Resonant Rogues’ new album is both expansive and personal

ART AS ACTION: “I think the personal is one of the only ways to communicate with people about the political,” says Sparrow, far right, with Resonant Rogues band members, from left, Kristen Harris, Daniel Iannucci and Keith J. Smith. The group’s new album, 'Autumn of the World,' addresses gentrification and addiction, but also themes of travel, community and craft. Photo by John Gellman

Performing music from someplace else — such as Turkish music for an American audience that had never heard it before — is one of Sparrow’s favorite things. “Playing the banjo in Istanbul was so cool,” says the mononymous Asheville-based multi-instrumentalist, who fronts Resonant Rogues with her husband, Keith J. Smith. “To learn the traditional music from folks there was an incredibly enriching experience, and then to be able to share the music from where I live, as well.”

Sparrow, who grew up in Colorado, is quick to note that Appalachian music is not part of her native culture. But, after 15 years, it’s become an important element of her repertoire. In fact, she learned banjo while living in Oakland, Calif., and missing Western North Carolina.

A note on genre: “I play acoustic music that is inspired by vintage traditions. I feel like every type of music is folk music in its way,” Sparrow explains. Punk, jazz and Motown can all be considered folk styles: the music of the people. “I do think folk is place-based [but] that’s changing in our world of constant travel.”

Appalachian instrumentation, global folk flavors and themes of home, travel, loss and craft patchwork Resonant Rogues’ new album, Autumn of the World, which the group will launch at The Mothlight on Friday, May 31.

The record takes its title from a track Sparrow wrote just before a fall Samhain ritual at The Hawk & Hawthorne in Barnardsville. “I had a dear friend who, at the time, was deep into heroin addiction, and it was heavy on my heart,” she says. “Thinking about friends I’d lost … it was a hard time for me, emotionally.”

Also, she adds, the human collective pushed the planet to the limit, environmentally. “It feels like we might be coming to a more difficult time in human history,” she says. “We just have to have faith that spring will come again.”

While that sense of hope is palpable throughout the album’s 13 tracks (including the gorgeous, semihidden final instrumental — a brief waltz struck through with bittersweet wonder), the musicians aren’t afraid of addressing hard truths. “The House That Condos Stole” is a story-song from real life. The chorus goes, “And in they’ll come, with cranes, it’s done, they’ll doze it to the floor / And those who already have enough will keep on making more.” While this particular tale of a beloved home lost to developers took place outside Asheville, it serves as a cautionary tale for this city in its current flush of expansion.

“I definitely think that housing is a big crisis all over, and I think has a lot to do with the consolidation of resources into the hands of a few,” says Sparrow. In Asheville, as in desirable and arts-centric locales across the country, “For the people who have resided, for generations, in these places, it’s become unaffordable to live there.”

But she also has positive things to say about her adopted hometown: “It’s become possible for me to be a full-time gigging musician here in Asheville, and I like how the tourist industry has supported the music industry in that way.”

That’s not to say that the life of a full-time musician is an easy one. “It’s a legitimate career. … It takes a lot of tenacity and belief in what one is doing,” Sparrow says. “It takes an enormous amount of research, compiling information, and also skills. … It definitely requires a team to make that happen.” Sparrow and Smith have that in each other — not only in their ability to play and travel together, dance a mean Lindy Hop, give feedback on each other’s songwriting, and inspire each other to show up for the creative work each day — but they also make formidable business partners.

The couple recently launched an indie company for the computer-based end of their music career, such as management, booking, photography and writing press materials. Once they’re back from their upcoming tours — including a jaunt through the U.K. this summer — they hope to offer their services and expertise to other musicians.

One of the talents Sparrow has picked up is video editing. “I was able to direct my artistic skills in a way that helped our career as musicians,” she says. “Image goes with sound.” Fellow local artist Ben Hovey gave her a tutorial, and that, along with a combination of trial and error and Google-searching, led to engaging visuals culled from the band’s travels.

But the Resonant Rogues don’t exist in a DIY vacuum: “We’ve been lucky to have collaborations with some incredible filmmakers,” Sparrow notes. One is David Saich of Fiasco Pictures, who made both of the band’s first official music videos (including “Long Way to Galway,” which won for best cinematography at the 2017 Music Video Asheville awards) and “Autumn of the World,” which premiered on the Xpress website last week.

Community-building, a spirit of sonic and global exploration, and an extensive figurative and literal toolbox aside, the Resonant Rogues are ultimately about the songs. Sparrow says that she writes hers “in kind of a journal entry; I journal in poems” and “I feel like two-thirds of my songs are written by some sort of water. In the shower, by a pond. … I really like rivers.”

Smith, on the other hand — and perhaps in perfect balance — “has more of a process. He spends more time working and rewriting his songs,” Sparrow says. “I feel like his songs are incredibly poetic.”

WHO: Resonant Rogues album release show with Bill and the Belles
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road,
WHEN: Friday, May 31, 9 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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