Anti-folk star Kimya Dawson has a huge indie following as a solo artists, one half of the Moldy Peaches, and major contributor to the Juno soundtrack. Kimya’s newest release, inspired by her two-year-old daughter Panda Delilah, is the kid-friendly album Alphabutt. Kimya talked to Babble about the hazards of touring with a baby, her belief in co-sleeping, and why it’s okay for kids to swear. – Caitlin MacRae
What made you want to do an album geared towards children?
I think just being a mom now, and having less time to do the introspective songwriting I’ve done in the past – the way I’ve always made albums, the songs would come to me, and then eventually I’d record them once I wrote them, and then once there was enough to make an album I would put them together. And this time it just turned out that all of the songs I was making up, I was sort of making up for my daughter.
Does Panda listen to the same music you guys do?
She listens to tons of different kinds of music. We have an old battery-operated Sesame Street record player that plays real records. It only plays 45s, so we bought her a big collection of Sesame Street 45s, and she’s been learning how to put a record on the record player, and put the needle on the record, and flip it over when it’s done. I went downstairs this morning and she had found a Carpenters 45 and she was listening to the Carpenters. She loves totally rocking out and having dance parties all the time.
The last time I saw you play, she was around. Has being a touring musician changed since you’ve become a mom?
I don’t just sleep on people’s floors anymore. I did that for years when I was traveling and it was just me. I could just sort of wing it more. And now it’s just really caring about her being safe, and not being totally over-stimulated and having quiet time and stuff. We do stay in hotels. I’m not into following her around telling her not to touch stuff, nagging her all the time, so it’s just better for us to be in a space where she can just kind of rule it.
And not having to worry about people saying their house is childproofed and then having it not be.
Which has happened, quite a few times – showing up somewhere and being like, “Really? You’ve never been around babies, have you?” We got to one house, once, and the guy was like, “I figured it would be really cool for you guys to sleep up here,” and it was a twelve-foot-high loft with no railing, and I was just like, “What? That would be cool if you have a death wish for my baby.”
Do you think your relationship with your fans has changed since you became a mom?
There have been certain people who have been like, “Oh, you’re not keeping it real anymore.” But whatever, you don’t have a kid, you don’t know. And ultimately she’s the most important person.
I noticed on your MySpace that you’re advocating for reusable diapers. Are there any other alternative parenting movements that are really dear to you?
When I got pregnant, someone recommended the website for Mothering magazine, which is an attachment parenting and natural family living magazine, and their website and forum is so phenomenal. There were a lot of things that I figured we would do, just naturally. I couldn’t imagine putting my baby in a crib, and I knew that I wanted to cloth diaper, and feed her healthy foods, not use a stroller for the first many months, and carry her or have her in a sling.
“I couldn’t imagine putting my baby in a crib.” We don’t vaccinate, and if we had had a boy we wouldn’t have circumcised.
Do a lot of your friends have children too?
We had her birthday party the other day, you know, three-year-olds were still nursing, everybody was running around naked, you have people trading diapers, “What size do you need now?” And that’s just sort of what’s normal for us, and it’s what I like, being out in nature a lot with the kids, letting them all pee in the grass together – taking it easy, and being really gentle and really in touch with them.
To me, Alphabutt feels like another Kimya album, and it’s really neat to hear music that children can listen to that doesn’t sacrifice or dumb down emotional complexity.
I had a really amazing experience a few years ago. I went and did a show for the Boys and Girls Club in Carlsbad, and after I played a few songs, I decided to play a song of mine, “Lullaby for the taken,” which is about my nephew being kidnapped, and I played it, and I said to the kids, “This song is really sad, but I feel like playing it today.” And I played it and I could see that some of them looked really sad, and I said to them, “When you’re sad it’s really important that you talk about the things that you feel sad about, instead of just keeping it in,” and then after I played, the kids lined up to tell me what they were sad about. Some of the kids were like, “I had a goldfish who died last year,” and some of them would say, “My daddy just left for war,” you know, “My mommy had to get a restraining order against my daddy,” or you know, parents got divorced, or one of their parents died, or their grandparents died. But so many of these kids had all this stuff that they were aware of that was going on in their life, and maybe they hadn’t had a really intense opportunity to really talk to someone about it.
I think a lot of kids have a lot more stuff inside of them then we realize, and we can be a lot more straight-up and a lot more real with them about pretty heavy stuff. And I think it just really helps for them to have the example of big people showing their feelings. Adults very rarely let kids know that they feel sad. I think kids need to be made aware that all feelings are okay to feel, and they should never be ashamed of feeling bad or upset about something, they just need to figure out how to work through it and how to cope with it and how to grieve. And you know, they just need to be given the tools that they need to deal with stuff, and not feel like they have to hide things or feel ashamed of things.
“I am a firm believer that there are no dirty words.”
Alphabutt also has more references to bodily functions than your other records.
I feel like when I made this album I was conscious of the language. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people, like teachers or something who are like, “Oh, kids love your stuff, but I always have to burn a CD I can play in my classroom that doesn’t have the dirty songs on it.” So I thought it would be nice to have one album that was daycare friendly, or school friendly, or grandparents-house-friendly. But I am a firm believer that there are no dirty words, you just have to pay attention to how you use language, that nothing should be taboo but nothing should be hurtful.
I saw somewhere that you were working on a book for kids?
It’s sort of a pipe dream. My original plan was to release Alphabutt as a book and an album together, and then as I thought about it more, it’s like, well, the album’s done, and I’m on tour, and to get a book made . . . it just would have taken a long time. So I decided I would get the album done, focusing on finishing up touring and being a mom, and think about the book a little later. I’ve got a friend in Colorado who has his own publishing company and he has told me that as soon as I get a kids book done he will get it out for me and have toys made of the characters, so eventually that’s something I would like to happen, but right now it’s just in my mind. Right now, I’d rather just chill out, go sit by the river and hang out with my baby.