Since nine of her songs were featured in the hit 2007 movie “Juno” (which racked up four Academy Award nominations, winning for best screenplay) and made up the bulk of the film’s hit soundtrack album (it reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart in January), Kimya Dawson has requested only one thing:
That interviewers refrain from asking her the same questions over and over again.
Though Dawson has submitted to scores of interviews since “Juno” star Ellen Page convinced director Jason Reitman that her character would listen to Dawson’s music, the indie-folk singer is still willing to entertain the possibility that someone might ask a question she hasn’t answered a hundred times before.
In fact, it could even become a game, with her keeping score of course. “Let’s see how you do,” she says coyly to an interviewer while riding in a car headed to Athens, Ga., from Charleston, S.C.
Over the next 40 minutes, Dawson discusses her upcoming children’s CD, “Alphabutt,” which she is previewing on her current tour at all-ages shows.
She also fills in a few details of her pre-musical biography (“I didn’t start playing and writing music until 1994, when I was around 26”); the inspirations behind some of her recent songs, and how people can change the world.
Thankfully, for the most part she sounds engaged, despite occasionally having to tend to her young daughter Panda Delilah, who will turn 2 in July, or to respond to a comment from her musician husband, guitarist Angelo Spencer, and touring partner (and keyboardist-vocalist) Paul Baribeau.
Dawson has been playing three songs from “Alphabutt,” which is due in August and features Panda playing piano and singing. The title track is “my version of the alphabet, what every letter stands for in my world,” while “Bobby-O” is about “a cowboy in Mexico.” “Seven Hungry Tigers” deals with “what your concerns would be if those animals lived in your room.”
From “Juno” she has been playing “Tire Swing,” in which she acknowledges her wanderlust - “I’m not the kind of person who can stay somewhere more than a couple of weeks. I was pretty depressed before I stayed in motion. Now I’m a lot better” - and “Loose Lips,” a determined lo-fi survival anthem.
Both songs also appear on Dawson’s fifth and most recent studio CD, 2006’s wonderful “Remember That I Love You.” On that disc, she sings movingly about her mother on “My Mom” and the younger of her two brothers who is raising an autistic son on “Better Weather.”
“My mom’s been sick for 15 years and she just has a lot of demons she battles all the the time, and being in constant pain she is haunted by fairly troubling parts of her childhood,” says Dawson. “The song is me pleading with her demons to leave her alone.”
“Weather” “is me letting my brother know how proud I am of him,” she says. “When he first heard it, he thought it put a lot of pressure on him.”
Dawson was born in Newark, N.J., and raised in Bedford Hills, N.Y. “My family home was a day-care center,” she says. “I always worked with kids - as a camp counselor, at homeless shelters. My plan was to teach.”
So after high school she enrolled at Wheelock College in Boston, but unhappy with the school’s “kind of traditional methods” transferred to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she now lives.
Dawson says she first met Adam Green, who would become her partner in the much-beloved anti-folk act Moldy Peaches, at summer camp. “He was a junior counselor. I was director of non-competitive sports programs.”
One day, Green showed up at the Mount Kisco, N.Y., record store where Dawson worked during the holidays. “He was, like, 12 and playing guitar,” she says. “We just started writing songs together. ... I always wrote a lot, tons and tons and tons of journals. I started putting them to music. It became a way for me to process my thoughts and deal with stuff.”
When it is suggested that Dawson’s songs are unusually dense with ideas, she giggles. “Paul and my husband are making fun of me just now. They’re always telling me that each one of my songs can be 40 different songs.”
Wedged into some of those songs are her disgust with President Bush and the war in Iraq.
“Corporate America runs the government, and the government is really not listening to the voices that disagree,” she says. “A lot of people become discouraged. But it’s crucial to say to people you don’t have to wait around for government to save the day. Start being a more compassionate person to your family and circle of friends. Strengthen your community, not corporations causing suffering all over the world.
“There are tons of people around us every day who are suffering and struggling and sad and lonely. We need to take care of each other.”
As the interview ends, Dawson is asked how she thinks it went.
“Not too bad. Not bad at all,” she laughs.
// Notes from the Road
"Powerful Chicago soul-singer dips into the '60s and '70s while dabbling in Urdu, Punjabi and Italian.READ the article