Poet-philosopher-singer explores timeless themes

By: JESSICA Allison jessica.allison@gazette.com
July 4, 2013
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Dessa is a woman of parts - singer, rapper, slam poet, philosopher and writer.

The sole female member of the Minneapolis-based indie hip hop collective Doomtree is bringing her music to The Black Sheep on Tuesday night.

Dessa, whose real name is Margret Wander, got her start through slam poetry. She says a friend introduced her to the competition, and it was also how she met the members of Doomtree.

"I was just a fan and I started hanging out with them and we became friends," Dessa says. "We had a meeting in their living room and asked if I wanted to join."

Since joining Doomtree in 2005, Dessa has released three albums and a book.

"My first book came out in 2009. It's a collection primarily of essays; almost all of them meditations about real living experiences," she says, "trying to find meaning in otherwise mundane moments."

This self-reflective mentality may have stemmed from her philosophy degree, which Dessa says has affected her music and the way she sees the world. She believes her degree has also made her a good writer.

"I rap like an essayist," she says.

Not only that, but she raps like a philosopher.

"Sweet Prometheus, come home/They took away our fire," she sings in "Beekeeper" (a track on her latest album "Parts of Speech"), referencing the Titan who gifted humanity with fire against the gods' wishes, according to Greek mythology.

"A lot of philosophers are really good writers," Dessa says. "That style of composition is probably one of the strongest influences of my music."

Besides that style of composition, Dessa says she tries to limit her influences.

"Generally, if I can, I try to avoid listening," she says. "I know that it's inevitable that you will be influenced, but I don't want to be a derivative. I try to turn off all the potential influences."

This originality results in a very different sound palate with a mix of ballads to fast-paced rap songs, most with a mix of spoken word and sung melodies. She says these songs explore timeless themes such as love, death, loss and communion.

"More than any one sound, there's a sensibility to it," Dessa says.

Plus, she says the producers at Doomtree are unlike any other.

"Their production has a very signature sound," she says. "You can usually guess who made it."

Her upcoming Parts of Speech tour, which publicizes her latest album, is a chance for Dessa to expand her fanbase as well as explore the confidence she has gained since becoming a touring artist.

"I used to consider myself primarily a songwriter and I think in the past two months I've really considered myself a performer as well," she says. "I've come to have a better understanding of what it means to work a room."

Most of her shows are in Minnesota, but Dessa says Colorado and Minnesota have many of the same cultural traits, leading to a good market for her music. Plus, she genuinely enjoys touring.

"When you release a record, if you don't tour it you don't give it a chance," she says. "I think it's one of the things that's made my live band as tight as we are."


Where: The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $10, www.blacksheeprocks.com; 227-7625

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