Rising Appalachia has been infusing traditional Appalachian folk music with inspired influences from around the world since sisters Leah and Chloe Smith began busking in the streets of Asheville, North Carolina in the mid 2000’s. They now tour with a rotating band of world percussionists, double bass, jazz brass, and everything in between. Their uplifting live shows have been crowd favorite on the global transformational festival circuit for many years. They have been met with great acclaim for including a diversity of performance arts across the spectrum into their shows – from spoken word to circus arts to beatboxing. After many years of independence they recently signed to Madison House. A new album is forthcoming.
SP: Tell our readers about the origins of Rising Appalachia. How did you start playing and writing music?
CHLOE: Rising Appalachia sprouted up from a unified yet spontaneous mix of family tradition, a dream that Leah had to create an album for our friends and family, and a coming together of ideas and travels of both of ours in our early twenties. We started playing music at an early age through classical piano lessons, and that slowly but surely spawned a relationship with the instruments of our childhood community….banjo, fiddle, voice. Once we delved into original songwriting, our influences of spoken word, underground hip hop, jazz, and world music made its way into the creative process….
LEAH: In addition, We have found that our role as artists has continued to be fueled by the needs of our community. By that I mean that we have always responded to the audience that we play for. As the community at large wanted to hear more fusion of old traditionals mixed with a contemporary aesthetic, we kept reaching to meet that aural aesthetic. Its been a pleasure to work as voices for our generation.
SP: You have traveled across the world, and your music brings together influences from many different cultures. What is the process of finding ways to integrate sounds from your travels with your core Appalachian roots?
CHLOE: It’s a liberating, exciting, and historic process that pushes and pulls us in all sorts of directions we never imagined. It’s compelling, pressing, and necessary to integrate our own stories and experiences into our work, while simultaneously giving credit and honor to the cultures and writers of songs that we “cover” or “rework” into our repertoire. Our process of writing and forming original work is about as organic as it comes. We go to new places, listen, and soak in the sounds and expressions they have to offer, and eventually those things come out in our art. We never force or prod. We simply let the creative spirit have its way.
SP: Do you think a musician’s relationship with their instrument goes beyond that of a simple tool? What stories do your instruments carry with them?
CHLOE: I’d say all of our dear and well traveled instruments carry such a vein of soul with them, and the more places they travel the more deep the connection is! Actually, we are on the precipice of retiring our band banjo to its deserved place on the wall after seven years of travel and stage, and in all honesty, it’s a lesson in non-attachment! His name is Moe and he is the eldest member of our crew, passed down to Leah by a friend in the family and perhaps better traveled than most people we know. After that, all of my fiddles have been given to me by my mother who picked them out from various “old timers” in the South…flea markets and front porches. Yes, the tools of creation become dear members of the family, almost like an extension of the body.
SP: Last year you launched a new project, Soul Visions, in collaboration with producer David Block of The Human Experience. What is it like for you to work in Electronic Music? Do you have any desire to bring more electronic sound into your instrumental music?
CHLOE: As big time lovers of deep bass music, we wanted to see if we could bring an element of our personal soul sound into the highly electronically minded world. It is our first step at an urban bridge…womp womp style. We do so much work recreating old music in a way that feels fresh and vital to us, so we thought we should take a crack at adding our flavor to a contemporary sound. David Block (The Human Experience) is an old friend of ours from our days traveling in India and his inspiration to make it happen on a full collaboration of sounds was compelling to us. We just passed our one year anniversary of the album, and its been a whirlwind of fun festive dynamic co-performance that we hardly expected or anticipated, but joyfully accepted. Although we don’t have any interest in bringing electronic sounds into the Rising Appalachia sound, we are looking into new collaborations and visions with both David Block and a host of other electronic, hip hop, and world music DJs.
SP: You have been very passionate in your support of environmental causes, especially emphasizing the need for major clean up and reforms after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Louisiana. Tell us what it was like living in New Orleans during those events. How are you carrying your passion for the environment forward?
CHLOE: During the oil spill in New Orleans, we were actually on tour in Bulgaria (land of amazingly clean fresh water) trying as best as we could to stay on the ball with what was happening at home. It was heartbreaking to be away, and clearing at the same time. That being said, our song “Filthy Dirty South” was a tribute to that time, and we worked with one of the best nonprofits in the area, Gulf Restoration Network, in support and action through music and networking. Being based in the South, the oil spill in New Orleans and the mountain top removal destruction in West Virginia and beyond are two environmental disasters that are close to our hearts and band members, and we are working diligently to stay involved and form lasting partnerships with folks at ground zero of those movements. The most important question for us in this work is how can we channel energy and voice to calls of action? How can we gather strength in numbers to put a spotlight on injustices in our home towns and places of heart? We are working now with some Appalachian-based tree planting groups so that each ticket sale for our shows plants one tree in a selected area. Additionally, we hope to spend some time this summer performing and organizing with mountain justice activists in Kentucky, West Virginia, and beyond. As our music initiative grows in girth, we want to make Rising Appalachia something bigger and more rooted in action than sole performance and art and we believe 2014 is the year for us to get into the nitty gritty of realizing this goal.
LEAH: I believe that our role as artists is not just simply limited to performance. We have this amazing gift of an audience that is hopefully paying attention, and the power that comes from collectives is unprecedented. So, in that way, the arts are as far reaching a tool as we have access to. We try not to preach at our fan base, nor to deliver our “answers” for problems at large. However, we seek to expose issues to a greater public, and ask our public to strategize around calls to action. That way we create a container for movement, and it is up to each community to organize around their needs from there. It is important to us that we don’t represent the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex” in the sense that we try and arrive in new communities with some pre-determined ideas about their needs. No, we try and arrive in each community with a clean slate, and ready ears so that we can offer a place for collective dialogue, and that can be the catalyst for action and change.
SP: You have worked with numerous performers of every variety throughout your careers. Do you find physical performance a major inspiration for your musical creativity? Who is inspiring you most right now?
CHLOE: The collaborative efforts and moments of our career have been and remain the highlights of our work. As global movers and shakers in this art economy, we are so blessed to have amazingly talented friends from every walk of life in almost every town we visit…and bringing that sort of circus/throwdown energy to as many shows as possible is our way of building community each night. Dancers, circus artists, spoken word ninjas, fire dancers, activists, teachers, herbalists, primitive skill leaders, crafters, designers, painters…all of these people play an amazing part in the Rise Collective! Our inspiration stems from the back woods fiddlers to the front line poets to the permaculture visionaries to the pop and lock dancers that take this world and bite into it with grace and intensity, all working towards lessening the difference between us all and calling forth a greater family and community.
LEAH: I have a deep background in movement, so as music has become more of my tool publicly, I have never ceased in my strong love of the movement arts. I believe that culturally we are restricted in our everyday lives, and moving not enough…so again, creating a place for our shows to bring together a whole entourage of different artists is really important to us. Our relationship with street theater and the global circus arts community has been profoundly important. Theater of the Oppressed work with Augusto Boal and his work using movement to combat oppression is a profound model in movement based work. Busking (i.e. playing in the streets for tips), which we connected to deeply in New Orleans, as well as in our travels in Europe, was such an important step as well…seeing how arts create a place based community, and a culture around local arts. Its an important thing for us to put value on as a whole…the role of the arts in public spaces.
SP: In the past you have expanded beyond the realm of simple performance and into the arena of education in your work with the RiseCollective. Do you have plans to continue down this path? How do music, education, and community entwine in your vision and experience?
LEAH: We have begun to take on the deep issues of environmental justice, food justice, and human rights as a big pillar in our movements. This has been a big issue on the forefront of our writing and speaking. Learning that we, as travelers, must take on our role as spokespersons and create a platform for the big issues facing our world to come through. We always open our shows to local non-profits and community organizations to bring out their information and set up tables to have info sessions with the audience, and let the people see and hear what is going on locally. We recently worked closely with the Mountain Top Removal communities of Appalachia, the anti-fracking movements going on in Black Mesa, and the anti-pipeline work around the Enbridge Pipelines in Minnesota…working to keep land rights in the hands of the local communities who live and belong to the land. We are also beginning to dialogue around creating a fund from each ticket sale that will be put towards native reforestation work in Southern Appalachia…hoping very directly to “RISE Appalachia”.
In addition to that each of us collectively has work and education that we do and believe in. I work within the prison systems around the US doing workshops around creative emotional release through the arts with prisoners. (We in the US collectively imprison more of our people per capita than anywhere else in the world. That is a deeply abusive system that is neo-colonial and counter-restorative at its source.) Imhotep and Biko both teach a variety of drum-based workshops. Biko also works with natural building education on his time off. David Brown is tied closely to land restoration and re-wilding of Southern Appalachia. We each continue to cultivate our voices off tour to be sharpened pillars in our own communities.
SP: What can we look forward to from Rising Appalachia in the coming year and beyond?
CHLOE: First and foremost, we have an upcoming South Eastern tour starting April 17th-May 11th and we would love for everyone to get involved and come out to shows if they are in the Dirty South! All dates and events are listed on our website as well as facebook, so please reach out and connect with us on the ground. Additionally, we have a new album in the cooker…which is a bit of a secret…as well as collaborations with many of the talented and diverse musicians and groups we have met throughout this year of touring and traveling. We have new ground based activist projects. New poetics. New merch and visual delicacies…new and evolving people and places that we are connecting to and partnering up with in the year to come.
LEAH: Yes! We are working on a new album that we are very excited about! Our sixth full length self-produced musical journey. Keep your ears peeled. It should be ready by mid fall! Along with that we are just still plugging away…touring, new material, new partnerships, and continuing to develop our strategies as sustainable artists…we are making our own blueprint, you know! Our grassroots fan base is what makes this whole thing run, so you are all personally involved in keeping this ship afloat, and steering it!
CHLOE: Rising Appalachia is at a really important crossroads right now. We are for the first time researching some more assistance from the “industry”, which would help our ability to reach a larger audience, as well as the ability to hone in on our creative voice. This is a new move for us, as we have been fiercely proud of our autonomy as a self-run powerhouse…But we are finally in a position where the work-load is too much for us to handle on our own. This is such an honor that we have come this far in our own hands, and to have more work than we can handle, but also brings forth a real sense of vulnerability as we have to ask for help. We are calling in the right mighty forces and people who know how to move with this project, from a well-crafted business perspective, as well as a strong hand in the music industry itself. We don’t want to lose our relationship to radical arts, but we don’t want to start losing impact due to things simply falling through the cracks either. In order to take the next step we need some well-versed professional crew to join us. The family is growing. But it is not just about the music industry either – it’s about finding the right soul who can work within the business of good music and understand the deep roots of our mission. We have a lot of work to do. We need our team to be well oiled badasses, and ready to take it all on with us…
In addition, do we ever know what is next really? All we can do is remain authentic, open, and well versed in our own ability to give and take, push and pull, expand and adjust to what life throws our way. As a musical family, Rising Appalachia is always perched on the edge of the creative cliff, one eye out for the next chance to set sail and take chances and the other eye gazed straight back home to what we know is true.
Rising Appalachia is currently on tour across the Southeast
|Apr 29||The Parish||Austin, TX||Tickets|
|Apr 30||The Prophet Bar||Dallas, TX||Tickets|
|May 02||Cafe Istanbul||New Orleans, LA||Tickets|
|May 03||The Sugar Mill|
This summer’s tour includes these festival appearances:
More tour dates here: Rising Appalachia Southeastern Tour