FARGO — If you run into someone and ask them what they’ve been up to since the COVID-19 pandemic, they may brag about baking sourdough bread, or talk about their home improvement projects, or binging Netflix.
Ask the singer Dessa what she’s been up to for the last 18 months and you’ll feel like your pandemic productivity is a little underbaked.
In just 2021 alone, the artist was releasing a song a month, launched a new podcast, started writing a radio play and, most importantly, hit the road again.
One of Dessa’s first shows will be this Sunday, Sept. 19, headlining Lunch Aid at Fargo’s Sanctuary Events Center. The concert is raising money and awareness to combat food insecurities in the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond.
Getting back onstage is a big deal for Dessa, who is known for shows so intimate she’ll often jump into the crowd.
“I probably played my first shows in a sweet spot (July 8 at St. Paul’s Turf Club) before the delta variant started climbing. I was really comfortable,” she says, while walking the streets of her temporary home in New York.
“A lot of us are just trying to figure out how to thread the needle, figuring out how to balance on that tightrope,” she says. “It’s been a fantastically humbling year. I feel sad and sensitized. I want to come out of this last year-and-a-half and take that energy and do something good with it.”
She’s doing just that.
While the artist hasn’t released an album of new material since 2018’s “Chime,” in January she started the IDES series, releasing a song on the 15th of every month through June.
If that wasn’t enough new music for fans, she worked with NPR’s “Marketplace” for the hip-hop shoutout to Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen, “Who’s Yellen Now,” after then-President-elect Joe Biden thought the economist should have her own “Hamilton”-like show.
The public radio crossover continued on her April “IDES” track, "Terry Gross,” props for the “Fresh Air” host.
Dessa is a longtime NPR supporter — she prefers the magazine subscriptions over tote bags, thank you. She loves a good driveway moment and is a sucker for shows like “This American Life.”
“I loved the way these intimate stories unroll with good music behind it,” she says. “The Yellen song was a lot of fun for me, knowing my dad was in the driveway listening.”
With her affinity for radio, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dessa has added podcasting to her resume. The singer paired up with BBC World Service to start a science podcast, “Deeply Human.”
“I’ve always been a science nerd. That’s a passion point for me,” she says. “Our degree of seriousness can be inhibitive when you’re writing poetry or studying philosophy. There’s room to joke around and speak casually.”
Fans already knew her fondness for facts with her 2018 collection of essays, “My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love,” the third book she released.
“I definitely feel a lot of overlap between the way I write prose and how I write for podcasts,” she says.
The transition from essays to podcasting may have been a natural step, but writing a radio drama, “On the Line,” has proved to be a challenge.
“That was a boot camp in dialogue for me,” she says. “When I was doing that, a lot of skill was honed in narration. I’m skilled in metaphor, but telling an entire story in dialogue was something new. It was like using one tool in your tool belt to build a house. It was like painting with a screwdriver.”
She doesn’t know how much more radio work or podcasting or poetry or even music she’ll do in the future, but she knows she’ll keep moving forward creatively.
“The reason I landed where I have, I never wanted to be just a musician. I wanted to be a writer, but wasn’t sure how to get published. I ended up figuring out how to perform those words and then added music,” she says. “Maybe the ratios will change. I kind of picked my lane as laneless and maybe I would have gotten farther if I stuck to one lane, but I’m gonna keep running down the middle of the road until I run out of blacktop.”
If you go
What: Lunch Aid featuring Dessa, Diane & Emy Miller and Hiahli
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19
Where: Sanctuary Events Center, 670 Fourth Ave. N., Fargo
Info: Tickets for this ID-only event are $25; https://jadepresents.com/