Amythyst Kiah: It Takes a Village

Photo by Gibson Brands
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 19 – Spring 2022

Amythyst Kiah is a Black Queer GRAMMY-nominated singer-songwriter born and raised in Chattanooga, TN, currently residing in Johnson City. Kiah’s sound is an expression of her own passion and journey through music. 

Kiah’s latest album Wary + Strange was released last summer via Rounder Records and has received tremendous praise from major media outlets as well as garnering her a nomination for International Album of the Year at the 2022 UK Americana Awards. 

2021 has been a break-out year for Kiah as she made her debut performance at the Grormed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and the CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions, and has been on the road, most recently with Brandi Carlile at the Girls Just Wanna Weekend in Mexico.

Kiah took the time during her busy schedule to share with us her guitar origin story, lessons she learned while developing her career, and lots of advice for other girls pursuing their passion for music.

Photo by Gibson Brands

What got you into playing the guitar? Was there a specific moment or person that made you want to play guitar and begin building a career with it?
My parents were always very supportive and encouraged me to pursue anything I became passionate about. They allowed me to pick any instrument, and I landed guitar between the records, cassettes, and CDs my parents played in the house and the music videos I watched on MTV. When I was 13, they bought me a late ‘80s Fender for $100 and a CD-ROM with video lessons. I became obsessed and started growing my interest in rock music. After completing those lessons, I studied any DVD and VHS I could get my hands on. When I figured out how to read guitar tablature, it was a game-changer! The power to learn to play any song I wanted was incredible.

Were you self-taught, or did you study with a teacher?
I was self-taught my first four years of playing. In my junior year of high school, my parents transferred me to an arts high school, where I majored in creative writing and took a classical guitar class as an elective. My music world opened even further as I studied fingerstyle playing techniques. I only studied classically for a semester, as I found the rules were too rigid for me, but to this day, it is a profound influence on my playing. This period opened me up to learning country-style pickin’ techniques in college.

What was one lesson that you had to learn early on in your career? Personally, I had to learn to be alone in this industry, but everyone has a different story. What is yours?
Early on, I learned the value of having unconditional love in my corner. In my early 20s, I decided to pursue traditional music in college. I was the only Black person majoring in the program, and while there were many great supportive people there, it was lonely at times. Between growing up in a white suburban area and then pursuing a course of study that was considered “white,” I’ve always felt I had to keep my guard up and prepare to defend my passions. My father has supported me since day one, retiring early to join me on the road when I started performing solo shows. He believed in me fully, long before I finally fully believed in myself. Since then, I’ve slowly built a team of people in my professional career. It took me over ten years to build my circle, but I have found that I can trust people who are working with me because they love what I do. It feels good to not only see the hard work of the team pay off but also know I have support because there’s still so much more to do!

Let’s talk about some of your 2021 highlights, one of which I remember seeing you post about. How did you come to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and what advice would you give to young female-identifying artists out there that are inspired by your moves and success?
ShoreFire did some amazing PR work for my record! Jimmy Kimmel was one of the first major opportunities they were able to book for me! We taped the session in East Nashville at an independent studio called The Cabin, worked with some new musicians for the first time, and had a blast! 

The advice I would give is that it takes a village. There’s a certain pride I took when it was just me, or just me and my dad. Band gigs were fun, but there wasn’t enough money in it; solo gigs helped me pay the bills. Find people, whether it be other musicians, teachers, family, that believe in you. I was fortunate my dad was so supportive; I know not everyone has that. It’s a difficult road, so if you decide to make this a career, don’t do it for fame. Do it because you love it, want to make a living doing it, and are willing to figure out how to make it work. Being the master of your destiny is empowering and also daunting. Pick the people around you who like you for who you are and not who they want you to be.

Let’s talk gear. What guitars did you use for the Jimmy Kimmel gig, and what was your rig setup?
I’m pretty sure I was using a Fender Blues Jr. with a Martin D Mahogany 09 plugged straight in to try and add more of a beefy sound to the guitar for the song “Black Myself.”

Keeping with the guitar theme, what Gibson and Martin guitars are you playing right now and what are you most drawn to about those models?
My Martin D Mahogany 09 has been my workhorse guitar for years. It’s from their sustainable forest series, and the mahogany on this guitar has a certain resonance that is unlike any other of its kind that I’ve heard. I use a mix of medium strings on the bottom three and a light gauge on the top. I love to have it sent through the subwoofers at a show; it really brings out the bass lines that I play. With Gibson, I’ve been playing the J-45 — a very different kind of dreadnought from my Martin; it has a more mellow, sweeter tone. The Gibson Les Paul ‘61 is a real showstopper! It’s the first SG I’ve ever owned, and it’s so exciting to play.

What is your mission in life? What message do you want to portray through your music?
What I want most is for people to learn to love themselves for who they are. There is no one way to be, and in the modern Western world where we have media in our face 24/7, it is easy to lose yourself. I want my music to be a grounding force that allows people to feel like they can be curious, ask questions, and share that with the world without fear of judgment.

What (if any) was the craziest moment from one of your live shows or tour stops?
One time I was eating Pad Thai in downtown Edinburgh, Scotland, on a night off of tour, and I hear someone in the distance playing “Wonderwall” outside. I stepped outside, I was a block away from Edinburgh Castle, and I saw a crowd of people with their phones out taking videos of a band playing. Turns out, it was literally Noel Gallagher and his band performing. It was the most British thing I’ve ever experienced.

What is one band or artist that you love that no one would expect to hear you say? (For example, I am a rock guitarist, but I love love love BbyMutha.)
Nightwish! They are a symphonic metal band from Finland. I was turned onto them when I was in high school, and it just blew me away. On their earlier records, they had an opera singer as their lead vocalist, and it just added another layer of epicness. I saw them live (with a different but still good singer) in Charlotte a few years ago, one of the best nights of my life!

What’s next for you? What can your audience expect to see next?
I did a fun project in the studio recently, which will be announced soon! And, I’m currently working on new songs for the next record. No studio plans as of yet, just putting in the work now and will be sure to keep y’all posted.

Wary + Strange Tracklist:

  1. Soapbox
  2. Black Myself
  3. Wild Turkey
  4. Hangover Blues
  5. Fancy Drones (Fracture Me)
  6. Firewater
  7. Tender Organs
  8. Ballad of Lost
  9. Sleeping Queen
  10. Opaque
  11. Soapbox Reprise

Alternative rock and roots artist Amythyst Kiah shines with true versatile vocal talent throughout Wary + Strange, solidifying her appeal as a diverse artist who can conquer the mainstream while staying true to her identity. After dealing with several tragedies and the struggles of finding her way through the music industry, Kiah found her strength through music to become a Grammy-nominated artist. Wary + Strange demonstrates perseverance and beauty in relatable tracks involving anxiety and addiction with a message of hope for the future. Amythyst Kiah deserves her spot on the top charts and recognition in the spotlight for new and existing listeners.

Excerpt from March 2021 interview as seen on

We just finished celebrating Black History Month and are currently celebrating women for Women’s History Month. Can you tell us what those two months mean to you and why they’re important?
These two months are important because we are still dealing with discrimination, stereotypes, and historic erasure in this country. I’d like to see the day when we won’t need to highlight these months anymore because Black history and women’s history are all part of American history.


Amythyst Kiah performed at
The Gorge in George, WA
on August 14, 2021 — Photo by Kirk Stauffer

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