By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
In a world where all aspects of life are in a state of constant flux, and where being a pop icon means, by necessity, being a cipher, it's comforting to know that Kimya Dawson exists. Why? Because in the same way you can always count on your best friends, you can always trust that Kimya Dawson will be Kimya Dawson: achingly forthright, fiercely loyal, empathetic almost to a fault, wobbly of voice and stolid of countenance. Dawson's recordings—solo, with the Moldy Peaches, the Bundles, Antsy Pants, whoever—are full-contact confessional vomitoriums, sing-alongs increasingly packed with the Washington State-based anti-folk singer's' obscure and semi-famous pals; if you caught teen-pregnancy comedy Juno, you've gotten a taste of her chattily passionate, unstudied aesthetic.
On her forthcoming self-released album, Thunder Thighs, she's joined by everyone from rapper Aesop Rock to Strokes member Nikolai Fraiture to John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats to former Nirvana touring cellist Laurie Goldstein. Early leaks from Thighs, which is due "sometime this summer," suggest that Dawson is thankfully still Dawson, albeit more ambitious, with more personnel onboard: On anti-Twitter smack-down "Miami Advice," her itchy-scratchy vocals reach a degree of pique fans haven't heard from Dawson since 2004's venomous Hidden Vagenda. In a recent email interview with City Pages, Dawson filled us in on Thighs, life after Juno, and her live-and-let-live approach to television commercials that bite her style.
City Pages: Having your songs featured prominently in Juno increased your audience. How has your life changed since that movie came out?
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Kimya Dawson: I was able to buy a house and a car that isn't falling apart, and get health insurance. Besides that, things are pretty similar. Well, I mean, things have changed, but not related to Juno. Things were crazy for a while right after the movie came out but luckily it didn't take too long to get back to normal.
CP: You performed at the memorial concert for Michael "Eyedea" Larsen in the Twin Cities last November. How did that come about?
Dawson: I didn't know Mikey. I guess I had met him once at one of my shows, but I didn't know him. He was a big fan of my music and his mom invited me out to play the show. It wasn't long after Aesop Rock and I became friends so we decided to travel out there together for it.
CP: Pretty recently there was this Truvia commercial where the accompanying song had all the hallmarks of a Kimya Dawson ditty, but it wasn't—it was like faux Kimya Dawson. Have you seen that commercial?
Dawson: Yeah, I have seen it a couple of times. I don't have cable so usually that kind of stuff isn't in my periphery until someone sends me a link. There was a Comcast commercial a while back that sounded even more like me than the Truvia one. I called a lawyer even. I have since decided that I would rather just block out that reality than get really bothered and fight it. I don't need to live in anger, prepared to fight.
CP: Can you tell me a bit about your forthcoming album, Thunder Thighs?
Dawson: This album is really important to me. I don't know what to say, except that I put my whole being into it and got a lot of help from my friends and community too. Remember That I Love You was kind of my "I figured it all out and I feel optimistic" album. Thunder Thighs is more of a "just when you think you have all the answers, shit is going to catch you by surprise" album. There is always going to be more work to do.
CP: How did you wind up collaborating with Aesop Rock on "Walk Like Thunder"?
Dawson: I had asked him to make a beat for the song "Zero or a Zillion," and it was so good working with him I asked him to do stuff on other songs, too. We had both been really affected by losing friends to cancer. When he was telling me about his buddy, Camu Tao, I knew I had to ask him to write something for "Walk Like Thunder."
CP: How long did that song gestate before you recorded it? For some reason whenever I listen to it, I feel like it was building inside of you for a while before you were ready to let it out.
Dawson: I recorded it pretty soon after I wrote it. Then I re-recorded it. Then I went back to the original recording and re-did the vocals and added other stuff. I had performed it a bunch, and lost more friends, by the time I did the final vocal take. That song is the sound of my heart exploding.
CP: "Anthrax" isn't a new song, but the power-ballad version is one of my favorite songs of yours, because at the time it seemed like a quantum leap from the lo-fi folk songs you'd been doing, with its anthemic, hard-rock crunch. How did that song come together?
Dawson: "Anthrax" was on the album My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess as a folk song. I sing about my friend Aaron Wilkinson in it. After I released that version, Aaron passed away. We did the power-ballad version for him. He and I really bonded over our love for power ballads. The other folks on that version are some of his very best friends. We got together and sang and cried and rocked for him.