of new songs and the shows are a little different.” Ah yes, that brings us to the rapping. Kimya will be performing with American rapper and producer Aesop Rock, who she worked with on Thunder Thighs. Along with their mates Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz, they'll spend much of the evening sharing a stage. “There are songs where I'm playing guitar and singing and he's rapping. Then I play my acoustic set and he comes up for one of the songs from my album and one of the songs from our collaborative album [set to be released next year]. Then he does his set and I come back out and we do some more songs together.”

The lust for life and energy that is displayed throughout much of Thunder Thighs suggests that Dawson is absolutely loving working together with Aesop Rock. When she talks about it, she does so with unabashed enthusiasm. “I haven't felt this way about writing with somebody since Adam [Green] and I started writing together [in The Moldy Peaches]. Adam and I evolved and the feeling wasn't there any more. I didn't necessarily miss doing it with that person, but I did miss having that connection with somebody artistically. You almost have the same brain. Where one person stops, the other begins.”

Catch Kimya here: 
Oct 14- Sydney Australia - Manning Bar
Oct 15- Melbourne Australia- Melbourne Arts Festival- The Forum
Oct 16- Brisbane Australia- The Hi Fi

Interview by Bobby Townsend. It was first featured in Sydney's Drum Media. Click the below picture of Kimya and Bobby to read their previous interview from 2008.

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