Today marks the release of Minneapolis emcee/singer Dessa‘s third full-length record, the Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger-produced Parts of Speech. Doomtree’s hyperliterate leading lady took some time out from a busy touring schedule, which recently included an NYC residency and makes its way west next month, to chat about the writing process, the grind of the road, and her first book of poetry.
Brett Uddenberg: How much of Parts of Speech is culled from personal experience and how much is illustrative writing strictly from imagination?
Dessa: Most of my songs are true stories. But even a true story takes some imagination to tell well–you’ve gotta come up with the right metaphors, the right structure, and decide what to include and what to leave out. I’ve always been into language, so songwriting is as much about words as it is about anything else.
As someone who seems to be constantly working on one project or another, I can’t imagine writer’s block strikes very often, but when it does, how do you combat it?
If I’m hitting a wall on one task, there’s usually another that needs doing. But sometimes I definitely do get stuck while trying to finish a song or an essay. I think you just gotta keep grinding; writer’s block is like a side ache, you can run through it if you can suffer it long enough. Writer’s block is only permanent if you happen to die before you get over it.
Do you prefer writing in a notebook or on a laptop and do you feel the medium has any effect on how you approach and/or edit your work?
I write my lyrical ideas on whatever I’ve got handy–iPhone, Moleskine, parking ticket. When I’m actually writing a song, I tend to work on a computer where editing is fast and easy. Then, if I have to record the song before it’s fully memorized, I copy all the lyrics into my notebook in tiny little writing so that I won’t have to turn the page while the mic is on.
When did you know you wanted to create art for a living?
I always knew that my career was going to be a big, important part of my life. And I knew I liked language. But it took a while to figure out exactly how those two facts were going to play out. I wanted to be writer first, but wasn’t sure how to make at money doing that. I ended up in the slam scene, and through the poetry circuit I met the guys in Doomtree who would eventually become my friends, crew mates, and business partners. …MORE