For years, the Southern states have been plagued with furious volleys of stereotypical portrayals of the region. Popular media tend to have a one-sided view of Southern culture that tends to focus on negative aspects of the Old South that time has almost forced into obscurity.
With sisters Chloe and Leah Smith serving as the group’s creative epicenter, Rising Appalachia has emerged to replace these negative views of Southern culture with their eclectic form of sonic, literary and visual art. These sisters could be considered goddesses of the “New South.”
From their music to their performances, they have taken positive cultural aspects of the South (both past and present) and molded it into what has become Rising Appalachia. Their global travels are reflected in their sound, but they stay firmly rooted in their Southern upbringing with jazz, blues, gospel, Appalachian and soul vibes echoing throughout each track. According to Chloe, their Southern roots are an unavoidable aspect of not only their music but also their lives.
“We do travel internationally, and we’re pulled into the global scene and the beautiful places that we go to, but there is something about home that we want to hold and uplift,” Smith said.
The Smiths were born into a “very rooted and radical family” in Georgia. Growing up in urban Atlanta, the duo was exposed to the various musical and cultural elements through artist/musician parents. They embraced the native sounds of their home, such as classical, jazz, soul and hip-hop.
However, they also developed a love for the more rural side of the area. Their parents regularly took them into the Appalachian Mountains to experience the region’s art and music. While there, they experienced the antiquated sounds of the area.
This exposure to various regional sounds began to take form when the Smiths began writing their own music and they were successful in crafting a truly unique sound that provided a new vision of the South. This vision showed a region full of bright colors, appealing sounds, community awareness and eclectic attitude most of world has not seen.
“It (the South) does have a crazy history, but there are so many people who are good and bright and working to breaking down that stereotype of how backward Southerners are,” Smith said. “It’s not a valid stereotype anymore. The South is a rich and dynamic place, and there are a lot of new movements that are sprouting here. We do what we can to represent that.”
Another original facet of Rising Appalachia’s music is their lyrical delivery. Without warning, ethereal, soulful harmonies preaching of political and environmental ills can erupt into a hurricane of spoken-word poetry that gives their music a hip-hop feel.
Smith will be the first to admit that spoken-word poetry has and always will be a driving influence behind Rising Appalachia’s music. The sisters belong to an elaborate, underground spoken-word community that thrives throughout the South from Atlanta to New Orleans. For the duo, their incorporation of spoken-word feature is as naturally pure as the genre itself.
“With its flowing music, beat and rhythm, spoken word’s influence on our songs is really strong and beautiful,” Smith explained. “That’s something that we’re really invested in.”
Rising Appalachia has steered clear of the standard-driven world of the music industry. Their five-album catalog has been totally independent and self-released. If the carefree nature of their music is any reflection of their personalities, then this career move is no surprise. So far, it has been a beneficial career move. Over the years, they have slowly earned a loyal fan base and performed at venues ranging from Burning Man to the Kennedy Center. Smith finds their current popularity to be “humbling and sweet.”
“This whole project has taken its own course,” Smith said. “We’re steering it the best that we can. We get so much support from friends and family to continue. We try to take suggestions and go all these different routes with it and let it breathe. It is thrilling.”
Their latest release is 2011’s “Filthy Dirty South.” In order to finance this album, Rising Appalachia decided to use the philanthropic website Kickstarter, which quickly generated the funds needed to create the album. The group retreated to the natural environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains and recorded a majority of the album in a live setting at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, which is their current base of operations.
Rising Appalachia has gone back into the studio to record their sixth album. Currently, the Smiths are slowly sifting through old and new material to include on this upcoming release. In the process, they are also schooling new band members in their versatile style of playing.
While the idea of Rising Appalachia’s music is grand, their live performance accentuates all the ideologies and musical styles. Their audiences are subjected to an overload of sight and sound with each performance. Smith likes to describe their show as “eventful.” This is due in part to the efforts of the RISE Collective. This group of Rising Appalachia enthusiasts is comprised of dancers, poets, musicians, visual artists, teachers, activists and any kind of performer that could be mustered.
At each performance, the RISE Collective is invited to display their form of art alongside Rising Appalachia. It adds a rare dynamic to a musical performance that emphasizes the unique nature of this group. It is yet another way for the Smiths to deliver a variety of messages through the show and to make Rising Appalachia a “vessel” in which to reveal their expressions.
“What we’re doing is storytelling on stage,” Smith said. “The whole thing is a really important part of our expression as artists, beyond the music itself. It’s how we can create community and invite the community to get involved and be a part of the evening. It’s really valuable and fun.”
Date: Tuesday, May 6, with doors open at 9 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., www.soulkitchenmobile.com
Tickets: $8 advance/$10 day of show, available at Soul Kitchen, its website or by calling 866-468-7630