By Srianthi Perera | July 1, 2021
Deswood Tillman wants to give voice to the voiceless.
The Chandler-based singer, songwriter and music producer of Dine’ (Navajo) and Anglo heritage plans to highlight a selection of Native artists with the help of a grant he received recently from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
“I’m planning on bringing in the actual Native artists who nobody ever seems to give a voice to or they don’t ever seem to put on any platform or stage to be able to give their voice,” says Tillman, who also goes by “Dez.”
For a decade since 2011, he has been using his talents to engage in charitable work to benefit Native American communities with the Native-rock group “Clan-Destine.”
As an artist and academic, he continues to be an outspoken voice in his community raising awareness to critical issues and critical thinking.
The current project will run along similar lines.
“I’m going to do that for them by bringing them into the recording studio, allowing them to record their message into my studio and I’m going to take that and I’m going to put it into a composition and then distribute that composition worldwide,” he outlines.
The half-dozen artists Tillman has in mind to work with include professional artist David Montour of Mohawk, Cayuga, Potawatomi and Ottawa descent, and professional flute player Anthony Wakeman.
Tillman stresses the importance of his project.
“As time goes by, the voice of Native country just gets smaller and smaller, the population trends continue to change, so if somebody doesn’t take action right now to give voice to the voiceless, nobody else will,” he says.
“I’ve spent 10 years trying to get that voice heard and I’ve been turned down by everybody, so for once I get to choose who I get to highlight.”
With their compositions, the artists often highlight domestic abuse, raise awareness for veterans and receive funding for their living situations and donating to children and the communities.
“We really just can’t get anybody to want to give a spotlight to that,” Tillman adds. “And it’s even harder to get people to give money to that. At this point, it’s not a belief, it’s just pure fact. Nobody’s really doing this for Native country; that’s why I have to do it now.”
Tillman owns and manages a private music production studio in Chandler known as Sonic Alchemy Studios, where he has produced music for television, movies and other artists.
The $5,000 grant will be used to rent recording studio time and contract with artists and musicians to share their craft.
Tillman said the body of music in the works will not be a typical selection as the album will blend music, poetry, spoken word and storytelling.
“It’s hard to classify what it’s going to be; I’m going to create something new as an artist,” he says.
The artist has many irons in the fire.
He founded a band “out of necessity” called Guitarzan, named for the guitar influence and a subtle reference to Tarzan, the king of the jungle.
“I realized I had to take on the responsibility myself to fund the project. To put the people together, to write, produce, record and engineer it so that I can express myself the way that I wanted to do. So, I became my own record labels,” he says.
Another project, a collection of music titled Sacred Union, is a collaboration with his fiancé, Serene Isabelo. They have written the music and are halfway through recording.
“It’s got a really positive message for the world,” he says.
But music isn’t his sole talent. Tillman is clever at math and physics as well. He has earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in Mathematics and Music from Arizona State University.
“I started majoring in physics at ASU and realized it wasn’t the community for me. It’s not where I was going to attain my highest potential,” he says.
“Music’s always been something that I was drawn to and connected with. So, I knew the physics department and an academic degree really wasn’t a path for me. I chose to find a degree that would suit my life’s choices as well as earn me a credible degree that I could use possibly for employment in the future if I need to do.”
So far, he has made a fulltime career of making music, for himself, for others, and producing tracks for television, film and movies.
He plans to complete the latest project within a year, ideally before December.
The work will be distributed through popular online distribution sites. He plans to perform it at an arts center as well, when the pandemic-related policies are lessened and live audiences are permitted.
Tillman has only applied to one other grant earlier; hence this is the first one he won. He is grateful to the Arizona Arts Commission for its endowment and “focus on helping the little guy develop his art.”
An agency of the State of Arizona, the commission awarded 24 recipients Research & Development Grants for 2021.
Awarded through a competitive application and review process, these $5,000 grants support Arizona artists as they work to advance their artistic practice, expand their creative horizons, and deepen the impact of their work.
“It’s opening up a new horizon for me,” Tillman says. “To be able to get endowment for my creations is a great avenue for me to explore.”