It has been just three short years since Marianne Dissard first took to a stage, but you wouldn’t know it. Within that span, Dissard not only released one of the standout albums of 2008 (L’entredeux), but also evolved into one of the most poignant and versatile live performers you could ever hope to stumble across. Whether she is crooning in the corner of a Tucson bar or fronting a five-piece collective, Dissard commands an audience unlike many others. And while hers might have been a natural evolution, it has not been an easy one.
“I played a show in Paris about three years ago, which was my first show in Europe, and it was a scary experience,” she admitted. “I lost my voice from nerves on the very first song! The nice thing is that you are only nervous about that once. Now I’m not afraid to sing anymore. And the music is changing, too. It’s a cross between being very expressive and being louder and more rock, for sure. It’s drifting and changing rapidly.”
Change is something Dissard is certainly used to. Her induction into American music came shortly after she moved from France to Arizona at the age of 16. One night, she ventured out to a Phoenix club to see Howe Gelb’s eclectic desert-rock ensemble, Giant Sand. With Dissard about to relocate to Los Angeles and Gelb’s apartment recently vacated due to his tour, the foundations were laid for both a well-timed house-sitting and an ardent friendship between Gelb, Dissard, John Conventino, and a diverse array of subsequent collaborators.
In 1996, Dissard helped throw a spotlight on Giant Sand through her documentary on the band, titled Drunken Bees. By that time Joey Burns had entered the Giant Sand fold, and when Burns and Coventino splintered off to form Calexico, Dissard found collaborative opportunities within both collectives. Over the years, she has written with Gelb for Giant Sand and become a regular performer with Calexico, even singing and starring in the video for their breakthrough single, “Ballad of Cable Hogue.”
But the real turning point came in 2004 when Burns approached Dissard about crafting an album together. Later that year, Dissard began penning her poignant French study of heart and soul, and Burns stepped up to put her words to music. Not long after, the duo ventured into the studio and L’entredeux was born.
“I don’t think I would have either the vision or the courage to do something like this,” Dissard explained of the collaboration. “There are people you just can’t say no to, and Joey is definitely one those people. They know you better than you know yourself. It was like I gave him the keys and he took control. I found myself sitting back in the studio in awe, thinking ‘Oh my God, what is going on here?’ It was a really fantastic experience. He is extremely creative : but also very focused and quick. He really was the only person to do this with.”
Since the album’s release, Dissard has truly brought her newfound musical identity to the masses. She’s mounted several tours of North America and undertaken numerous musical sojourns through Europe. In addition to the material encompassed on L’entredeux, she’s also built up a healthy repertoire of French standards. And while Dissard is immeasurably grateful for Burns’s assistance, finding her own music feet has been something she has found equally rewarding.
“It allowed me to move on from the album and the idea of those songs,” explained Dissard. “When Joey produced the album, I think he had something very specific in mind. He knew my voice; he knew what I could do-which back then was really not much. So playing the standards and doing lots of different shows in Tucson has definitely helped me to figure out what singing is all about. Now I have to really sing and use my voice. When you find something you really love doing, there’s no going back, really.”
Marianne Dissard will play the Mercury Lounge (5871 Hollister Ave.) this Thursday, May 7, at 9 p.m. For info, call 967-0907 or visit myspace.com/mercurylounge.