Fresh off a live album and orchestral collab, Dessa's going back to basics

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Dessa hits Rochester this weekend -- and if you didn’t get tickets early, you’re going to miss quite a show.

The Minnesota rapper’s most recent release, "Sound the Bells," was a live album/collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra which set her traveling to other orchestras and touring with string ensembles to deliver the right sound.

But now she’s going back to basics.

"I will be reuniting now with my little live band, it’s just a four-piece, including me," Dessa said of her upcoming concert at the Castle Community. "Looking forward to getting back to Rochester, it’s been a while since we were able to swing through last."

They’ll be performing many of the songs that were reimagined for "Sound the Bells." The night will also involve poetry, as well as music by MONAKR and TOPO + The Chemist.


Tickets to the Saturday show sold out quickly (and crashed the My Town My Music website, while they were at it, which was "totally flattering"), so we caught up with the singer, rapper, and writer on moving off of orchestra hstages and back into smaller halls.

What’s the adjustment like as you go from touring "Sound the Bells" to smaller venues and shows?

In some ways, there’s not really a blueprint for touring a live album recorded with an orchestra, as a rap artist. So I had a really good time running around with my live band and adding string quartets to our arrangement, in an effort to give some of that orchestral flavor to a live show on the road. But I am looking forward to returning to this kind of tight-knit, nimble group of musicians as well. And you know, if I flail around on stage, I might knock over a glass of white wine, but I’m not going to knock over a cello.

Since you’ve run the gamut as far as stage size, what do you look for in a venue when you’re performing now?

In some ways, it depends on the show. You find a venue where you can imagine performing what you’re hoping to deliver. So that might look different at a literary reading than it does at a rap show that starts at 11. But I think in all the environments that I enjoy playing, I really like there to be a sense of space. So that the space in and of itself is a character. I love great light, I’m a sucker for it. And then true sounds. Those feel like the fundamentals that you need in place to perform your best. But also, just a room full of people who are game to engage! Who are willing to at least allow themselves to be moved. That, probably, is the single variable that determines the course of an evening. People. It’s an ask! "Hey, come to a room full of relative strangers and make yourself vulnerable enough to feel big feelings." That’s not nothing. And when you do find yourself in front of a room of people who are willing to do that, that’s probably the biggest, most important element.

Is there anything left on your musical bucket list?

So many buckets. Probably if they were all crossed off, it’d be time to re-career. But yeah, after working with these really elegant and careful arrangements for a long time, I think my appetite for just a rowdy rap song has started to regenerate. So I’m looking forward to doing a couple of those, where total care and collaborative precision isn’t at the fore. Where it is about a mood and a vibe and a spirit, and you can play that game a little looser and still play it well, which I always like.

What are you listening to nowadays?


I've got a playlist that I'm burning through. Bryce Vine, who -- I think his stuff is awesome. There's this sugary, trash UK pop by Little Mix that I'm listening to. I'm spending some time in London for a product, so it's just dipping my toe into that pool a little bit. ... That song "Power" is so catchy. And I do listen to a lot of sort of sad, melancholy music. My favorite is probably a melancholy vibe, but still a propulsive feel. That mid-tempo or up-tempo sadness. 

Are you working on new music or focusing on what you have right now?

I’m just starting to cross into that, cross that border. So I’ve been touring pretty hard recently, and I’ve been working on an audio project with a slightly adjacent feel … which I think we’ll be able to announce in a couple weeks. And (I’m) just starting to put a few beats on repeat in the headphones, to try to finish up some new rap songs.

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