As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine June 2018 issue.
Sisters Chloe Smith and Leah Song make up the Southern-based folk band Rising Appalachia, along with bandmates David Brown on upright bass and baritone guitar and Biko Casini on world percussion. Hailing from Atlanta, the sisters were raised on music from the Appalachian Mountains frequently attending fiddle camps and music gatherings in the region.
Photo: “Resilient” Art Work
Longtime social and environmental activists, the sisters have been involved in the rebuilding efforts following Katrina and protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their recent single “Resilient” is described as an “an anthem for seeking calm in the chaos-storm that has descended upon America and the world at large.” The song was written while the sisters were touring the Pacific Coast during the 2016 presidential election. “I needed to hear those very words myself… to remind me to be my highest self in the face of chaos and adversity, and to use my platform to encourage others to do the same,” says Chloe. She continues, “…honestly, with so much animosity in the country, it was challenging to muster up the energy for the public every night on stage. There was a deeper need to internalize and be more private, to sit with the bones of our work and re-envision what we would be doing in the years to come.”
“Resilient” is Rising Appalachia’s first release since their 2017 album Alive and is a beautiful, uplifting song highlighting the sisters’ stunning vocals and multi-instrumental talents. The band has been busy touring and back in the studio recording, but took the time to talk about “Resilient,” their experience as females in the music industry, and their roles as musicians.
The photo and video for “Resilient” show the two of you, among others, with a simple yet stunning color scheme, diverse representation, and poetic choreography. What can you tell us about the visual representation of the song?
The video was filmed in New York City, one of the world’s biggest melting pots, with some of our favorite dancers in the world. We wanted to represent resiliency in a stark and stripped back way, simply focusing the video on each dancers’ interpretation of the lyrics with up-close, personal, and dynamic shots. The art here is skin tone, muscle tone, honed craft, expression, and our common humanity as movers in this world. Leah and I sing straight at the camera for pretty much the first time ever, inviting the viewer directly into the conversation of what it means to be resilient. We want people to take this word and this song into their own lives, personalizing it and garnering its strength.
Describe what it’s been like for the two of you to maneuver through the music industry, not only as women but as sisters.
There are so many sides to this coin of “women in the music industry” question. Leah and I have been performing folk music together under Rising Appalachia for 12 years now. It’s been difficult, rewarding, uplifted by incredible men along the way, challenging to be seen at times, and very much family centered at its origin. Because we are sisters, there were very natural and unstructured beginnings to this project that formed a different sort of foundation than your standard band approach. We began playing music to complement a path that was already full of travel, activism, and an ‘un-schooled’ education as opposed to starting a band to take us to some place of stardom. Without fully realizing it, we forged our own music management concepts and basically learned how to run a business as well as an expansive art project. Art makes industry, industry does not make art. Industry helps art, but can’t create it. We have always felt that the standard way that musicians worked was not the structure we wanted to pursue. We take a more feminine, family, gentle, healthy approach to our work. The fact that we are sisters has helped us stay true to our vision. It’s a balanced partnership that helps both of us navigate the many ups and downs of this work.
What specific cultural responsibilities do you feel you have inherited as strong women in the folk music scene?
As women in the folk music scene, we really value femininity and running a female-forward, family-forward platform. We quite literally inherited that from our parents and our Georgia musical community, whom all taught us the ropes of folk music and showing up for each other in high times and low. We believe that the role of the artist should be to question social norms. Music is a tool and a catalyst for betterment in our communities. It’s always been a cultural tool for social change and a platform for dialog around justice issues in our world. We work to utilize our platform as musicians to help promote social and environmental justice causes with the aim of educating and inspiring positive change. It’s a give and receive system. We have learned from our powerful fans about how they are each touched to make changes in their own lives. We all need that momentum from each other to live in a fully integrated way. That is the most valuable kind of progress.
What are some challenges you face on the road as sisters? Is there any separation from home life?
You know, I think our sisterhood has kept this project alive and breathing for the most part. When one of us it just about to collapse, the other one can step in and take the torch. We know that about each other so well. We also know every button to push, but mostly we are allies to each other. We try to take time off to just hang out together and keep our friendship strong, and there is never any doubt about where the loyalists lie. We keep a strong balance.
If you had to sum up your musical endeavor and overall mission in one word, what would it be?
Melting pot. Sorry, that’s two words, but I think that Rising Appalachia is a melting pot of folk music. Simplistic, textured songwriting that highlights vocal harmonies and incorporates elements of clawhammer banjo, fiddle, double bass, and acoustic guitar, along with world percussion such as the djembe, barra, and bodhran. We also like to feature a lot of spoken word. Our goal is for Rising Appalachia to be both genre-bending and familiar at the same time. Like I mentioned earlier, we work to utilize our platform as musicians to help promote social and environmental justice causes with the aim of educating and inspiring positive change. The melting pot is the best flavoring at the end of the day when all these ingredients come together and bring the music out beyond the stage and into the layers of daily life.
How can musicians better yet equally represent the unheard voices of our generation in such a volatile political era?
If all musicians used their platforms and strived to create a bigger impact on their audiences, encouraging people to create dialogs and join forces in local community building, the world would be a better place, especially in this volatile political era we live in. With Rising Appalachia, we try and make each live performance a myriad of experiences: a dance party, a place of nurture, a dialog about how to uplift communities, a political questioning, a call to action, a respite. We hope that every song will reach somewhere that we may never know, and that it brings a moment of place back into someone’s life. ANNDDD that we are all entitled to a music, a story, and a sound that is telling our story, that we are making and holding our own traditions, and we need everyone’s voice – through this, we can give the unheard voices of our generation a way to be heard.