Sisters Chloe and Leah Smith make up one of the most unique and fine-tuned rhythmic folk bands making music today. However, pigeonholing them merely as a folk band doesn’t paint the whole picture of their music, as they stir many other influences in their rich caldron of sound. As incessant world travelers, Chloe and Leah have absorbed sounds and feelings from many a different culture, and incorporate them seamlessly to their music. They also have deep roots in global and local activism, which plays a significant role in who they are as artists and individuals.
What makes Rising Appalachia so special is their ability to brew these many adopted melodies and intonations together, and make a sound all their own. Whether their songs stem from Creole culture, West African, Atlanta hip-hop, Appalachian roots, or simply sisterly harmonies, the band pieces it all together with flawless execution.
Rising Appalachia released their latest album, Leylines, earlier this year, and have toured excessively in support of it, which is second nature to them. The sisters started their music career while studying abroad and busking on the streets, and independently worked their way up the ladder, having done damn near all the heavy lifting of being a successful musical artist themselves. They possess an enchanting grit that is expressed thoroughly in their music and stage presence, and it’s no surprise they pack venues show after show with dedicated fans.
We had the pleasure of having Chloe answer some questions for us, so without further adieu…
Music Mecca: So who or what spurned your incessant love of traveling and playing music?
Chloe Smith: We grew up in a musical family and along with playing the fiddle, our mother was a flight attendant. Our father had also traveled internationally quite a bit before having kids and they actually met trekking in Nepal. Right around the time they began forming a family, both our parents fell in to the old time music scene in Georgia… which meant we had tons of extended community in and out of our house jamming old mountain tunes and playing for contra dances around the south. We were always taught to cherish where you came from and look out into the wider world for an educational balancing point.
MM: How did Rising Appalachia come together?
CS: Leah and I began playing folk instruments of our childhood after we left the house, as young women. We picked up the fiddle and banjo to have something to share and quickly realized the wealth of what we were given culturally. It was that whole “you gotta leave to appreciate it” thing.
MM: Earlier this year you released your latest album, Leylines. How does this album differ from your previous albums?
CS: We invited in a producer, Mr. Joe Henry, for the first time ever after 6 albums of self produced work. We also created this body of music outside of the south for the first time in our recording career, perching on the Pacific Ocean for a change of pace and creative juju at a little live-in studio. Honestly, this is our dream band as well. Leah and I have always wanted to bridge the traditional sounds of West Africa and Ireland into the story of Appalachia and our original songwriting, and this new six-piece band has allowed us to explore those realms more than ever.
MM: What are some primary influences and inspirations behind this particular album?
CS: Alright- I’m going to list a handful of folks and encourage readers to go look them up. We have been listening to a lot of Bassekou Kouyate, Martin Hayes, Ibeyi, Hozier, Bruce Moslkey, and 90’s hip hop. That’s our heavy rotation for pretty much our whole band. That being said, while we were recording, we weren’t listening to much. You want a blank slate in the recording process. A quiet mind. You want to set an uncluttered space for the muses to come in.
MM: It’s no secret you pump out tour dates, and rack up tons of live shows. Do you have any pre-show rituals, or things you need to have/have done before a show?
CS: I wish I could say we do a hundred handstands before a show and sing-alongs in our greenroom in 6-part harmony, but honestly now that we have been touring for 12 years, we just get in the groove of shows rather easily. We like a lot of quiet time in between the noise and hustle. We do our best to eat well and eat locally. We DO circle up before a show and set an intention for the night, which we never skip out on. Mostly we just do our best to take care of each other and set a peaceful space to do this rather demanding (but rewarding) profession.
MM: Do you have a particular atmosphere or pastime that aides in your songwriting process, or is it more sporadic?
CS: I love to write in motion, strangely. Or at least get the idea for the song going when I am in motion. As in, I get a lot of songs started on car drives or hikes or in transit. Then the refined edited moments come in when I have that quieter space at my home with my instruments out and I can suss out which instrument will lend the best cadence to the lyrics. It’s a rather organic process and yes, it can be sporadic. Some songs come all the way out with a vengeance, like “Resilient”, and some take years to finally feel polished enough to share with the public. I relish them both, really, and love letting the songs let themselves known at their own time.
MM: How do you decide which place to visit next? Is it simply, “we haven’t been here yet,” or do you have a rhyme or reason to where you visit?
CS: We go where we are invited. It’s always been a rather simple rule for us. There are some regions very near and dear to our hearts that we push our booking team to route us through, but most of our tours are a response to some rad invitation we are following up on. That has always felt more of a fertile way to tour than pushing ourselves into places where folks don’t know our work.
MM: While I’m sure there are several, which place or places in your travels have had the most profound effect on your music?
CS: Certainly. Standing Rock will stand forever in our minds and hearts. We also toured by sailboat around the Gulf Islands in British Columbia in partnership with Guayaki as well as local farmers and food justice folks in that region. It’s always the performances that are off the cusp and pulling us into a greater movement that have the most profound effects on our work.
MM: How do you define success as a musical artist?
CS: Maintaining the obscure, original, unique gifts of your craft for dozens of years without selling out to the dollar or the passing flavors of the time. Garnering your audience for a greater good. Inviting in other artists and forging deep creative partnerships. Experimenting while keeping your sense of foundation ripe and intact.
MM: What advice would you give to young female songwriters looking to forge a musical path similar to yours?
CS: I would advise young female songwriters and musicians to learn the business side of the music world enough to not get taken advantage of. There are still, unfortunately, a lot of folks who want to control women’s art/image in this world, and it’s invaluable to make sure you have a strong hold on WHAT you want to say and HOW you want to say it. I also always remind all young artists that it’s not all the golden glory of the stage. You have to put in your hours and your hard work and things will return to you in good timing. Don’t rush or expect things overnight.