Chances are that if you’ve caught the wake of success rolling from the Fox Searchlight film Juno, then you are certainly familiar with the movie’s backyard bonfire-friendly, acoustic guitar-driven soundtrack. What some moviegoers may not be privy to, but what soundtrack fiends should definitely know, is that singer-songwriter and anti-folk balladeer Kimya Dawson throws her vocals down on a great deal of the tracks. Kimya’s honest, conversational lyrics backed by simple, folk-styled guitar strumming have earned her the mellow yet vibrant sing-a-long atmosphere during her seemingly continuous touring schedule.
Upon calling-up Kimya for an interview over the telephone, I could tell right from our first few exchanges of hello-how-are-you’s that this person possessed an unmistakable air of friendliness that just whispers “hug”. To set-up a few of my more journalistic questions, I asked Kimya how the tour was going the past couple of days, and if she was preparing for yet another gig that night. She told me that Boston was cold, but it was sunny and that she and her toddling daughter Panda were playing at the park for the day. From this early point I could already frame the persona of Kimya Dawson—a loving mother blaring out ballads addressing things from family, to politics, to giants on a daily basis, all the while keeping a self-made stock of morals to back both her personal and professional demands.
Kimya divulged to me how taking her daughter out on tour with her has sort of reshaped touring life among other things: “I love having my family on the road. It’s definitely not easy, especially when you get to a gig and the backstage really isn’t the kind of place you want your young child to be around. It’s a good kind of hard. I grew up with a daycare center in my house with 10 other kids, so I have experience dealing with family issues. I’ve been sober for a long time, I don’t party and I try to keep it clean because I have to raise a child.”
Not many touring musicians would aspire to maintain such a lifestyle on the road, but then again Kimya is not your traditional musician. When I asked Kimya about the types of music that influenced her in her early years, since her “anti-folk” sound is rarely duplicated, she said, “I just went to a bunch of open mic nights in New York on the Lower East-Side. I was always drawn to people writing songs with truth and spirit that just really got at telling the story. [I like] stuff like Jeffrey Lewis and Paleface. Definitely Jeffrey Lewis.”
The anti-folk music community is no doubt one of limited exposure, but with many of the groups like Jeffrey Lewis and the Moldy Peaches recording on boom boxes and distributing their own records on CDR, one cannot help but appreciate the D.I.Y. attitude and sheer honesty of artists like Kimya. It’s a great thing to see when an artist is incapable of taking herself seriously. So when I found out that while at the Hollywood premiere of Juno, Kimya announced on her Web site that she was going to set out and attempt “to find, meet and befriend Danny DeVito,” I had to ask if she succeeded.
“I didn’t get to meet him, but a co-star of his assured me that it will happen.” So close! When I asked Kimya why of all celebrities it had to be Danny DeVito she replied, “If you have to ask why Danny DeVito, then you shouldn’t be allowed to ask me any more questions.”
I asked Kimya if playing shows at colleges was any different than others she told me, “I didn’t even realize that show was on a college campus. The audiences are always so diverse and intimate.” Kimya Dawson sings for you, yes, you personally, at every show with all her silliness, reflections and criticisms at once. And while she plays this unending tour, she still probably wants you to remember that she loves you.
Kimya Dawson is playing at the Independent Media Center in Urbana on Sunday, April 13, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $13 in advance.