News/Thoughts

Rising Appalachia

The beautiful thing about Americana music is that it’s this huge umbrella where a tremendous amount of sounds can hang out. Everything from traditional string, old-time, and bluegrass, to the more progressive sounds of new-grass, folk-rock, jam band, and mountain soul; and really everything in between. There is so much room for creative interpretation with stringed instruments in the Americana genre’.
That’s what I love about our cover story featured artists in this issue. Their sound is as diverse as the well traveled backgrounds of the band’s founders, Leah and younger sister Chloe. Rising Appalachia’s songs are steeped in tradition and filled with devotion to the people, places, and causes closest to their hearts. This quote from their web site bio speaks volumes about their approach to their music; “Intertwining a deep reverence for folk music and a passion for justice, they have made it their life’s work to sing songs that speak to something ancient yet surging with relevance.”
It went on to say, “Rising Appalachia is a melting pot of folk music simplicity, textured songwriting, and those bloodline harmonies that only siblings can pull off. Listen for a tapestry of song, claw hammer banjo tunes, fiddle, double bass, acoustic guitar, djembe, barra, bodhran, spoken word, and a wealth of musical layering that will leave you called to action and lulled into rhythmic dance simultaneously.”
Appalachian Concrete
Although Leah and Chloe were born and raised in suburban Atlanta GA, they grew up in a family steeped in music and art. “We did a lot of front porch playin’ and had a lot of folk music gatherings in our home growing up,” Leah told me.
Although both sisters chose to live abroad for a while, music was never far from their hearts. “We had been messing around as young adults with incorporating our family’s tradition of music in with our own kind of up city bringing,” Leah said. “Every now and then, we were playing for farmers markets in and around town. We always got such an amazing reception from that, so we though it would be fun to record an album. It was really just intended as a sweet holiday gift for our family and friends, and to have something for the occasions that we played out somewhere. We recorded the whole thing in one afternoon,” she said.
They printed a couple hundred copies for kicks and went about their twenty something life enjoying being college students. “We never really planned on touring, actually,” Leah said. “We certainly weren’t planning on starting a band. We were just doing a lot of busking, both in school full time, doing street theater, activism and art studies. Neither of us were pursuing any specific career. Being in school was as much a way to be near our family and reintegrate into family activities as anything.”
Unintentional Success
The album clicked though, and Leah and Chloe found themselves being drawn into something bigger than they had imagined. “We got so much reception from that album we were invited to participate in a big annual concert in Atlanta GA where they brought in Grammy Award winning artists from traditions in Scots/Irish music, bluegrass, and Appalachian – we were invited to represent the voice of the young Appalachian music movement,” she said. “We had never even been on a microphone in front of people like that before. But it was amazing and that just sort of launched us one step at a time deeper and deeper into really trying to present our vision and our interpretation of these old songs.”
While music became more and more serious, the sisters were also still supporting other early twenty -something careers – Leah in a theater project, Chloe in teaching. “We had our hands in all kinds of social oriented things as well, and it was very easy for music to fit into that,” Leah said.
The music side of it continued to expand though. “We kept getting such a strong reception. It really was not our chosen path. I think it sort of chose us,” she said. “When your creativity takes precedence over the need to perform it takes away that angst feeling of needing to take any gig you can get. We never really had that relationship with it. Every single invitation was like it was almost a surprise.”
The Name In A Dream
Now with six recorded projects and nearly 12 years into this unintentional career, I wondered where they got such a cool name for the band. “We were working on that first album and really couldn’t settle on a name,” Leah told me. “One night it came to me in a dream – just really simple – the next morning I went to Chloe and said, ‘what do you think about calling the album Rising Appalachia?’
“I had this picture of taking the foundation of Appalachian music with all these other sorts of instruments and sounds rising out of it – we were raised in the city, and we had all these other influences, so we were not really trying to make traditional Appalachian music. We wanted to showcase this kind of weird, unique blend of influences that had come into our lives. We really thought this would be the only album. But as our idea and our projects grew, we took on the name of that first CD as the name of the band and of the whole project.”
For several years Rising Appalachia was just Leah and Chloe as the principle musicians. “We would have guest musicians step in and out of different phases of whatever we were doing at the time,” Leah said. “For a number of years it was an ever changing project. When we traveled Europe we picked up local musicians to play with us while we were there. Later we traveled the US with a really amazing five piece for a while too,” she said. “In our mind for a long time it was the two of us always working with this collection of collaborators. But I think in this most recent four piece configuration that we’ve been touring with for about four years now, it’s felt like it’s the most gelled we’ve been.”
More Than Just Music
Their most recent CD, Wider Circles, is but another extension of the Rising Appalachia movement. “Our crew is unique in the sense that none of us had the dream of being the next Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson where we’re just on the road 365 days a year,” Leah said. “All four of us have other interests and other passions, but we are definitely in a heavy hitting full time performance phase for the last number of years.” That being said, one glance at their web site and the tab, Rise Collective, you get that there is much more than music going on. Their involvement includes everything from youth education, sound workshops, aerial performance, and poetics, to fire-spinning, yoga and meditation, creative blogging, and Acro-yoga.
The latest aspect is new project called the Slow Music Movement. “It was a title I came up with last year when I was doing a Ted Talk and I was trying to figure out how to explain our work. We came up with the Slow Music Movement term and are hoping that it will become a blueprint for lots of different musical projects to adopt and really want to help make that happen.”
Slowing Down
There is this unspoken expectation in the music business of making a new album every year. This time around the band decided to be intentional about not adhering to that formula. “This year we were very intentional about launching the title of our year and of our tour and the Slow Music Movement,” Leah said. “We’ve all intentionally put our new ideas on the back burner so that we could spend the year fortifying our relationship with the people and places, and maybe finding new ways to play the songs that are on our current CD, and coming up with medleys of some of our older material; just really feeling like we can spend the whole year nurturing all of the work that is already been done. We’re just really trying not to have too many ideas on the table that are always new. We never want to crank out a new album just to have new stuff,” she said.
Leah summed up Rising Appalachia this way; “We’ve really intentionally wanted to create a music that is inquisitive and provoking; Music that talks about popular culture and a shift in consciousness and some of the things that are going wrong in our communities and our societies. We want to do it in a way that does not beat people over the head though, in a way that sort of creates a platform for people to maybe question things in their own lives. We try to leave fertile ground and open doors without necessarily trying to create music that dictates the answers. That’s been something we’ve wanted to straddle for as long as we’ve been real consciously writing our lyrics and even collecting folk songs. We challenge the question; how can we nudge some of the norms of our mainstream culture without necessarily trying to create a protest song?”
By Greg Tutwiler, publisher
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