Sometimes Something Will Change And That Change Will Change You- The Kimya Dawson Interview

October 28, 2011 by Chris Grosso

There is something really precious about being alone and sad, but there is something powerful and reassuring about watching someone blossom out of that cocoon, sprout wings, and learn to fly. The world is in a state of disarray and Kimya sees that, but she also sees all the magnificent strangeness and unwavering beauty in the world and in people. And she shows us how to see it too. –

Kimya Dawson is an Olympia based “anti-folk” singer/songwriter widely known for the Grammy winning/platinum selling Juno soundtrack.  Her forth coming solo album “Thunder Thighs” was self released on October 18, 2011. The album features guest performances by: Aesop Rock, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, Nikolai Fraiture of the Strokes, Forever Young Senior Citizen Rock & Roll Choir, Olympia Free Choir, Kimya’s daughter Panda, and more.

The Kimya Dawson Interview

TIS: I wanted to start by saying I absolutely love the title of your new album Thunder Thighs as it represents for me a big “fuck you” to an industry obsessed with image. Can you tell me a bit about your decision to call it Thunder Thighs?

KD: Haha, well I kinda wanted to give a big F.U. to the industry regarding image. You pretty much summed it up for me there. Though it was actually a bit less directed at the industry and more at the people making records who feel they need to market themselves in a certain way. This was my way of saying look, we can have fucking big asses, make a record and still put our ass on the record. Take Wilson Phillips for example, where the smaller women in the group are wearing their sexy dresses and then the bigger woman is wearing a pantsuit and her body is covered up. So it’s like look, I’ve got my swim suit on, I’m strong and I don’t give a shit.

TIS: And I say more power to you.

KD: Well thank you.

TIS: Absolutely. So keeping in suit with your previous releases, Thunder Thighs runs the gamut of emotions from light hearted to somber.  Could you tell me about your mental & emotional process while writing/recording the album?

KD: Yeah, it’s sort of all over the place. My song writing is really processing the things that are happening in my world as they’re happening. When I think back to when I first started writing music and making songs I was in a way more vulnerable place. I’d just gotten out of a dual diagnosis inpatient rehab for mental illness and addiction and it was really a matter of survival and sanity during that time. It still is to a certain extent now but I think that was sort of the space I was in when I started writing songs. So the songs were really more what I was experiencing and it was what I had to do to process it. So since that’s where it was coming from I never got to a place where I consciously chose to write a song about something specific which I think prevented me from doing that thing which happens where songs take on one emotion like oh, this will be a love song or this will be a protest song.

It just encompasses more of the experience and I find through everything that happens in life there’s just such a flood of extremes, you know? It’s like you’re laughing and crying at the same time. Feelings and emotions are way more complex than just one thing at a time. So while making music it never made sense to me to split those feelings up, because that’s what makes life rich. The fact that all this confusion and craziness is all swirling around. On the one hand, this really awesome thing is happening but then there’s this other part of my reality where somebody I know is probably going to be dead by the end of the month and it’s all happening at once.

TIS: Sure and that’s a very conscious way of looking at things. So you mentioned living a sober life and going through rehab, which I congratulate you on as I’m in recovery myself and know the struggles. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about how your lifestyle has changed since coming out of rehab?

KD: Well I was thinking about this within the past few days actually with all that’s been happening at Occupy Oakland and all the different Occupy movements happening right now. I’ve been thinking about myself as a young, non-sober activist and how if I was not a mother right now, and still drinking, I would probably be like, “I’ve got to be there, I’ve got to be on the front lines”. I’d be one of those people who’d decide it was a good idea at the non-violent, productive protest to throw a bottle at the cops and fuck everything up, you know?

TIS: Yeah, I can certainly relate.

KD: Yeah, so there’s a whole lot of weird ego that would have made me think that I was the shit and I was doing the right thing. Being in my addiction, while I was drinking, I was very self-centered but it’s like a saying I’ve heard, “I’m the biggest piece of shit in the center of the Universe” like where you despise yourself but you’re the center of your own universe.

TIS: Haha, you’re preaching to the choir.

KD: So now, I support what everybody is doing and trying to learn as much as I can about everything that’s going on. I’m focused a lot these days on self care and trying to take care of my kid and recognizing that I don’t have to just run right out and be the first person involved in something. There’s ways in thinking about how I can be a part of things and be important and make a difference and share things and inspire and move people, but it doesn’t mean I have to be screaming and fighting. I do those things still but I do them in a different way. While being self-destructive I’m not accomplishing anything. I have to be able to take care of myself, then I can start taking care of my kid, and then I can make records and play shows which hopefully touch people.

TIS: Sure, and speaking of your child Panda, she appears on your new album along with Aesop Rock and a long list of others. Can you tell me a little about their contributions on the album?

KD: Aesop is on Zero and A Zillion and it’s the first song we did where I asked him to produce the beat for it. Then after that, I asked him if he would write a part for Walk Like Thunder because he had been telling me about his friend who passed away and I told him he needed to be in this story. I was recording at my friends studio in Berkley and Aesop lives in San Francisco and I just kept inviting him to the studio saying “come hang out, we’re actually friends now”. So I kept thinking of places to add him and he did beats for a few songs and raps over a bunch of stuff. He and I then started working on an album together that we’ll actually have finished writing tonight which we hope to have out in April. Oh, and going back to Thunder Thighs, Panda co-wrote The Mare and the Bear which she sings on as well as I Like My Bike.

TIS: It’s so great that you included her on the album!

KD: Yeah, haha.

TIS: So you’ve also done some touring recently with Aesop Rock. How was the crowd’s response to the eclectic matchup?

KD: It’s been amazing. I think the people who listen to him and listen to me, regardless of our genres, are people who are into our lyrics and they are people who go to the show who are there to listen to some words. Sometimes I feel like it takes a few minutes for the people who are maybe there specifically to see him realize I’m actually saying something they may want to listen too. I think most of them eventually get that and then the kids who are there for me stick around and realize Aesop’s got a lot to say too. It’s been a really great, attentive audience experience. People come up to both of us after the show and say wow, I haven’t heard of you before. We’ve been doing about six of our collaboration songs that aren’t on either of our solo albums which will be on the collaboration at the shows and that’s been fun too.

TIS: Cool. So do you guys have a name or label for the current project?

KD: Well we think we have the group name that we’re going to use. We just came up with it but we haven’t unveiled it yet, haha.

TIS: Fair enough. So I was reading an interview you did previously this year and was delightfully surprised to find we have a mutual friend in Pablo Das.

KD: Awesome, Pablo!

TIS: Yeah, he’s great.  So I read that besides him contributing on your album, you also participated in a retreat he was involved with. I was wondering if you could share a little about that and any interest in Buddhism you may have?

KD: Well I don’t know tons. I’ve read Dharma Punx and Against The Stream and I’ve got a nice little collection of the basics of Buddhism books. I went to a retreat that Pablo, Noah & Vinnie were leading and it was totally amazing. It was a Buddhist recovery meditation retreat and it was so good for getting me to slow down and quiet my mind. There was a lot of self-forgiveness meditation happening which I’d never done before and that was really big for me. I’ve been around Pablo for over ten years now. I’ve also had people say to me, “Oh that song is very Buddhist” and “you’re a Buddhist and you don’t even know it”. So the more I looked at it, especially as I went into the retreat, I understood what they were saying. I’m not necessarily an active practitioner, which is funny to say about Buddhism, “not active” haha. I don’t meditate every day but I do try to keep certain elements of those practices in mind when I’m living my life, forgiveness and staying in the moment, being mindful.

TIS: Right, all very important. So you’ll be doing a run of 9 shows starting on 11/5 in Portland, OR and ending 12/7 in Chicago, IL. Can you tell me what you have in store for these shows regarding the set list?

KD: It will be a nice mish mash of stuff. It’ll be just me solo. I’ve been having such a good time with Aesop and Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz and we’ve been dividing the night. These will be my first shows in quite a while where I’ll be able to play a longer set and I’ll do a lot of songs from all over my collection of goodies.

TIS: Sounds great. Thanks so much for your time.

KD: Thank you too. Take care.


Sat-Nov-05 Portland, OR Siren Festival / Mississippi Studios Matinee
Thu-Nov-10 Philadelphia, PA First Unitarian Church
Fri-Nov-11 Washington, DC Black Cat
Sat-Nov-12 Hoboken, NJ Maxwell’s
Sun-Nov-13 Brooklyn, NY Knitting Factory
Fri-Nov-18 Los Angeles, CA The Echo (early)
Sun-Nov-20 San Francisco, CA Rickshaw Stop
Mon-Dec-05 Minneapolis, MN Cedar Cultural Center
Wed-Dec-07 Chicago, IL Schuba’s Tavern






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Chris Grosso is a writer, public speaker, mental health youth group facilitator, and author with Simon & Schuster. He also writes for Revolver Magazine, Fangoria, and has spoken at a bunch of fancy-schmancy festivals and conferences (as well as even more events that were significantly less than fancy-schmancy). Chris's podcast, The Indie Spiritualist, is hosted on Ram Dass's Be Here Now Network.