The State Of Music: Part 50: Minnesota - Dessa
I cannot help but write this article with a heavy heart. 247 days since The State Of Music Part 1 landed in Arkansas, I have finally completed my objective, one unsigned or indie label band from all 50 US states. I am fully convinced that I have completed something which has never been done before and to be honest, why would anyone want to? But finally completing my music map of America is quite frankly one of the greatest things I have ever done. I don't often feel proud of most things I do, but this has been one amazing experience. I've discovered lots of great bands, made some amazing new friends, opened up a record label and held a State Of Music Showcase at SXSW....all from my home here in England.
Of course the project still continues in album form. The State Of Music Vol.3 is released on 29th June 2012, with the following two volumes due before the end of the year. The album releases so far have raised some much needed funds for Camden Calling, a UK community group who work to support homeless musicians.
So it is time to go out with a bang, with help from Minneapolis based hip hop collective Doomtree, but more specifically this post is all about one of their members, Dessa.
When I first heard Dessa's latest album Castor The Twin, I instantly wanted to put on for a second spin, and then when the album wasn't playing all I could think about was when I could listen to it again. With its mixture of soulful vocals and live chamber instrumentation - it really is something that needs to be heard to be believed. It takes guts to make a hip hop album like this. Dessa should be heralded across the music world for even considering it, let alone pulling it off in spectacular fashion.
Doomtree (including Dessa) are heading to the UK in May for their first ever adventure this side of the pond. I have posted the tour dates at the bottom of this article.
So, for one last time - please welcome the final State Of Music artist. Number 50 - Dessa.
CMM: Welcome to Choose My Music. I suppose the first question is - who is Dessa and where in the world would be find you?
I'm a musician, a writer, and a member of the Doomtree collective--7 members, 10 years, 30+ albums. I live and work in Minneapolis, but tour hard, so with any luck I'm somewhere near you at least once a year. The whole Doomtree team is embarking on our first European tour in May.
CMM: How would you best describe your music?
My strength is as a lyricist. I work hard for the precision in my songs and edit like a motherfucker. My music is literary, and often a bit melancholic, but with the drive of hip hop.
CMM: You are part of the Minneapolis collective Doomtree. Could you maybe explain to the folks at home who Doomtree are and how you became involved with them.
Doomtree is a 7-member hip hop collective. Friendship first, then music, then business. I first learned about Doomtree when a friend lent me a home-burned and hand-screened CDR. The music on it captivated me--honest, rebellious, funny, charismatic stuff. I asked where my friend where these Doomtree guys were from and, as it turned out, they were my next door neighbors.
CMM: You last album "Castor The Twin" makes really brilliant use of live instrumentation. What made you decide to go down that route as opposed to the usual "beats" method?
When I started touring the A Badly Broken Code (released in 2010), I brought out a really killer trio as a backing ensemble. Sean McPherson plays stand-up bass and leads the band; Dustin Kiel plays guitar and keyboard, sometimes at the same time; and Joey Van Phillips plays drums. These three are not only great players, but they're really excellent musicians. Naturally, we began to rearrange the songs, writing new parts. Hip hop production does some things that live players can't, and players do some things that production can't, so we looked for ways to play to our strengths--and to avoid sounding cheesy, which I think is a common pitfall for live hip hop. In the end, we ended up with a sound that falls somewhere in between terms like 'experimental hip hop' or 'chamber pop.' Admittedly, I'm lousy with that sort of nomenclature. But whatever it's called, it sounded significantly different than the recorded material. We decided to capture these new versions, and in doing so enlisted a few of our talented friends: the soprano Aby Wolf and the violist Erica Burton among them. The product, I think, is a more cinematic project that pushes the lyrics forward, and leans toward an elegant, orchestral sound.
CMM: When I listen to your music it feels like a very personal account of life. Is your writing inspired by real life events or is it your excellent abilities in creative and descriptive writing that draws me to that conclusion?
Almost everything that could be true in my lyrics is true. If I'm writing about flying around in the talons of an oversized crow, well, that I invented. But I try to capture details, and even dialogue, as faithfully as I can.
CMM: Could you perhaps give a run down of the music you have released so far?
In 2005, Doomtree released my little EP called False Hopes--that's a name we use for a lot of our unofficial or short-run projects. My next solo project, an album called A Badly Broken Code didn't come out until 2010, an indefensibly long interim by industry standards. In the meantime, however, I'd contributed to a dozen other discs. The most notable was probably Doomtree's self-titled album which dropped in 2008. Then, most recently, I released Castor, The Twin in late 2011.
CMM: Like most artists involved in the hip hop scene you are no doubt involved in many other side projects, are there any that you would like to share with us?
Outside of music, my first priority is writing. I published a collection of essays called Spiral Bound, and I'm overdue for my follow-up project. It's phenomenally challenging to write while on tour--it is for me, anyway--but I'm grinding hard to complete my next manuscript.
CMM: Where are your favourite places to play both in and out of state?
At home in Minnesota, I think my favorite venues would have to be First Avenue and a handful of theaters, the Fitzgerald and the State among them. Out of state, I really like the House of Blues in New Orleans.
CMM: What's next in the pipeline for you?
I'm 9 songs into my next album and about halfway through my second collection of prose. And trying very hard not to freak out.
CMM: And finally, where can people reach out to you online and where can they get hold of your stuff?
People can check out music, videos, pictures, and all that stuff at www.doomtree.net/dessa.
You can catch Doomtree in the UK at the following venues (all opening for Yelawolf)
14th May 2012: Electric Ballroom, Camden, London 15th May 2012: O2 Academy 2, Bristol 16th May 2012: O2 Academy 2, Birmingham
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