The 4/20 interviews: Rising Appalachia
For 2019, April 20 brings an embarrassment of musical riches to Asheville area venues. Among the notable shows are Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, Love Canon, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, and KNOWER at Pisgah Brewing Co., Phosphorescent at The Orange Peel, The Wild Reeds at The Mothlight, Southern Culture on the Skids at The Grey Eagle, and local singer-songwriter Brie Capone’s Farewell to Asheville show at Isis.
Also in the mix is Atlanta-based world folk/fusion group Rising Appalachia, which will be at Salvage Station. While in South America, Chloe Smith (vocals/guitar/fiddle/banjo) corresponded with Asheville Stages via email and discussed what drew the band to the continent, the art of melding hip-hop with folk standards on the band’s new album, and the potential sponsor of a 4/20 all-access pass.
Edwin Arnaudin: Rising Appalachia played Asheville in December for a two-night stay at The Orange Peel and now you’re heading to Salvage Station in a few weeks. What keeps you coming back to our city on a regular basis?
Chloe Smith: Our bassist David Brown lives in Asheville, and I split time between here and a few other special places in the South. It's always been the land here that has called me to this place — the greenery of early Spring and the magic of the autumnal shifts. The wild food growing in the forest and the endless trails you can lose yourself in year round. My parents began bringing [my sister/bandmate] Leah and [me] up to Appalachia when we were real young for fiddle festivals and square dances, so it has a rather nostalgic and long term association in our hearts. Despite the thick history of this region, we consider it a healing center of the world with all the rich plant diversity and practitioners in the area, and it serves us well when we need some nourishment from the stress of the road.
EA: What’s it been like touring South America? What have been a few standout moments from your time there?
CS: Each winter, we take time off from the demands of tour and venture into other forms of magic making and exploration — a quieter life, you might say. Everyone in our band has mutual interests in world culture, language, natural building, herbalism, craft work, and other such things that winter is devoted to.
We just returned from a cultural exchange learning about Andean wisdom in Peru as well as yerba mate culture over in Argentina and Uruguay, a journey that was an invitation from Guayaki Yerba Mate as well as our friends at Revivolution. Less of a traditional tour and more of a slower paced cultural exchange, we had a wild and wonderful six weeks learning, listening, honing second language abilities, spending time in the saddle, hiking, practicing permaculture, and generally being guests in other folks' homes. We performed a handful of concerts as well as took part in workshops and retreats and educational opportunities to learn from folks down there. It was humbling and full of potent magic that we will carry into this year with us.
EA: How does the reception your music receives from audiences in South America compare with that of your U.S. concertgoers?
CS: Oh, it's so very different! We are new in South America and are just building a relationship with that continent and its incredible people. With language barriers, the musicality of what we are doing becomes that much more important — and we really lean in to the notes, tones, and vibrations more than the lyrics in some ways.
Honestly, folks in South America put our concept of "Southern hospitality" to shame and were about as kind as anywhere we have ever been — which tilts the mind towards the whole discussion of borders and unnecessary aggression and the likes. We were incredibly warmed by our big welcome down there and look forward to building more in the years to come.
EA: The vocal delivery in the second half of “Make Magic” verges on rapping — and just might be my favorite part of Leylines. What was the inspiration for taking that approach to that particular section of the song?
CS: Leah is our resident spoken word artist, and I often write songs that leave space for her to flow in that more poetic lyrical way as an accent to the track. "Make Magic" is very much inspired by some of our Southern folk/hip hop heroes [like] Erykah Badu and Andre 3000, and we specifically went for a sort of “dirty,” rowdy, and unpolished take on that song. People tune into words quite differently when they are spoken as opposed to sung, and we love playing between the two and rallying different energy there.
EA: Another personal favorite is your take on “Cuckoo.” What was involved in developing that beloved folk song from a tune I imagine you’ve heard most of your life into something distinctly your own?
CS: “Cuckoo” is a famous old tune that lots of players and folk singers have done up along their way. This particular version, made model and slowed down, was taught to us by our mother and her amazing band, The Rosin Sisters. It was always one of our favorite songs that they did, so we asked them to teach it to us and then, of course, we nudged it through the Rising Appalachia filter. Featuring our new full six-piece, this song — more than most — highlights the strength of our instrumentalists David Brown, Duncan Wickel, and Arouna Diarra, and showcases the folk fusion of Appalachia, Ireland, and Africa.
EA: This interview is part of a series about the insane number of amazing shows happening in Asheville on 4/20. Excuse the bad pun, but why do you think there’s such a, well, high number of shows here on 4/20?
CS: Ha! Well, Asheville has always hosted a ton of music, and the more, the merrier if you ask us. We spent many years living in New Orleans and there were always 10-plus incredible bands playing each night, which meant that the culture of art and creativity was alive and well and fully part of the DNA of that city. People would go to a few shows each night, and musicians would often support one another by sitting in on each others sets. We truly hope that as Asheville grows and changes, it holds on to and carves even more space for the many artists that make a living in and around the South.
As for 4/20 — perhaps there is some sort of "all access pass" to all of the shows, sponsored by Willie Nelson’s Reserve? That would be good times, indeed.
Thanks for speaking with us. It’s worth noting that we will have our new album for sale at this show! The official release date is May 3 online, but we are going to sneak it out early to our Asheville audience. So, come one, come all. Big night for us!
IF YOU GO
Who: Rising Appalachia
When: Saturday, April 20, 5 p.m.
Where: Salvage Station, 466 Riverside Drive, salvagestation.com
(Photos by Chad Hess)