As some of our readers may not know, you’re an independent artist who isn’t tied to a corporation. What do you think is the biggest misconception about being an independent artist?
I think most people recognize the fact that independent musicians are swimming upstream. It’s a great job, but it’s not an easy one. That said, I think most folks don’t quite understand how touring works—people often think of a tour as an extended road trip, with concerts and drinking at night. In reality, most of touring happens in a van. You usually put in 6 or 7 hours on the road before arriving to a venue; sometimes you drive 10 or 11. For most of that time in transit, I’m on my computer, running spreadsheets from the night before, calling in to conference lines, or struggling to find an internet connection to promote the upcoming shows. Touring, in a van anyway, is a grind.
Clever, satirical, and honestly truthful are just some terms that can be used to describe your music. How do you stay fresh in moments of mental congestion?
I don’t put out music at a breakneck clip; as a Doomtree artist I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. There’s always pressure to produce—or face irrelevance—but nobody’s going to force me to put out a record before I think it’s ready. So if I’m not making quality material, I can keep trying until I hit a vein.
You’re a woman who has worn many hats in her lifetime, ranging from singer to lyricist to author to teacher. What haven’t you done that you would like to do?
I’d like to develop a more deliberate visual sensibility. Cameras—both still and moving—are often a challenge for me. I’ve taken my share of pretty pictures (and some very unpretty pictures too), but I’m not particularly interested in pictures that are only pretty. Still looking to fully develop my own aesthetic.
What does the success of other independent artists like Macklemore or Hoodie Allen mean to you?
I don’t know Hoodie Allen or Macklemore as personal friends. But it’s easy to celebrate the success of an underdog.
Are you currently still teaching or contributing at McNally Smith? What do you think your experience and knowledge bring to the curriculum and student body there?
I still serve as an Artist in Residence at McNally Smith. I visit a few times a year to share some reports from the field—what’s working out here, what isn’t, and what sorts strategies can be implemented by the young, ambitious, broke.
What sort of new skills or techniques have you picked up and utilized on this new record?
This is the first record on which I’ve really undertaken a producer’s role. I spent a lot of hours in the basement with Dustin Kiel—who plays guitar and keys in my live band—we worked together to design the sounds on the record, arrange strings, EQ kickdrums. He’s got a good ear and an impressive array of technical skills, and together we co-produced several song on the record.
Who else can listeners expect to hear on Parts Of Speech?
Parts of Speech includes some of my tenderest songs and some of my toughest. It’s got some production with dark and futuristic synths and some songs with totally organic layered cellos. The writing style ties the varied sound palate together, at least I think it does. Parts of Speech sounds like the same writer investigating 12 very different subjects, but with a recognizable sensibility throughout.
The lead single off of Parts Of Speech is a track named Warsaw. It features a heavy-hitting beat that you bring an equally matched set of rhymes to compliment it. To call this an unexpected sound would be an understatement, but it’s killer. How did you approach this particular track?
When I first heard Paper Tiger’s beat, I thought, “Man this is weird.” I loved the layered drums and I loved the way that synth line scrambled by brain until the piano chords came in and anchored it—but it sounded like nothing I’d ever rap on. I told Paper I’d take it. The galloping cadence of the lyrics came to me before the content did—I knew how I wanted it to sound before I knew what I wanted to say. “Warsaw” is one of the few songs I’ve worked on that focuses on mood, it works in flashing images rather than in fixed narrative.
Thanks for your time, Dessa.