Doomtree's Dessa Takes Us to School
Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree has sparked a tremendous following, which has extended to its solo artists, including Dessa, the latest to break out to national attention. She has a new album Parts of Speech, and she performs at Bowery Ballroom on Sunday. We spoke to her about whiskey, women in hip-hop, and being misunderstood.
Where did the title Parts of Speech come from?
I wanted something that could communicate the literary quality of the disc. It's in some ways a collection of short stories as much as a collection of songs. Also, this is the first disc where I'd written a considerable number of the tracks from different perspectives so in some ways it's a collection of different vantage points, rules and parts.
You've mentioned in other interviews that you tend to follow the major themes of love, sex, loss and communion. Is your approach to those themes different than how you've approached them in the past?
I think I've probably got a lifelong magnetism to those themes. I think the relationship to those themes changes. When you're 20, you're probably most interested in love and loss and sex, and when you're 50 you start seeing death in a different kind of way. So, I think those are the themes that will continue to captivate me, and with every project you develop a different relationship with those ideas.
You've also said you gravitate towards the writers who you feel you can get into their head and take a trip with them. Have you ever felt a listener has really misunderstood something you've made?
The songs where I've taken a more figurative or abstract approach are sometimes the ones people will express an interpretation where I'll go "whoa!" My song "Poor Atlas" I'd written as secular story about a woman in a workshop building a body, and someone asked if that was an extended allegory for the environmentalist movement in the U.S. I remember thinking "No, but what are you talking about? That sounds really interesting!" Usually I think the lyrics I write are true stories from my life and easy to follow. It's infrequent that I'll write a song that lends itself to that kind of interpretation.
Do you recall the first rap show you ever attended?
I was in high school at a place called Bon Appetit. I don't remember all of the performers, but some people were there who would wind up being friends. I remember one crew was there of people who went to my high school called Oddjobs. When you're 15, the excitement of seeing anyone you know on stage is mindblowing. I remember the overall impression of noise and lights.