Photo by Hannah Hawkins
Flora Wolpert Checknoff fronts and writes the music for experimental outfit Holy Holy Vine, a band with a sound she describes as “unusual, though sturdily woven, repeating textures paired with accessible, relatable melodies [and] unpredictable, perhaps disjointed polyrhythmic drumming.” Sometimes she simplifies her description to “world music,” but that single genre can’t contain Holy Holy Vine’s rich and beautiful complexity.
Checknoff got her musical start in Baltimore as part Metal Hearts. That band’s second album was released by Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records. A whirlwind of tours followed — around the U.S. and one in Europe. All that touring gave the band an itch to discover experiences outside its own music and led to a breakup.
After Metal Hearts disbanded, Checknoff spent some time traveling and eventually landed in Black Mountain. There, she worked as a building apprentice for Earthaven Ecovillage before moving to Asheville, where she now attends UNC Asheville and plays live shows as often as she can.
Holy Holy Vine performs on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the Odditorium with Vio/Miré and Tashi Dorji. The group “began in 2008 in the farmlands north of Baltimore as a collaboration between myself and Los Angelino, now ex-pat-living-in-Berlin, Nick Zorn,” Checknoff said in an email interview. “When I traveled more and Nick moved away, I carried on the name, and Holy Holy Vine currently is a project for my songs. I have continued to resurrect dormant, unfinished songs from as long ago as adolescence. This past year, however, undoubtedly as a result of coming into closer contact with Asheville’s music community, I’ve written more new material than I had in about eight years.”
Checknoff has nothing but praise for the local music scene and the inspiration it has brought her. “There’s an infectious enclave of ‘experimental’ musicians here that is reliably inspiring as well as communal in terms of band members,” she says. “Most musicians end up playing together in rotating formations to help each other’s compositions out, and that differs greatly from the experience I had in Baltimore seven years ago. We’re all smushed together in little Asheville, but the constant presence of willing and fearless musicians really gives a music writer the impression of limitlessness. That, combined with a warmth of reception in Asheville, is all very encouraging.”
She says it’s impressive that Holy Holy Vine has been able to put on a show about once a month for several years in Asheville. She chalks that up to the community having a real interest in “different” music, even if there are not always a lot of people at the shows.
“[About] half of the time there are good turnouts — and in whatever numbers, whoever’s there always seems to genuinely care — yet again exemplifying a sense of community and true appreciation for all of these weirder musics intermingling at the fringes,” Checknoff says. “It is certainly largely anti-lucrative. But small audiences and small money returns are established facts to relax within — for me, at least, who hasn't even finished a full-length album yet.”
She continues, “It is important to note that though I paint an optimistic picture of Asheville’s music scene for both sides, I can fluctuate in this feeling, and if it weren’t a rewarding endeavor from within, I don’t think the outside would feel nearly so utopian.”
Of next week’s show she says, “It is a convergence of rare beauty: touring cellos and organs ensemble, Vio/Miré and local experimental guitarist gaining recognition, Tashi Dorji.” Dorji’s most recent self-titled release, engineered by Checknoff and Holy Holy Vine member Michael Flanagan, was listed as one of NPR’s “Favorite Cassettes of 2013.”