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Kimya Dawson to Bring Her Reassuring Tunes to the Neighborhood

July 20, 2008

By Marian Liu, Seattle Times

Jul. 20–Kimya Dawson’s songs are like hugs. They’re comforting and yet fearless, assuring you that everything is going to be OK.

The Olympia resident was stormed with offers after her music landed on the soundtrack of the indie hit “Juno.” But the 35-year-old is happy to hold fast to her roots — remaining on her indie Olympia label, K Records, renting her house and driving a minivan.

Her latest album, “Alphabutt,” comes out on that label Sept. 9, tailored for kids.

She doesn’t intend on making the big bucks and working on car commercials, but her dream of singing with Grover may come true. She is in talks with “Sesame Street.” And this summer, Dawson is on the festival circuit — performing at the Capitol Hill Block Party next weekend and touring with Ani DiFranco, all the while shuttling her daughter, Panda, from city to city.

The Seattle Times talked to the singer while she was nursing.

Q: Tell me about your new album “Alphabutt.”

A: Well, I have a daughter who’s almost 2. … We just sing a lot together and make up silly stuff. … Then I was in Berkeley, visiting Jason Carmer, who recorded my album “Hidden Vagenda,” and he has a kid who’s the same age. … I played him some of the songs that I’ve been singing, and he said, “We have to make an album.” … So we spent a few days, recording some stuff and making up some new stuff. And grabbing our kids and the neighbor kids and everybody to join in.

Q: I read that if the kids danced, you knew it was a hit?

A: (laughing) Pretty much. Yeah, there’s some stuff we were making up right there, and you could tell right away if the babies loved it.

Q: Do you have a target audience in mind? Like kids or people who need a hug?

A: No, usually I make songs because I need to, and they make me feel better to write them. But, I guess with this album, yeah, this one I did make it with kids in mind. But in general, I don’t have anyone in mind. It’s just more personal. … I like it when anybody can get anything out of the music — old people, babies, whoever, in-between.

Q: I read that you originally wanted to teach, because you can really hear your love for kids in your music.

A: My parents’ house … was a day-care center, so I was always around kids. I worked at a summer camp for 10 summers, and I’ve worked in a bunch of schools and art programs and stuff. And yeah, I originally went to college for elementary education. But then I realized that I hate school. I don’t want to be in school for the rest of my life. I figured other ways to have kids in my life and to have an effect on them.

Q: What do you want kids to get out of your music?

A: I want them to have fun and maybe it can help them to feel relaxed. Some of the songs are just silly and some of the songs I think are comforting. … I just want people to know that they don’t have to feel ashamed of who they are, and don’t have to feel ashamed of their feelings, and know that they can express themselves. I guess if my lyrics don’t say it, just the fact that I’ve gotten over feeling embarrassed and will pretty much sing about anything.

Q: Where did you learn this message from?

A: I think it was kind of out of desperation for me. I think I’ve been sort of bottling up negative feelings, or feelings of self-consciousness or just my insecurities. I think I just kept a lot of that stuff inside for a long time, and just started to really go crazy and feel bad. … I didn’t want to live the rest of my life like that. … And I guess that sort of happened for me when we started doing Moldy Peaches (her former band) and we just had a couple of songs about feeling awkward and lonely or ugly. … Seeing the response we were getting from kids and how positive it was to just say that stuff and how it made me feel less alone. … From there, I was like, I’m not going to keep anything in.

Q: Your songs fit well with the film “Juno.” How did that all come together?

A: Ellen Page (who plays Juno) had told Jason Reitman (the director) that she thought Moldy Peaches would be sort of what Juno would be listening to, so they downloaded some stuff together … and he asked me to send him my solo stuff and I guess he liked it all.

Q: Did you expect all the success to come out of the film and the soundtrack?

A: I really liked it when I saw it, but I didn’t think it would have such big mainstream success. It’s got such a sweet little heart. Sometimes I feel jaded about where our country has gone, with that, compassion and stuff. Sometimes it seems like we’re living in such a cold place. I know I’m a sensitive person and I know that my friends are sensitive people, but I kind of thought that maybe people would think it was a little too cheesy. It’s kind of reassuring that so many people were touched by such a kind story.

Q: After all the attention, how did you filter through what was real and not and stay indie after it all?

A: It wasn’t on the list of choices in my reality, for something I ever would have wanted to do in my life. So, it’s not like doing “Juno” and suddenly getting offers made it something that I was going to start thinking about. It just made it funny to have all these people, who didn’t know me, and didn’t know anything about anything about me, suddenly getting in touch — “Hey blah blah blah, this amount of money.” No, geez, leave me alone. And then, just like, “Well, how about this amount of money?” That’s not how I want to live and it’s not a world I’m interested in being a part of. I’m more than happy being in projects like “Juno” and films where I think it’s like really good and beautiful and I feel like everybody working on it has a heart and good intentions. … I didn’t do the film for the exposure, I did it because I love the story and I love the people involved.

Q: How would you describe yourself then?

A: I live in Olympia, and we have a little house that we rent. We drive a minivan. It’s me, my husband and our daughter. … We’re pretty low-maintenance people. We don’t have tons of fancy stuff and we like being outside. We like going to beautiful places and seeing pretty things. … We’re pretty quiet people. We like traveling and playing shows.

Q: How do you balance being a mother, a singer and traveling?

A: We happen to have a totally awesome kid who does really well on the road. We just got back from Australia and New Zealand, and this is the first tour where she was asking for her house. … It’s like I’m nursing her while I’m talking to you, so I can multitask. (laughing)

Q: I read that you’re going to participate in “Sesame Street.”

A: My dream would be to do a duet with Grover. I would absolutely totally go bonkers if I could do that.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

On the Internet

Kimya Dawson: Listen to Dawson’s indie sound at www.myspace.com/kimyadawson.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Seattle Times

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