By: Tom Roth
There was a time when Dessa was Margaret Wander. That was around the time that she was at the University of Minnesota, finishing a degree in philosophy and writing for a medical company in Minneapolis.
Dessa still writes, though not for any company. Nowadays, she’s on her third studio album and midway through a national tour, the second half of which she is joined by Doomtree collaborator, Sims. The duo will be making several Northwest stops: Seattle on July 20th, 21st in Portland, and Boise on the 22nd. Fans elsewhere will have plenty of opportunities to catch the Dessa and Sims in action as well.
With sharp lyrics, a sharper mind, and an edge tempered by her meditative style, Dessa covers “as much dynamic territory” as possible. Check out Dessa's "Warsaw" and "Call Off Your Ghost" plus our interview with her below. Tickets to tonight's show in Seattle available here.
Apes on Tape: To start us out, give us one thing that's important to keep in mind when listening to your new album and one thing you hope people will take away after listening to it.
Dessa Darling: Bring what you will--a whiskey, a thesaurus, a date, whatever. I just make it, man, I just make it. I’d hope that people can discern a definite voice throughout the album--I wrote this one to span a lot of emotive territory, but with a consistent authorial sensibility.
AOT: Tonight marks the first night that fellow Doomtree artist, Sims, is joining you on tour. Having reached the half-way mark on this tour and being accompanied by a long-time collaborator, how will the second half of the tour differ from the first?
DD: Each show is a bit different--we rarely play the same set twice and every town brings its own musical culture to bear. Sometimes it’s drunk and rowdy, sometimes it’s wry and thoughtful--if it weren’t so varied, I think I’d burn out on the whole touring experience. I’ve always been most interested in finding the most genuine show that I can tailor to the night, the crowd, the room, the sound system. You tune every evening.
AOT: Last I saw you, you were performing at the Casbah in San Diego when (I believe it was) Mike Mictlan broke/dislocated his finger in the middle of the set. How is the energy different on your current tour from that one when you were with the rest of the Doomtree team?
DD: Nope--that was our man Sims. The Doomtree shows stay pretty ferocious--high energy all night. My shows have moments of big noise and abandon but also have some tender moments; I like to cover as much dynamic territory as I can.
AOT: What has the response been like to your new material? Have the fans surprised you with their response to any songs in particular?
DD: Show goers are just starting to learn the words to the songs on the new discs--that’s always a really exciting part of a release tour.
AOT: On Castor, the Twin, and your new album, Parts of Speech, some songs relate to bad relationships. What in your past inspired this and is it ever difficult for you to put yourself out there?
DD: I’ve always been attracted to true art--I like true stories in literature and true stories in songs. I’m not interseted in exhibitionism or confessionalism for its own sake, but I’ve usually found a way to tell a true story in a fashion that feels like I can preserve a level of privacy of that’s important to me.
AOT: You studied philosophy at University of Minnesota. What's one philosophical concept that you think will help the Average Joe understand the world better?
DD: There are a lot of metrics by which philosophers measure the morality of any given deed. Really, everybody does some sort of calculation in their head--we ask if our behavior is likely to hurt people or if it adheres to a religious edict or if it squares with our cultural expectations. Understanding our own intuitions can sometimes identify blind spots (maybe we inherited some dated ideas about foreigners, maybe we never really thought about gender roles, maybe we hadn’t considered how our decisions as consumers might reflect our ethical positions.) That’s what I took away, anyway.
AOT: In the music biz, there are certain "frustrations". Labels are political, touring is grueling, and the fans wanna hear the old stuff more than the new. Here at Apes on Tape, we do a segment called Sound Excited where we try to balance out some of the negativity in the musical universe. That said, what makes you excited to make music?
DD: The idea of earning a living through the exercise of one’s imagination seems almost magical to me. Always has.
AOT: Three philosophical writings. You have to set one of them to music. Is it “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, “A Modest Proposal”, or all of the Platonic Dialogues?
DD: I’d give em all up for Bertrand Russell--secular, wry, and bold as hell.