Doomtree: Wings & Teeth Tour Interview with Dessa

Interview by Robert Ker

Fans of mainstream pop culture might not think of the Twin Cities as a hip-hop hotbed, those who are invested in the genre otherwise. This is due in part to two prominent independent labels: Rhymesayers Entertainment — which boasts acts such as Brother Ali, Atmosphere, and Eyedea and Abilities — and Doomtree, a collective that includes P.O.S., Sims, and others. The whole gang plays at SPACE Gallery at 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28. Local MC Sontiago (whom you may know as Sonya Tomlinson) opens.

Doomtree’s Dessa released her solo debut album, A Badly Broken Code, earlier this year. It’s a slick, personal set of songs that finds the performer delivering her lines in her melodic blend of singing and rapping. She spoke to HillyTown a week before arriving in town to play at SPACE.

Can you explain to people how Doomtree all got together?

Doomtree started as a group of friends who were making music together in their high school years. It started really informally, and then over the course of the next ten years organically became an independent music label. So the guys in Doomtree met as teenagers and gelled into a more formal structure over the course of their music-making careers.

You speak about it in the third-person. When did you join?

I joined a little bit later, actually. I was asked in along with Aaron (Aaron Mader, aka Lazerbeak), and we were the two last additions to the collective.

It seems like it’s been a little while since there’s been a big collective.  Did you take inspiration or draw anything from Elephant 6 or the Wu-Tang Clan in the 90s?

Not really. I mean, as musicians they were probably featured heavily in our playlists for a while. But as far as modeling our collective after theirs — not at all.  It started, like I said, as those guys making music together, and then making up the name for it, but the groups formed organically.

How has it been advantageous, as far as your solo career goes, to be a part of a collective like this?

I think first and foremost, we’re able to share the skills and resources that each of us has. It would take an extraordinarily long time to get good at everything you need to be good at to run an independent music label. There is still stuff that is pretty varied, you know? Paper Tiger is our designer, and is responsible for a lot of the visual signature of Doomtree, and (someone else) does almost all of the financial accounting and he works directly with our electronic distributors, and Sims by now is working as tour manager for our tour and he does a lot of our merchandise and inventory, and these are things I know nothing about. I do a lot of our press and promotions. So we all benefit from the other members, and that’s huge. And also, like everyone else, I believe in the brand, and I get to work with six other really talented musicians. So we all benefit by being associated with one another.

Which came first, the singing or the rapping?

I always sang, even as a little kid.  My mom encouraged that quite a bit.  So singing came first for me.  Listening to the radio together in the car, she would challenge me to try to find a harmony that wasn’t in the song, that I could add.  So that was part of my childhood.

That’s a good exercise.

It was, looking back on it.  It didn’t seem that way at the time.  It seemed like a way to pass a drive.

And when did you come to hip-hop?

I came to hip-hop when I was 20.  I was 21 when I started performing.  And I came to hip-hop via spoken word.  I was a competitive slam poet.

Do you write your lyrics beforehand, or do you wing it when you get behind the mic?

I write almost everything.  I’m a lousy freestyler, but I’m a good writer.

You’ve been touring like crazy this year.  Are you sick of the road yet?

My knees are a little sick of having been in a van for so many months, but I’m having a great time.  And this time around on the Doomtree tour, I get to go out with six of some of my closest friends, so this tour is unlike any other in that all of us are on the road together.  It’s been really special.

Dessa performing with P.O.S. the last time they visited SPACE - animated photo by Bryan Bruchman

Dessa performing with P.O.S. the last time they visited SPACE - animated photo by Bryan Bruchman