By Joshua “Zeus” Thomas
Dessa “Darling”, award-winning vocalist and part of Minnesota’s powerhouse hip-hop collective, Doomtree, was nice enough to take some time after her set at East Carson street’s Smiling Moose to talk to our very own Joshua “Zeus” Thomas on a cold September night in Pittsburgh. Dessa and her live four-piece band (comprised of Sean McPherson on upright bass, vocalist Aby Wolf, drummer Joey Van Phillips, and guitarist Dustin Kiel) have been touring in support of her new album, Parts Of Speech, which is available now.
Zeus: What’s your favorite thing about coming to Pittsburgh to perform?
Dessa: I think we’ve had a really good run with the small club scene. Its always good to work with people that feel trustworthy.
Zeus: How long have you guys been touring together as a band, and what are the differences between touring with them, and touring with Doomtree?
Dessa: I think we’ve been playing together for about three years. I would say that playing with these guys and playing with Doomtree each has their benefits. I think with Doomtree, it ends up being more of a “hockey match”. Like you’re getting checked, you know? Kind of coming off the walls all the time. It’s a very athletic show. But with these guys, I think what I like most is that they’re all such stellar fucking musicians, and we can really respond to a room. (Working with tracks) you don’t have quite as much control over tempo and volume, but you can really play off the crowd with a band.
Zeus: Your ability to take a room, like you said, from a fast tempo or a rap track then bring it down to a ballad and keeping everyone in tune with it is amazing.
Zeus: What differences were there in writing this CD, (Parts of Speech) and the last two? There’s definitely a different type of atmosphere.
Dessa: I imagine writing every CD will feel as different as living that year of your life. You know what I mean? You have great years, you have bullshit years, you have formative years. My first full length CD, A Badly Broken Code, I was really going through the ringer. And then for this record, I think it’s the first time where I was able to step back from the subject matter and look at it in a more multi-dimensional view. Like, “Ok, so what you fell down? You got hurt? Well, how might that story play out if you weren’t the protagonist? How would this look to a bystander? How would this look to the other party?”
Zeus: So, being more objective?
Dessa: A little bit. Or even at least more empathetic. Toward the world and my life. What if I were a boy? What if I were older? What if I were younger. How might it feel to be a character to me?
It’s worth noting that this show and interview was only ONE NIGHT after Dessa’s tour van was broken into and robbed for roughly $30,000 of musical equipment and personal items in Buffalo, New York. ( I witnessed Dessa using a fan’s inhaler in mid-set, because her’s was among the stolen items.) The group made the bold decision to continue touring in spite of the setback and their fans raised $26,000 in donations by the next morning. In a time where most musicians motivation is questionable, it’s obvious that these guys love what they do.