Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dessa: The Appetite For Distraction Interview

So I got it into my head that maybe I should interview Dessa. If you've been reading my blog for more than a couple weeks, you'll know that Dessa was who I was most excited about finding out about last year. She's a part of the Doomtree collective and they toured America last fall. Now they're gearing up for SXSW and a spring tour! Find all your Doomtree related stuff HERE.

So this is my first interview I've ever done. Well that's not true. I interviewed a Boston College basketball player that my Dad taught. But that was maybe as far back as 7th grade? And it was for a school assignment, so it doesn't count. So, THIS is the first interview I've ever had to compose questions on my own for and I think it went ok. Maybe I'll be able to do more of this kind of thing on the blog. Thoughts? Well, don't give me your thoughts until you've read the interview.

The Past

1. Who were your role models growing up?

I had a sixth grade teacher named Patti who kicked a considerable amount of ass. She lectured with passion on the glorious history of Mesopotamia, she didn't wear a bra, and she took her students as seriously as we gave her reason to take us. 
2. What was your favorite subject in school?

I enjoyed language since I was a child, but I'm not sure I was particularly romanced by English in school. Science, that was probably my favorite subject of study. 
3. What was your favorite song(s) when you were 16?
I didn't listen to very many artists as a teenager. But the few albums I did own, I listened to again and again. At sixteen, I was probably most enthusiastic, I don't know. Sixteen is a total blur. But at 13, I was really into The Cowboy Junkies, Offspring, and Tracy Chapman.
As near as I can tell, Dessa is one year older than me. Which puts her being 13 in about 1995. Which means something from Smash

The Present

4. Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals or traditions?
I get nervous before a show and drink whiskey afterwards. Those seem to be the only constants.  
5. What are you reading these days?

At a snail's pace, I'm reading A People's History of the United States. I don't have the mind for history--this is very slow going. 
6. What is your favorite music to wind down to?
I listen to a lot of melody-centric down-tempo folky stuff. But honestly, I'm waiting to find my next new favorite. 
Well, I don't know about it being down-tempo, but maybe we can turn Dessa on to a little Rocky Votolato
7. What do you like to do in your free time? Do you actually ever have free time

I spend some time with my friends at the neighborhood bar, but really my job is both my social life and my hobby. A career in music takes up most of my time, but I don't have any complaints.  
The Industry

8.Where do you stand on music blogs? Helpful? Annoying? Useful in the right hands?
I don't read as many blogs as most of my friends. They're immediate, which can connect readers with fresh content. But I think there's a lot of pressure to publish quickly and that can dilute the quality of content. 
9. Do you think radio, in the AM/FM sense, is irrelevant when it comes to music? Or is there still a purpose for it that the internet can't supply? Do you miss it or would you miss it if it were gone?
Yep. Cats don't surf the net on their way to work, they listen to the radio. Independent radio has definitely been a large part of Doomtree's growth. 
The Label

10. What makes Doomtree work so well?

Doomtree was built on friendship. And we've stuck together through some pretty tough times. I'm not sure how other labels run their businesses, but we've tried to keep our expenses reasonable and divide our revenue fairly. I think that's probably a part of why we've been able to stick it out as friends and business partners. 
11. What's different about releasing an album as opposed to a book? Do you take different factors into consideration when you're putting them together?

I've only released one book, Spiral BoundI wasn't sure if anyone at all would be interested in it, but was really heartened to find how many rap listeners were game to give my prose a try. I think I'll take the publication of the next one as a more strategic endeavor--more akin to an album release. 
12. Will we be seeing a follow-up to "Spiral Bound" in the near future?
Follow up? Yes. Near future? Uh, maybe. 
13. What's your favorite song on the new Sims album?

One-Dimensional Man or Hey You.  
You can hear both of these songs and MANY MANY others on the Doomtree SXSW sampler
14. Can you clue us in to what's coming up for Doomtree in 2011? (Releases, tours, etc.)

At the moment, Doomtree is looking down the barrel of SXSW--the independent music festival in Austin, Texas. After that, we'll be announcing a spring tour. Keep your ear to the ground.  
The Process

15. What is your songwriting process? I would imagine that, with your background in spoken word, the words would come first and the the melody.

This question's been pretty well answered in a bunch of interviews, I'll let you take what you like from those. 

Ok. How about this from Mom Culture:

As I lyricist, I’ll often overhear a bit of conversation that will end up in a song. A turn of phrase often catches my ear and sits on the clipboard in my head until I find someplace to put it. When I sit down to write music, I’ll review all of the snippets that I’ve collected in recent months to see what I can stitch together.

16. One of my favorite songs I've heard by you is "If & When" It has such an intense plot that seems like it belongs in a short story anthology. Where do you get the inspiration for songs like that?
I worked on that song with MK Larada, one of the Doomtree producers. We began with an image of a woman and a house fire, and it developed into the idea of a woman obsessively minding the pilot light in the hopes that it would serve to call her missing husband home in a very bad storm. The listener comes to learn that the husband was found frozen years before in the barn, but that the woman continues to tend the fire, refusing to heed the advice of her neighbors and descending into a frightening recluse in her small town.

Thanks again to Dessa for being amazing in all sorts of ways. 


Tricia said...

So cool, James! Great interview. Definitely do more!

Allston branch said...

My head is spinning with this. I can hardly register what a brand-new space you're entering with this. This is a quantum leap.
Onward and upward, James!!