Adam Green’s apartment is typical for a 21-year-old’s first place in the city: messy, bare-walled, deep in Williamsburg. There is a can of Raid on his fold-out table, a synthesizer on the floor next to a book of Rimbaud (he could take or leave the poetry, but the relationship with Verlaine intrigues him), and one of those corduroy pillows with arms that you find in dorm rooms. But Adam Green is not a typical 21-year-old. He’s a rock star – of sorts. “The Moldy Peaches record and my solo album were both recorded at home,” says Green. “Either in my parents’ basement in Mount Kisco or at their apartment after they moved to the city. You know, one track was recorded at this kid’s house in Chappaqua. He was like 14, and he plays drums.”
The yellow-fringed costume Green wore at a recent gig in Central Park lies in a heap of other clothes. Elsewhere are a couple of guitars, with airport tags from the tour they went on with the Strokes. “It’s intense,” he says. “If you’re on tour and one person goes away for one day and doesn’t tell you about it, there’s this fear: Have they surpassed me? Am I obsolete?”
That these are his anxieties about his band – as opposed to Am I getting famous? Am I getting rich? Am I where it’s at? – is part of the core of what makes the Moldy Peaches so much fun, so freewheeling, so thrillingly weird. Since the release of its self-titled debut on Rough Trade Records, the band Green co-founded with his hometown friend Kimya Dawson has seduced critics and fervent fans with frequently lewd, unfailingly funny lyrics (“Who mistook the steak for chicken? / Who’m I gonna stick my dick in?”) sung over primitive, punky folk music. And then there are the visuals: Green has played in a Robin Hood costume, and dressed as Elvis; Kimya Dawson is about as far from a pop pinup as you can get. She sports an enormous Afro dyed Day-Glo colors. Her signature outfit is a bunny suit, but she’s also done shows in a gorilla breastplate, and in a cloak that completely obscured her face.
Until recently, Green wanted to be a painter. In his bedroom, there is a stack of canvases that echo the themes and aesthetic of the band: surreal, brightly colored still lifes with plenty of animal heads and penises. “I also wrote a book,” he says, taking out a photocopied six-page, ten-verse, itemized piece of writing. In “Verse Six: Everything happens intuitively,” item No. 1 reads, “The future smells like burning teeth,” and item No. 15 says, “The rapes were so malicious (but the chex-mix was delicious).”
Dawson and Green are both about to release wild, winsome solo CDs, and both already have enough music to release follow-ups. They estimate that, together, they have made around $8,000 playing music in the last two years. Green’s parents, a neurologist and a psychiatrist, pay his rent in Williamsburg; Dawson lives at her parents’ home in Bedford Hills, where they run a day-care center. She recently accepted an extra job driving a couple of kids to school in the morning.
The two met at Exile on Main Street, the Mount Kisco record store where Dawson worked. He was a 13-year-old, academically unfocused, creatively precocious middle-school kid, and she was a 21-year-old refugee from Evergreen State (in Kurt Cobain’s adopted hometown, actually), from which she was asked to leave “after some activist hoo-ha,” she says.
“I had seen Adam first at an open mike at the Northern Westchester Center for the Arts when he played this song about Calvin Johnson – the guy who started K Records; I knew him from Olympia. I just thought it was cool that there was this kid in my town who knew who Calvin Johnson was,” says Dawson. “I asked some people, ‘Who is that kid who knows about things?’ When he came into the record store, he told me that he had written songs.”
They hung out at her house. “We would just sit there and sing stuff,” she says, “and maybe later he’d play his guitar.”
For the next four years, Dawson drifted back and forth between Washington and Westchester. When she was home, she and Green would sit together and pass a pad back and forth, writing lyrics. “I was too young to go to the city alone,” Green remembers. “I would tell my parents, ‘Kimya’s older, she’ll take me.’ They’d, like, give her money to buy us tickets for a concert. She was kind of a baby-sitter in that sense.”
After a semester at Emerson, Green found that he, too, was unsuitable for college life and decided to follow Dawson to Washington rather than wait for her in his parents’ basement. “That’s when we started the band,” Green says. “It was something we would do at home; we kept it at home; our first concert was in our house.”
He produces photographs of one of the earliest in-house Moldy Peaches concerts, in which he is wearing a lavender satin bra and Dawson is in a giant red diaper with white stars and bunny ears. There are rubber chickens everywhere.
Dawson says, “It was strange. When he came out there, I had been living away from home off and on for eight years, and he had never been away like that before. It was a little weird having to explain ‘Wash your dishes,’ and all the things that go along with living on your own to someone. It was interesting to watch him becoming independent.”
Green was the first to return to New York. “I was 17 years old, living in the city alone, writing songs, and kind of wandering around Central Park and Times Square, and I didn’t know anybody,” he says. “I was playing on the subway platforms, and I started going to the open mike at Sidewalk café. I told the booker I had a band out in Washington, and could we play a show? And Kimya and the guys came down here in a van painted like a peach. I don’t know, it was funny.”
On one of their sweetest duets, Green and Dawson sing, “Here is the church and here is the steeple / We sure are cute for two ugly people / I don’t see what anyone can see in anyone else … but you.”
I ask if they were ever a couple.
“No,” Green says. “Our relationship is strictly mother-daughter.”
A few days later, Dawson, Green, their bassist Steven Mertens, and their acoustic guitarist Toby Goodshank are having brunch at Sidewalk café on Avenue A, the hub of the New York anti-folk scene.
Kimya Dawson has a sparkling prettiness, but it’s easy to get distracted by the giant yellow and green hair, the huge, shredded skirt, the pierced chin, the tattoos running up her arms and down her legs and across her hands. Her fingers spell out the words LAFF LOUD, one letter under each knuckle. There is a new velvet curtain that bothers her. “It covers up a cool neon sign,” she says. “It goes along with the restructuring of the whole East Village.”
The band just got back from England, where they got as close as they’ve come to the rock-star life. At a festival in Leeds, says Kimya, “we were the first band of the day on Saturday. The last band of the night on Friday was Guns N’ Roses, so we were the first band onstage after them, which is pretty cool.”
“What we’re trying to say,” Goodshank says, quietly but slyly, “is that Guns N’ Roses opened for us.”
It’s like a rock Cinderella story that keeps on happening. “Every Thursday night, my dad goes and gets Subway – it’s like that,” Dawson says of living (in between sets) at the house where she grew up. “My brother and his girlfriend and their baby live with us now, which is really cool, and I don’t pay rent, and I like having a yard. And the kids. I always wanted to be a teacher, and I always worked with kids. I love doing it. I can’t really describe it. I never thought I’d be in a band. But I’m happy about the way things turned out.”