Senseless Love: Torch Songs and Brian Science
Dessa makes her living as a touring musician. She’s earned a reputation as a songwriter who can produce and perform a killer torch song, i.e. tracks that run on pining, tragic love. What’s been good for her art, however, wasn’t always so good for the artist. Dessa struggled for many years to fall out of love with the same man, and even though she knew it was pointless to hope for reconciliation, she just couldn’t seem to put those feelings down. All the traditional interventions had failed – time, distance, whiskey – and she was prepared to try something drastic. So Dessa assembled a team of neuroscientists to try to excise the love from her brain. (Her collaborators include researches from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research and nuerofeedback clinician, Penijean Gracefire.) The story of her experience is funny, fascinating, suspenseful, and reveals poignant perspectives on our brains, our bodies, and the ties that bind.
A true force of nature both on the stage and on the page.
Her performance venues are equally varied: gritty rock clubs; velvet-lined theaters; top-tier festivals like Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest; and countless tours stops spanning North America, Europe, Australia, China, and South Africa. Her most recent full-length recording, Sound the Bells, was recorded in 2019 with the GRAMMY-winning Minnesota Orchestra and showcases lush, symphonic arrangements of previously-released work, performed live at Minneapolis’s Orchestra Hall. Dessa also takes special pleasure in designing themed events for intimate rooms, such as her sold-out residency series at WYNC’s The Greene Space, in which she matched lyricists with scientific researchers to investigate free will, romantic attachment, and intoxication.
As a writer, Dessa’s byline has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic, and in an episode of the cult-classic Welcome to Night Vale podcast. She has written two short collections of poetry and essays, and in 2018 published a memoir, My Own Devices (Dutton Books, Penguin Random House), that tells the story of her life, career, and an ambitious plan to fall out of love. Dessa has delivered presentations on art, science, and entrepreneurship for Fortune 500 companies, keynote speeches at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and the Mayo Clinic, and guest lectures at universities and colleges across the country including Georgetown, Macalester, NYU, and Iowa State. Her TED Talk “Can We Choose to Fall Out of Love?” has been viewed over 2 million times and showcases Dessa’s funny, charismatic style that engages, entertains, and inspires audiences from all walks of life.
Dessa grew up in the 80s in South Minneapolis as a strong-willed, brainy kid. Both parents were musical—her mother sang and her father played classical guitar and medieval stringed instruments. After earning a philosophy degree, Dessa began competing on the slam poet circuit. There she met members of the Minneapolis rap scene and was soon invited to join Doomtree, the hip-hop collective known for bold production, charismatic lyricists, and explosive live shows. Dessa learned from and contributed to the Doomtree ethos—a gritty, DIY attitude that presumed musicians would make their own way, without help from industry players. Dessa’s songs are the product of her unusual trajectory: she’s part academic and part hip artist, a lute player’s daughter who spent her formative professional years touring the world in a van full of guys.
Whether she’s composing rap lyrics or writing creative non-fiction essays, Dessa’s style and dedication to wordcraft is unmistakable. The LA Times says she “sounds like no one else,” NPR says she’s “breaking the rules of rap,” The Chicago Tribune simply calls her “enchanting.” On the stage and on the page, Dessa exemplifies ferocity, wit, tenderness, and candor.