Cute Fiend

Buoyant and Intimate, Kimya Dawson's Music Exudes Playful Appeal


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Listening to Kimya Dawson is like whispering secrets while you spoon - highly personal, mildly awkward, very comfy and almost always just what you need. The raspy-voiced folk mama said it best when she described this vulnerable intimacy over a phone interview: "Hey I'm me, and I probably feel more weird than you, but I'm gonna sit here with my eyes closed and play my song."

Dawson started out her solo career as a 26-year-old hiding under a blanket at her parents' house with four months of guitar experience and a 4-track. While her early work is quiet and cozy, she's gradually been moving from whispers to shouts: "I've been playing the guitar for 10 years," she said, "and I'm not that much better, but my voice is a bit stronger I'm a bit louder."

Her new album, entitled Thunder Thighs, is scheduled to be released this summer. It features two full choirs, six songs with Aesop Rock, one written by her daughter (with backup vocals sung by children) and "multiple six-minute-long jam sessions." She contracted carpal tunnel just in writing up the credits that morning, she said.

For Dawson, music has always been a coping mechanism for the eccentric life of someone who's not afraid to feel. She approaches her lyrics as poetry (although she hates the "hallmarky" connotations of the word); never writing for an audience, and always writing for herself. As she put it, "It's always just kind of like, 'Wow I need to write this and if somebody else gets this, cool.'"

She recorded her first three albums at home, partly because that was all she had, and partly because that was all the pressure she could handle in her delicate state. Even after her "Juno"-induced popularity explosion, Dawson has tried her best to remain as house-showey, hug-friendly and home-recordy as possible. As she explained it, "I'm used to playing a show just like sitting on your mom's couch."

Although Dawson never defined a motivation for an album, she admitted that Thunder Thighs has become about creating a "healing space" for yourself. "In the years that I've been making music I've become a lot stronger. It's been a really empowering project for me and hopefully it'll feel really positive and empowering for people listening to it, too."

The new album features a community choir that she founded herself, and she's made sure to include her extended artistic community as well. Her new 11-minute single, "Walk Like Thunder," boasts vocals by John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats), bass strummin' by Nikolai Fraiture (the Strokes) and rapping by new lyricist-BFFL Aesop Rock (with whom she has a collaborating act in the works.)

Kimya Dawson has been humming around the indie scene for a while, but she's not nearly out of steam. Her music has slowly become more cheerful and inclusive, but has never sacrificed that cuddly Kimya feel - a quality sure to be found on her newest album. So, if you want to sing along with her and Aesop Rock, make room for Thunder Thighs this summer, and be sure to make it to the Great American Music Hall tomorrow night for her and Aesop's SF Noise Pop concert. You'll get a preview of their future album, and you may even get a hug.

Join a community choir with Sarah at [email protected]

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