Feb 17, 2010 - 7:28 PM
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Although Dessa’s hit the road touring in support of A Badly Broken Code, she’s managed to get stuck in a van traveling with boys again. I guess some things never change. Catch her at Bottom of the Hill on Thurs., Feb. 18 with P.O.S and Grieves.
Listen to "Dixon's Girl"
Download: Dessa - "Dixon's Girl"
Listen to "The Chaconne" ft. Matthew Santos
A lot of bloggers are calling A Badly Broken Code pop. What, if anything, would you call it? How would you describe your sound?
I think that probably they’re calling it pop because there’s a lot of singing on it. For me, with each of the 15 songs, it’s pretty easy to describe the genre. There are some straight ahead rap tracks and some melancholy ballads. There’s some acappella arrangements that sound a little like hymnals but I think, because all that material is all on one disc, it gets hard to figure out what label to give that entire project. You know? There’s a handful of genres represented on this album and among them is hip-hop, pop and r&b, and maybe some churchy acappella stuff.
You do quite a bit of singing on this album. What was the transition like?
You know, I’ve always sung--since I was a little kid. It wasn’t so much a transition from rapping to singing as it was a transition from singing in my bedroom to singing in a recording studio. So the actual melodies weren’t challenging but sometimes it was really challenging to figure out which of the performances that I recorded ought to make the record because part of me was a little obsessed with being technically perfect. I wanted something that was on time. I wanted something that was in the right pitch and I think it took a little practice for me to be able to select the performances that had some real character. In part, those decisions were made at the urging of P.O.S. to try to capture a genuine performance.
One of my favorite tracks is “The Chaconne,” which features Matthew Santos (of Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar” fame). How did you hook up with him?
He and I actually met in 2006 or 2007. We were both playing a small show in Minneapolis. We struck up a really easy friendship and realized a couple of weeks later that we graduated from the same high school. So I talked to him as a friend and potential collaborator before he had released “Superstar” with Lupe Fiasco. By the time my album was ready to come out, I sent him a text message and asked when he might be coming to town. When he did, I took him to the recording studio and we mapped it out in just a couple of hours, arranged the parts a little bit. I sang my part after he left my bedroom recording studio and then we mixed them together. I thought he did a really beautiful job. I think on this tour when we pass through Chicago, I’m going to see if he’d like to be part of that performance.
This album features production from Lazerbeak and the rest of the Doomtree clan, in addition to Big Jess (of Unknown Prophets). What do you think each of them brings to the table creatively?
Paper Tiger has been developing a real melodic, emotive sensibility to his beats. Lazerbeak is kind of the reigning banger champion of Doomtree--real driving, propulsive rap music. Big Jess--I dug the beat that he contributed a lot. MK Larada also contributed a big chunk too and he also has a dark, sometimes moody palette that I really like. It’s really lush and a great inspiration to me as I try to dream up some lyrics to match that sound palette. Also Jessy Greene, she played cello and violin on the last song of the album (“Into the Spin”) and she provides lots of layers. She has been a long time collaborator, since before my False Hopes, and has worked with Foo Fighters and toured with Pink.
Did you feel more pressure with this release? Have any anxiety about hitting a sophomore slump?
Absolutely. My first disc was pretty well received. It served, in a lot of ways, as a calling card that I could hand other artists to try to collaborate with them. I ended up gliding on that for a long time so I was apprehensive and a little freaked out about releasing a full-length because I knew that I wanted it to be really good. I didn’t want to undermine the momentum that I’d been lucky enough to get from the previous project. So I think that’s probably why this took so long.
Female emcees always seem to get railroaded into being hyper sexual or assuming a tomboy persona to offset their femininity. Do you feel like you have to work twice as hard as a female emcee to avoid being stereotyped or to be taken seriously?
I guess in my career so far I’ve met people that are working very hard. So long hours and hard work doesn’t seem to be exclusive to females because everyone is trying really hard. I think there are some benefits to being a woman in this business. It’s unusual which, right away, can maybe garner interest because novelty is always the first step. At the same time, I think there are a lot of assumptions about what your art will sound like that could hurt you. The biggest challenge has been trying to decipher who has a legitimate interest in your work and your art and who has ulterior motives, whether those are to market you in a way that is disingenuous or they’re trying to date you or trying to get a sexy picture of you. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure who your real allies are.
See Dessa live on Thurs., Feb. 18 at The Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco with P.O.S. and Grieves on the Every Never is Now tour. For the rest of the tour dates click here.
Kimberly Turner is Oh Dang!'s resident music critic and pastry fiend. And NO!, she's not fat.