Tucson's Marianne Dissard Filters Her French Sensibilities With an American Twang

Tucson-based musician/filmmaker/artist Marianne Dissard has a unique gift for marking connections among disparate places, mediums, and ideas. On the surface, the elements she uses appear to have only abstract links, but in her capable hands, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

So it's not surprising that Dissard is known for her work in both music and film. Or that her music melds chanson (French music that's lyrically driven) with good ol' hayseed Americana in a sweet and graceful way.

Though the chanson/Americana combo doesn't seem to make sense at first, both are roots music idioms born from amateur musicians in their respective countries. Because Dissard sees herself as a product of both countries (she was born in France and moved to the western United States when she was 16) the melding of the two genres was an extension of own experiences. It comes naturally, she says.

"Most of what I do is unconscious. Or not as much unconscious as natural, organic," she says. "So it was only natural that chanson, which I grew up with, and whatever music I was imbibing in Tucson, would become my language, my vocabulary."

This new vocabulary that Dissard describes is articulated with French lyrics but a distinctly twangy rambling that is associated with the sound of the Arizona desert. This makes for an interesting challenge for listeners, since most Americans don't understand the words, and most French people don't have any kind of ingrained familiarity with the Americana aesthetic.

"Each country, each audience perceives and hears French music with its own set of preconceptions," she says. "To most, French is the language of romance, emotions, passion — something like that. There's an element of mystery to hearing songs in another language."

Her understanding of both locales and the people that inhabit them gives Dissard unique insight. She effortlessly seams together her old and new homes and describes a compelling sense of affection, care, and intense emotion toward Tucson.

"Tucson has been my home since 1994. The music scene attracted me there when I came to direct a documentary about local musical legend Howe Gelb [most notably of Giant Sand]. Then I stayed, and over the course of 10 years went from being a filmmaker, witness to the scene, to a lyricist, and finally a singer. Tucson is my home because I care about what happens in it and to it. I adore the musical connections I've been able to make there. I love the music that comes out of Tucson."

And it was this fondness that helped her conceive of the idea for her forthcoming release. L'Abandon, Dissard's third record, is set for release in January. Her film of the same title will première in the middle of October. The film is a take on Warhol's 1968 Lonesome Cowboys, though Dissard's is set in the Arizona desert.

Whether she's threading music and film, French and American, or Warhol and Tucson, Marianne Dissard's openness and unique perspective force the listener or viewer to throw out their preconceived notions about places, mediums and genres. The result is a set of pleasant surprises that challenges convention — in the most non-confrontational, sweetest pay possible.

 
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