TWEETS

Dessa

Emcee | Writer


From its first track, Dessa’s new full-length Parts of Speech (6.25.13, Doomtree Records) announces itself as something different. The Doomtree veteran and inveterate wordsmith — having proved her mettle in the fields of creative non-fiction, spoken-word and hip-hop — jettisons all genre expectations on “The Man I Knew” and croons a heartbreaking lament to a disintegrating relationship at an explosively-building clip.

From this moment on Dessa — oft–described as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker” for the wit and flow shown off on previous solo albums A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin — proves she has truly coalesced as an artist, transcending the restrictions of genre to reveal an astonishing multi-platform voice.

“I wanted to investigate the idea that a cohesive record isn’t always made cohesive by having twelve songs that sound the same. I figured when you make a mixtape for a friend, you can get away with a range of genres and a lot of dynamic change. Why can’t I approach an album like that? The sequence has to be just right, and we worked hard to nail it, but the thing that holds this record together is the sensibility of the lyrics, rather than a uniform theme.”

Track two kicks off a stunning hat-trick of the record’s standout numbers. “Call Off Your Ghost” is an admittedly haunting dirge on the “struggle for grace in the wake of a long relationship.” An arena-sized chorus tucked into a melancholy lullaby, “Ghost” has that unique ability to perfectly soundtrack new love or bitter breakup at the same time.

Dessa then puts her fists up for “Warsaw.” The track boasts a beat like Azealia Banks playing Pacman, which provides a background for our emcee’s confident, hypnotic flow. Narrative takes a backseat to mood here, as Dessa spits impressionistic one-ups like “I sleep with both eyes open, standing up,” daring you to blink first.

“Skeleton Key” contains Parts of Speech’s mission statement: “I haven’t met a locked door yet.” An ode to female self-reliance that doesn’t waste ambiance for message, the track plays like a great, lost M. Night Shyamalan movie, calling forth an era out of time in the story of a woman, a key and a bottomless reserve of courage.

“This record involves multiple narratives. It explores the same themes of love, loss, connection and communion as a lot of my work, but the angle and lens through which they’re explored sets this album apart from my previous ones. The production techniques were new for me too — we spent a lot of time crafting a record that could include live players, Doomtree production, and sometimes a blend of the two.”

While the album is born of Dessa’s artistic vision, it benefits from the collaboration of her varied friends. Parts of Speech owes much of its impact to its diverse production. Dessa got her start as a member of Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree — eventually going on to help manage the group’s business affairs as they launched their own label — and members Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger lend their production to several tracks.

The players in Dessa’s live ensemble all contributed to the record, as did several top-flight Minneapolis musicians working in rock, folk, and opera. She even enlisted a cellist she found on Pandora to make the gorgeously-layered foundation of penultimate track “It’s Only Me.”

Dessa, born and raised in Minneapolis after her parents met at a Duluth music store, was valedictorian of her high school, eventually skipping a year of college and graduating with honors before she could legally drink. Armed with a philosophy degree, the intrepid Midwesterner spent her nights as a waitress and days writing reference manuals used by doctors in the implantation of pacemakers.

“Language and verbal communication were important in my family. If I could argue my way into a later curfew, that argument was entertained. My parents may have regretted that policy later but it was a great motivator to help me develop a facility with words.”

A love of words is evident in both Parts of Speech’s title and its ethos, as Dessa’s philosophy training surfaces too. The rousing chorus of “Fighting Fish” references the Greek philosophical paradox of Zeno’s Arrow. “Beekeeper,” polished up from a starker appearance on Castor, finds Greek god Prometheus repossessing fire from the humans. “Sound the Bells” sings of Mercator, the cartographical genius who pioneered flat maps of a round world.

Parts of Speech could be made by no one but Dessa, but in its evolution and awareness it is the perfect culmination of the journey started with 2010’s A Badly Broken Code. Middle album Castor, The Twin was in many ways a blueprint for Speech. The earlier albums were praised widely for their focus and depth, but Speech shows a fantastic breadth.

By uniting a wealth of different tones and narratives under Dessa’s unmistakable poeticism, Parts of Speech greatly resembles Sherwood Anderson’s modernist fiction classic Winesburg, Ohio. Dessa creates a new world, populating it with complex characters, beautiful sonic landscapes and refreshing, assertive production.

An album that can boom out of a car window after its summer release, or soundtrack a November night in, Parts of Speech marks a highpoint in Dessa’s career and demonstrates the crossover power of the rising star’s burgeoning arsenal.

Bio written by Zack Rosen
>ZackRosenIndustries.com

“Enchanting.”
–Chicago Tribune

“Dessa has emerged as one of the most diverse and talented artists in indie rap.”
–URB

“A one-woman powerhouse…with a literary sensibility and an aversion to genre clichés”
–Utne Reader

“If wordsmith-songbird Dessa isn’t the future of hip-hop, she should be.”
-Insight News

“Profound and moving”
-Star Tribune

“equal parts Ani Difranco and Mos Def”
-Rift Magazine

“Dessa combines the dry wit of Dorothy Parker with the beat of Mos Def”
-Minnesota Public Radio

“clear-eyed candor…understated realism and dark wit.”
-Culturebully.com

“witty, sardonic, and keenly observant of human behavior.”
-TheDecider.com

“Absolutely brilliant.”
-Crossfire.com (London)

“A paramount, intimate look into an astonishing human being.”
-OkayPlayer.com

“Dessa stands alone in her brand of music.”
-HipHopDX

Releases

False Hopes
Spiral Bound: a short collection of essays and poetry
A Badly Broken Code
Castor, The Twin

Dessa's Blog

Lipsticked.

Posted on July 17, 2012

As you may have surmised from the new images on the site, I’m involved in a rather unconventional release this fall. To my knowledge I am the very first member of the Doomtree collective with a metynomic shade of lipstick. (After learning that word, metynomic, I have waited years for the occasion to use it. And now, in the midst of my big moment, I admit to feeling a bit let down. That word’s just… not that tight. If I had it to do over again, I’d say simply, “the lipstick is called “Dessa” and I’m very flattered somebody named something after me.” However, there is no going back. Blogs, like the human spirit, must bodly forge ahead.)

Some months ago, Bo Hakala (who you may know as the director of such cult classics as Doomtree’s “Beacon” music video), connected me with a chemist named Karoline. Karoline owns an indie cosmetic company called The Elixery here in Minneapolis. The outfit is all around bad-ass, with an emphasis on good science, cruetly-free practices, and meticulously sourced ingredients. Karoline herself formulates The Elixery’s colors, working in a little lab full of magic powders, which I got to visit.

Karoline said that the Elixery was interested in naming a shade of lipstick after me. I’d get to pick the shade and I could select a charity to receive a share of the proceeds. I said ‘yes’ right before I was pretty sure she was done talking.

Karoline brought in a third member of the team: makeup artist Crist Ballas. Crist’s professional resume is nuts. He’s built a name for his beautiful work, but also for incredible transformations: aging actors with prosthetics and fashioning latex monsters for Hollywood films. Here’s a picture of Crist, whistling while he prepared to show me how one of his creations could be manipulated by an operator on set. 

Crist, Karoline and I met at a coffeeshop, and at the lab, to start talking color. I got to learn some industry terms (like ‘pay-off,’ the amount color deposited by each swipe of a lipstick) and some science (like how light interference pigments reflect some colors but absorb others; in lipstick they can create a 2-toned effect, like the candy paint jobs on lowriders). 

I happen to be a big fan of classic, matt reds. So Crist worked to build a color from raw pigment that wouldn’t lean either blue or orange. (For readers who are not purchasers of lipstick, very often you’ll buy a shade, bring it home, and find that’s it’s a much different color on your face than it is on the tube. This isn’t true for most other cosmetics, like eyeliner or blush. But in lipstick all sorts of hues become visible during wear that aren’t evident when you’re looking at the product in its tube. Not being a homeowner, lipstick is the item I most associate with Buyer’s Remorse.)

After we picked a color, Karoline showed me how she hand-pours each stick using a layered mold, 1920′s technology. 

She let me suit up and a pour a batch too, one of my favorite parts of this project. 


After the molten lipstick cooled, we laid the mold on its side and opened it up, revealing rows of perfectly formed lipsticks, each with a little beveled edge. 

After landing on the perfect shade, we scheduled a photoshoot to capture an image for the campaign. You’ll see more of the finished images soon, but here’s a snapshot of the whole team. 

And a shot of me wearing some of the first batch of the color. 

I decided that my earnings (20% of the profits) would go to a charity called CARE, an organization I’ve admired for a long time. I’ll be posting more about CARE as we get closer to the launch, but here’s the short story: The project I’m supporting is called the Power Within, which finances girls’ education around the world. Research indicates that girls who are literate and educated marry later, have fewer kids, have them later. Girls’ education changes not only the lives of the girls themselves, but can create changes that reverberate throughout whole communities. For information and videos, you can visit CARE’s site here

Tuesdays with Lazerb–DESSICA!

Posted on June 26, 2012

What a dashing readership. Let me assure each and every one of you that you have made a wise and virtuous choice in deciding to read today’s blog. Your taste = effing impeccable. 

Lazerbeak, who you may know as our newest Doomtree dad, hasn’t slept in like 6 days. On our hour-long conference call today, he made about 8 minutes of sense. Sooo, I’m taking the keys to the blog for this week, to allow him to slump over his dining room table and get some rest. 

Happily, I’ve a good deal to report this week. For one, the band and I just returned from a little Midwest run. We hit Grand Forks (a weird, cool, museum gig), Fargo (sold out!), Rochester (riling the Lutherans), Sioux Falls (shout out to Soulcrate) and Omaha (fjords!). Here are a few pictures from the trip: 

Fargo: 

Proud to have played this little dude’s very first show: 

Dinner with the team:

In all, the run exceeded our expectations in every way. Thanks to everyone who came to a show—double thanks to the crew that drove in from Denver to catch us in Nebraska. 

For those of you who live in the Twin Cities, the band and I have just confirmed our only big hometown play for the summer: The MN State Fair. On August 31st, we’ll be playing the Grandstand (guaranteed points with mom). We’ll be sharing the stage with Jeremy Messersmith, The Jayhawks, and Semisonic. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 11 am and will be available here

I’ll be announcing another little run of shows later this week; stay tuned for dates, cities, and couple of genuine surprises—I’m doing some weird shit this fall. 

Your second-favorite Doomtree blogger,
Dessica.  

On the road again

Posted on June 11, 2012

Oil up the compass, and fish the sextant from the junk drawer; it’s time to hit the road. In just over a week, the band and I will set off on a little Midwest tour*.

For the first time, we’ll be bringing Aby Wolf along; she’s an incredible singer and a major contributor to the set. With her singing harmony, we’ll be able to play some songs that we’ve only performed at home Minneapolis–bestill our pounding hearts.

That’s Aby.

If you’re in the neighborhood, check us out. We’re friendlier than you might think–particularly if you think we’re unfriendly. Our full routing is below.

Tuesday, June 19th — Grand Forks, North Dakota Museum of Art (Box office: 701-777-4195)
Wednesday, June 20th — Fargo, The Aquarium TICKETS
Thursday, June 21st — Rochester MN, (Free, 1st Ave SW & 1st St SW)
Friday, June 22nd — Sioux Falls, 605 Summer Classic TICKETS
Saturday, June 23rd — Omaha, The Waiting Room TICKETS

* Yes–you singularly astute geographical mind, you–I know there are no mountains on this route. That was the only pretty tour picture I kept on my phone. After years of independent touring,  you eventually stop pointing your camera at the passing scenery and your mind curls within itself to contemplate the nature of motion, the inexorable passage of time, and the suppression of a desperate need to urinate in the interest of arriving to soundcheck on time. So, for the sake of this post, that’s the great Nebraskan Range. Deal with it.

Your friendliest friend,
Dessa.

On The Road Again

Posted on June 10, 2012

Oil up the compass, and fish the sextant from the junk drawer; it’s time to hit the road. In just over a week, the band and I will set off on a little Midwest tour*.

For the first time, we’ll be bringing Aby Wolf along; she’s an incredible singer and a major contributor to the set. With her singing harmony, we’ll be able to play some songs that we’ve only performed at home Minneapolis–bestill our pounding hearts.

That’s Aby.

If you’re in the neighborhood, check us out. We’re friendlier than you might think–particularly if you think we’re unfriendly. Our full routing is below.

Tuesday, June 19th — Grand Forks, North Dakota Museum of Art (Box office: 701-777-4195)
Wednesday, June 20th — Fargo, The Aquarium TICKETS
Thursday, June 21st — Rochester MN, (Free, 1st Ave SW & 1st St SW)
Friday, June 22nd — Sioux Falls, 605 Summer Classic TICKETS
Saturday, June 23rd — Omaha, The Waiting Room TICKETS

* Yes–you singularly astute geographical mind, you–I know there are no mountains on this route. That was the only pretty tour picture I kept on my phone. After years of independent touring,  you eventually stop pointing your camera at the passing scenery and your mind curls within itself to contemplate the nature of motion, the inexorable passage of time, and the suppression of a desperate need to urinate in the interest of arriving to soundcheck on time. So, for the sake of this post, that’s the great Nebraskan Range. Deal with it.

Your friendliest friend,
Dessa.

T minus 8.

Posted on April 12, 2012

In the realm of competitive blogging, Lazerbeak has seriously trounced the rest of us. Sundays are for Jesus; Tuesdays are for Lazerbeak. Nonetheless, I (Dessa) am dusting off the cobwebs, firing up the electric typewriter, and preparing to fax this blog entry to the home office.

I’m 8 days away from my show at the O’Shaughnessy, which is my biggest headlining gig to date (a quick search around the office confirms that the quiet, anxious mewling is, in fact, originating from myself). I toured the theater twice this past week; it’s a scope of a new magnitude.

I’ll be joined by the full live ensemble: Sean on stand-up bass, Dustin on keys and guitar, Joey on drums and vibraphone, Aby on angel sounds. To make the evening a one-of-a-kind endeavor, we’ll be debuting some brand new music.

I’ve also asked a few of Minneapolis’ finest musicians to write a new piece for the concert. To our collective benefit, they agreed. At the show, we’ll hear new collaborations from the following artists.

Jeremy & Cecil Otter

Aby Wolf & Alexei Moon Casselle

Black Blondie & Robert Robinson

I had the chance to sit in on a bit of Aby’s rehearsals, and was really impressed but what she’s pulling together.

I’ve never partnered with a visual artist for a performance, but for this show I’ve commissioned work from the figure theater artist Michael Sommers. I met Michael for the first time two weeks ago, we met at the Open Eye Theater where he stages his own productions. A compelling character. Paces when he thinks, talks with his hands, goes dead still in contemplation, and then fluttery when inspired—the kind of guy you’d cast in your movie about artists.

Even a lowly blogger is entitled to a few secrets, so I’ll just let the images of Michael’s work stand on their own and leave the reveal for the O’Shaughnessy. If you’d like to catch the show, tickets are available here.

See you next Friday,
Dessa.

 

Dessa in Milwaukee this Saturday

Posted on March 28, 2012
Date City Venue Country
Tour: Welcome To Night Vale Tour — Dessa is the weather this spring
03.26.15 Dessa in Glenside, PA Keswick Theatre United States
Time: 8:00pm. Address: 291 North Keswick Avenue. Venue phone: (215) 572-7650. Buy tickets

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NO KINGS TOUR 2012

Posted on December 01, 2011

WE’RE GOING ON TOUR!

And a big one. The entire Doomtree crew will balance on two axles and make our way around the United States (and a few Canadian cities to boot). More tour dates to be announced soon.

Advance presale tickets for the No Kings tour are on sale right now here. Use the login “doomtree” and password “tickets” to gain access to the presale!

Without further ado….

No shows announced at the moment.

No shows announced at the moment.

Castor, The Twin release concert

Posted on October 31, 2011


On Friday night, I performed at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul. It was the biggest production of my career. Thank you to every musician, technician, and attendee. Zoe Prinds-Flash photographed the concert.


Catch Dessa on tour in November

Posted on October 24, 2011

Dessa is hitting the road in support of her new album Castor, The Twin with a few shows on the east coast.

No shows announced at the moment.

Dessa on the East Coast

Posted on October 12, 2011

I’m writing from a Chicago sunroom (thanks for putting us up, Anna) with some pretty big news for me and the band. In a few short weeks, we’ll be heading out on our very first East Coast headlining tour.  Just a little trip, but feeling like a pretty big adventure. Here goes.

Thursday, November 10th. Iota in Arlington.
Friday, November 11th. The Tin Angel in Philly.
Saturday, November 12th.  Joe’s Pub in NYC.
Monday,  November 14th. Middle East in Boston.
Wednedsday, November 16th. Beachland Tavern in Cleveland.
Thursday, November 17th. Magic Stick in Detriot.

Tickets go on sale verrrry soon. And we may add a date or two before the week is out, so please check back for updates. Okay. Loading the starting gun.
-Dessica.

No shows announced at the moment.