The Q&A

Behind the Music of 'Juno'

Meet Kimya Dawson, the singer-guitarist whose work is the heart and soul of the film's soundtrack

Kimya Dawson | KIMYA DAWSON ''He was like, 'Oh, I think I'm going to use a few of your songs, too.' And he sent me a list with…
KIMYA DAWSON ''He was like, 'Oh, I think I'm going to use a few of your songs, too.' And he sent me a list with like 10 songs. I was like, 'What?! That's cool!'''

Juno's runaway box office success has spilled onto the music charts, landing its soundtrack CD at No. 3 this week. The disc's MVP: Kimya Dawson, the quirky Seattle-based strummer with childlike pipes who turns up on eight tracks. (The soundtrack also includes stars Ellen Page and Michael Cera's touching duet on a cover of ''Anyone Else but You'' — originally recorded by Dawson's on-hiatus band, offbeat New York folkies the Moldy Peaches — from the movie's final scene.) EW rang up Dawson to see how she's enjoying her newfound recognition, and find out how Jamie Lynn Spears fits into it all.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me how you got involved with the Juno project, from your perspective.
KIMYA DAWSON:
[Juno casting director] Kara Lipson contacted me. I sell paintings online, and I painted a picture of her boyfriend like three years ago — a painting of him having a discussion with, like, a rabbit in a lucha libre mask or something. I guess Ellen Page had mentioned Moldy Peaches to Jason Reitman, and then he sort of asked around, and this woman working on the film was like, ''Oh, I know how to get in touch with Kimya!'' So she just e-mailed me and was like, ''Hey, remember me? I ordered a painting.'' She sent me a copy of Thank You for Smoking and the [Juno] screenplay. And then, once I'd watched Thank You for Smoking and read the screenplay, I was like, ''Okay, cool. I liked that movie, and this is a nice story about family and pregnancy and all that business that I like.'' I have a baby, [and] she was just a few months old. I'm pretty particular about the projects that I want to attach myself to. So to have it be something so close to my world — family and awkward teens and parenthood — made it just right.

Did you have a say in which of your older songs they'd use?
No. I didn't even know they were going to use my [solo] stuff at first. I knew that they wanted to use the Moldy Peaches song [''Anyone Else but You''], and I agreed to that. And Jason had asked me to send him some of my stuff. I thought that the movie was done, so I sent him all my crap, like, ''Yeah, here, buddy!'' In the same way I would send anybody my stuff. I felt like we were kind of friends at that point. And then a little while later, he was like, ''Oh, I think I'm going to use a few of your songs, too.'' And he sent me a list with like 10 songs. I was like, ''What?! That's cool!''

What about the instrumental versions of your solo songs that you recorded for the film?
Jason and [Juno score composer Matteo Messina] flew to Seattle and met me at a studio there, and we just hung out. Jason knew which songs he wanted instrumentals of. He just sort of turned off the lights and ate some cookies and acted silly and told me to play them as gloomily and emotionally as I could. And I'm sitting here trying to get into this particular mood while Matteo is doing Dom DeLuise impersonations! It makes it kinda hard to keep a straight face. But I guess when you're just doing audio recordings it doesn't matter what look is on your face. [Laughs]

What was it like for you to revisit all this older material for the soundtrack?
Well, some of the songs are songs that I still play live. And some of them I don't play live at all, never have. Like ''So Nice So Smart'' is a song I wrote [when I was] totally bummed on a friend. Wrote the song and then totally hurt his feelings. I was like, ''My feelings are hurt and that's valid too!'' We worked it out and we're friends again. But the song came from a hurt place, and also created hurt feelings, so to just sort of avoid it, I never played it live. And I have no idea how! My friend actually saw the movie and was like, ''Wow, I'm glad that song has a new context now.'' But I would kind of have to learn it if I was going to play it. That was one where Jason was like, ''Maybe you can try?'' And I sat there for 20 minutes and couldn't figure out the chords. Someday maybe it'll come back to me.

Why do you think your songs have touched such a chord with moviegoers?
I feel like the spirit of the movie is really similar to the spirit of the music — which is how I've always felt about music, and how we always felt doing Moldy Peaches stuff. So many times, musicians get stuck in a mood and limit their expression to one feeling, and don't really let themselves combine happiness and sadness and anger and humor all within one piece. But I think in life all those elements are all so intertwined that it never made sense to me to unthread them from each other. I feel like they all go hand-in-hand. So I think my songs are kind of silly but kind of sad and kind of angry — it's like, that's how you deal with stuff. And I think the film really does that, too. It starts out, and you're just like, ''Oh, this is a straight-up comedy.'' And by the end, you're just heart-wrenched. But there's still humor, even at the end where it's so touching. I think that's more real. And that's why I've always been a big fan of the dramedy.

NEXT PAGE: ''Part of my thing is, I'm there for the teens. If Jamie Lynn is having a crisis and my songs are helping her, that's awesome. I'm on her side.''

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