Q and A with Doomtree's Dessa
Twin Cities hip-hop connoisseurs are most familiar with Dessa as the Doomtree collective's resident poet, so it should come as no surprise to her fans that her expressive ambitions run to the extraordinarily literary. Spiral Bound, her outstanding debut volume of prose and poetry, is due to release tomorrow through Doomtree Press, a brand new wing of the music collective that becomes more and more essential and diverse by the day. In anticipation of the chapbook's release, Dessa spoke with Gimme Noise about her literary life.
How long has Spiral Bound been a project of yours?
"Camera Obscura," the last essay in the collection, was finished minutes before the book went to print. "The Leviathan," an essay about a rogue medic, was written from notes I took a year and a half ago while backpacking South America. In all honesty, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when the writing began--some of the ideas buzzed around in my head for a long time before I started to type them out. I decided to publish the collection rather recently, however. My mom helped me pick the title Spiral Bound this past November; we jotted out all the candidates on paper placemats at Kindo.
After spending so long being known as a live performer, was it daunting for you to reveal yourself in print?
When I'm on stage, I've got a clear idea at what's at stake. I want to perform well. I want to hit my notes; I don't want to trip on any cords. I worry about making mistakes. Writing--because it doesn't happen in front of an audience in real time--allows me to do it exactly as I intended. I can read, reread, and edit my work until the text is precisely as I imagined it. That's gratifying.
That said, I did have some moments of discomfort before the book's publication. The essays in the collection address death and sex and love and melancholy. I'm not likely to talk about some of that stuff with my little brother--but he's pretty likely to read the book. So Easter dinner might be a little weird this year. On the other hand, the music and writing that really move me do not seem to be the products of cautious artists pre-occupied with their own privacy. The art I like seems to be the work of people who were willing to take personal risks to access the real material of their lives. I tried to take that cue.
You're obsessed with language-- as a rapper, a spoken word artist, and now as a writer, you've staked claims in avenues that all use language in entirely different ways. What freedoms does the printed word offer over performing your work live or on record?
I think a lot of art is about scope. Paper cranes are cool because they're little and delicate and intricate. John Grider's murals are stunning, in part, because they're looming--much larger than you, the viewer. Writing essays is a thrill and a challenge because I have total control over the scope. If I get an idea, I ask myself, Is this a two-page idea? A ten-page idea? I can turn all the little knobs and dials to center my idea precisely in my cross hairs, and build an essay to house it.
The book bears a Doomtree Press seal--will there be more literary works forthcoming?
If Spiral Bound fares well, I'd love to release another collection under the Doomtree Press banner. The Doomtree guys have been fantastically supportive: Paper Tiger designed the book himself, and Lazerbeak has worn his tires thin to run all the errands that make our projects possible. A girl couldn't ask for a better group of colleagues, drinking partners, friends, and conspirators.
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