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Friday, April 11, 2008

From Moldy Peaches to Juno to 'Sesame Street'

The Curious Career of Kimya Dawson

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On her way to Charleston, S.C., for the 37th stop on her North American tour this spring, Kimya Dawson, the former self-described “girl part of the Moldy Peaches,” fears the GPS is in cahoots with the KKK. With at least one hand on the steering wheel, she precariously holds up her end of a phone interview, dodging pickup trucks bearing Confederate flags on one of South Carolina’s scenic byways.

Raised in Bedford Hills, N.Y., Dawson admits to having taken only a few guitar lessons at the age of 16, abandoning formal musical instruction altogether until age 26. In the late-’90s, with fellow singer/songwriter Adam Green, she formed the anti-folk duo The Moldy Peaches. The pair donned animal costumes and relied on barely serviceable melodies to accompany their lyrical absurdities.

Since The Moldy Peaches disbanded in 2004, Dawson released five solo albums, gave birth to a daughter, Panda Delilah, and toiled contentedly in relative obscurity until the recent success of Juno catapulted her, via the film’s soundtrack, to the top of the Billboard charts.

The Juno soundtrack relies heavily on Dawson, and serves as a retrospective of sorts. Nearly half of Dawson’s tracks for the film were culled from three of her solo albums, many of them from 2006’s Remember That I Love You. Newer collaborations with Antsy Pants appear on the album, as does The Moldy Peaches’ “Anyone Else But You,” co-written and performed with Adam Green.

Though her solo efforts coexisted with The Moldy Peaches, Dawson’s songwriting retains the pared-down, do-it-herself instrumentation of her former band without the Peaches’ scatological humor. A marked departure from the charming puerility of “Who’s Got the Crack?” and “Downloading Porn with Davo,” songs for which The Moldy Peaches are best known outside the anti-folk circuit, Dawson strums earnestly along to lyrics that reveal an aching vulnerability. On “Tire Swing” she sings, “I got one hand on the steering wheel, one waving out the window / if I’m a spinster for the rest of my life / my yarns will keep me warm on cold and lonely nights.”

While Dawson and Green reunited for a few appearances in support of Juno, including a performance on ABC’s morning estrogen-fest “The View,” Dawson envisions the chance of recording with Green again as a post-apocalyptic fantasy. “The dust will clear,” she portends, “and I’ll crawl out into a totally desolate abandoned wasteland and there will be Adam, and I’ll be like [sings], ‘This is shitty, all my friends are dead,’ and he’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, pat me on my head,’ and we’ll make up some songs. But right now I feel our universes are not aligned.”

Of late, Dawson’s taste for collaborators suits her present incarnation as both eternal child and mother. “My ultimate dream collaboration might happen; I’ve always wanted to do a duet with Grover. I got a phone call from a producer of ‘Sesame Street’ last week and told her about my fantasy, and she’s trying to make it happen.” Despite her sudden mainstream success, Dawson remains the anti-diva. She’s equal parts mother and musician, and her forthcoming effort, a children’s album titled Alphabutt, promises to lend confluence to those roles.

Dawson, however, dismisses the notion that her other records are less daycare-friendly, insisting that “all albums are child-appropriate, but not all parents agree … A lot of kids who like my stuff say, ‘I wanted to take your CD to show and tell, but my teacher doesn’t like it when you say ‘fucking cock.’ So I had to make a show-and-tellfriendly album.”

Promoting a children’s album is somewhat uncharted territory for a singer-songwriter. When asked about the logistics of such an endeavor, Dawson is nonchalant. With her 2-year-old daughter in tow on the road, Dawson is more than willing to play for audiences too young to stay up after dark. She half-jests, “I’ve been thinking about doing a tour called ‘The Nine O’ Clock Curfew Tour,’ where I don’t play any shows that end after nine. This staying up ‘til 11 stuff is bullshit.”