Sounding off

Spiritual teachers often point out that to reach the top of the mountain, you have to experience the bottom, too — and local songwriters Ami Worthen and Valorie eloquently capture that notion in their music.

Valorie’s inspirations are decidedly diverse: “[I’m] influenced by psych wards and psychedelics; Mustangs and Dusters; long periods living in the middle of nowhere, without amenities; Africa; books; foreign languages; dreams and bizarre psychic phenomena; yogic practice; red wine; and being a redhead.”

Ami, meanwhile, finds herself “very inspired by nature and spirit,” and says she wants to play the kind of music that would sound right in the middle of an ancient forest, provoking the magical inhabitants there to twirl and dance. In fact, one of her songs depicts the very soul as a garden. Worthen explains: “The sun shines on the garden where the seeds are deep in the earth, and the seeds are all the wonderful things about me that I’ve repressed and buried. … The seeds already know the beauty they are going to create; it’s just providing the environment for me, as a person growing, to allow these seeds to come up and flourish.”

The two women have been playing music together for about a year, in various incarnations: Valorie supplies the acoustic upright bass, guitar, and background vocals in Ami’s band, the Mad Tea Party, which also includes Jason Krekel (of the Larry Keel Experience) on mandolin, guitar, fiddle and vocals, and Gaines Post (a sometime player in Snake Oil Medicine Show) on flute. An upcoming gig at Natural Mystic Coffee Co. will commence with an opening set by Ami’s band, followed by solo shot of Valorie: “She’s a one-woman band,” notes her fellow chanteuse.

Indeed. Valorie’s first CD, Analog (recorded by Asheville’s hot Collapseable Studios), showcases her vocals on self-styled “fruitloop/macabre” songs, backed by a quirky fingerpicking guitar style. Her newest recording, still in the works, features Valorie on about a gazillion different instruments at once, thanks to the wonders of multitrack recording technology. This writer was privileged to hear a preview, and it flat-out rocks. The disc will undoubtedly put Collapseable Records and Valorie on the airwaves — and sounds destined to land Asheville square on the map of musical hot spots.

The redhead’s musical career took off in 1996, when she received an emerging-artists grant and promptly made a truly unusual basement tape, which showcased her skills on piano, guitar, drums, bass, and even a bowl of water (yes, that’s correct). Today, Valorie resides in a treehouse in Asheville, descending from her perch to take audiences from dusty country roads and calico summers to urban emergency room triage and back, without a whisper of a warning — or even seatbelts.

On the surface, Worthen’s music looks like bluegrass , but closer examination reveals an unprecedented eccentricity. “It’s not really bluegrass,” she allows. “l’ve found myself writing a lot of songs in 6/8 time … l don’t have a musical background, and I’m always doing things [that make] my friends who know a lot about music say, ‘I can’t believe you modulated like that’ or ‘How did you get those chords together?’ Well, it’s just because I don’t know enough to know you’re not supposed to do that, and I think it sounds neat. I’ve kind of taken my own path. … A lot of Irish music is in 6/8 time, and I just wonder if my ancestry, my roots, have anything to do with that … Maybe [I played music] in a previous life, [or maybe] my ancestors were Druids in Ireland or Scotland.”

In her current life, Worthen has long worked as a publicist for other local musicians. She notes that she has been attracted to art, and artists, most of her life, but has recently encountered her own need to shine.

“I guess now it’s my time,” she declares. “Music can be so spiritual … [you can] communicate on a level that is not cerebral, that really transcends all the bulls••t. You’re expressing a pure feeling … you’re expressing your spirit. I can’t help but have my music be really honest, because it’s coming from a place that is not superficial. It’s so cathartic, too … I didn’t start playing for other people, or for money. Even if I never make any money, it doesn’t matter. It’s something I find joy in, and I would love to share it with people and have them find joy in it, too. It’s not for any other motive than this is what the divine, or whatever, is drawing me to do.”

Swinging from sweet and light to dark and stinky is a specialty of both performers: “There is such beauty, too, in … express[ing] dark feelings,” Worthen concludes. “If you’re going to really experience life, you really need [to recognize] both sides — light and dark. I kind of joke around about how some of my songs are kind of like self-help, and I always thought I should have a quote from my therapist on my CD, like, ‘These songs were very healing for Ami, and I think they have helped in her process of developing as a human being’ — instead of quotes from, say, a record-company person.”

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