Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's Dessa In The Morning, But It's Good For Morale.

Talking about Dessa's music is an act that stretches my comfortable vocabulary. Maybe it's the M.A. Phil. after her name. Maybe it's the lyrics nerd in me. She's one of the artists that makes my obsessive attention to what's said worth it, I think. She...well...when the songs are played right, it feels like I'm reclaiming my vulnerability, to abuse a Thomas Barnett line.

One of my favorite moments from a Dessa song was a re-worked Frida Khalo line. She's an rapper who writes rhymes where Bertrand Russell gets as many big-ups as whiskey. Of course her new song, "Warsaw" sounds like a lead pipe covered in grime, left out in the pouring rain. You're supposed to dance to it. If The Knife menaced people with knives? Yes, it sounds like that.

This was an interview for in advance of Castor, The Twin and then Jason Tate ignored it, so here you go. First interview of the new cycle. Suuuuuuure. Read on.

What have you been reading recently? What books (if any) do you bring on tour? After tours, who has stuck around? What's surprised you positively about coming back to the bed, the books and the rotary phone after the U.S. tour?
I buy books constantly on tour. I usually go for dense, academic material: science or philosophy I'd always meant to explore, but never got around to--exactly the opposite of what's appropriate for a person living in a noisy, moving van. Most of these books end up on my coffee table. I resist shelving them to sustain the delusion that I will be reading them very soon. At the moment, however, I am 50 pages into The Tin Drum and 75 pages into Sting's autobiography, Broken Music (gift from Dad). 

"Dots and Dashes," that opening "vision quest at the Best Western, the best dressed wreck at the hotel lounge, I found out the message in the bottle is the booze" is pretty wicked. There's gotta be a story behind it, right? Do tell.
Um...not really. As a touring rapper, I guess I just spend a lot of time in economy hotels. Sooner or later, life seeps into the imagination and is re-expressed in a lyric. 

If Poe in the glovebox, Plath on the dash is true, how do you get up in the morning?
Most mornings I get up with some reluctance, hitting my stride right before bed. I suppose I've always tended toward the melancholic, and have always been attracted to dark narratives. To romanticize sadness is a teenage impulse, but to acknowledge it--rather than looking for a ray of cheeriness to blot it out--seems like the clear-eyed way to live. 

Let's say a venue wants to treat you right and leaves you some whiskey backstage. What do they buy? Or if that's too casual with the alcoholism, are you worried about the whiskey catching up to you or has it already?
I drink Godfathers: one part whiskey, one part amaretto, on ice. I'm more mindful of my drinking than I used to be, in part because the hangovers are more vengeful than they used to be.  

Will there be a Mineshaft III on the next one?
I think the Mineshaft narrative ends with the second installment, the prequel. Time to explore some new themes. 

There's a line in "Low Light, Low Life", where you say Bertrand Russell was right, but it's irrelevant. As an M.A., you know better than most, Russell wrote a lot. What else was he right about? Also: Does philosophy help with being in hip-hop? Does it complicate matters in a way that's useful?
Bertrand Russell wrote a book called Why I Am Not a Christian. I'm an atheist, and although I certainly don't spend a lot of time trying to talk people out of their faith, that book was a beautifully written, intelligent expression of some very elegant arguments. For me, the study of philosophy was game-changing, it informed my understanding of sex, conflict, faith, human rights, money, ethics, and art. Philosophy has affected everything I do, rap included. 

Your bartender (from before you were old enough to drink?) does backups, that woman from "Alibi" I assume is a friend and "Dixon's Girl" sounds like a character from a Chandler novel. How do you meet these people?
I'm taking this question as a compliment. I think we've all probably got some pretty compelling stories. There's a trick though in telling them well. 

Is there anything like "Dutch" or "Scuffle" on No Kings or your 2012 record? (I'm partial to the abrasive/rapping songs, but listening to "Palace" and those Minneapolis Public Radio sessions on YouTube has me convinced this whole singing on tracks has worked out pretty well for you.)
There are plenty of aggressive tracks on No Kings and on my new disc. Castor, the Twin is mostly wings; the next one's definitely got some teeth too. 

Judging by "The Man I Knew," it sounds like one of your friends has discovered cocaine. Is that gonna be awkward when this dude hears the song? Does he know about it?
I called him, and he said it was cool. Still not totally sure he's listened to it the whole way through. He's an awesome dude though, we'll make it just fine. 

There's tons more questions, but let's end it with the really important one: Now that Astro lives in Minneapolis, when are you and he going to sit down and do a song together about whiskey and rapping?
Very proud to say that I booked Astonautalis' housewarming show: just a few days after he moved to Minneapolis, I had him on stage at the Guthrie Theater. He's one of the smartest lyricists out there, glad to have him on the hometown team.

"Warsaw" sounds like a club jam from Blade Runner. I don't think I can say it sounds pretty, bleepity and distant all at the same time better than that.

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