“Dolly Parton is the reason I started singing,” says Celia Verbeck — though, dressed in a hot-pink Body Glove scuba top and blue nail polish, she appears an unlikely country music fan. In fact, the local electro-pop artist recently traveled to Nashville to hear Shania Twain but also considers Japanese synth-pop, songstress Kate Bush and sonic pioneer Laurie Anderson among her influences.
Of her own layered and pulsating sound — her ethereal vocals weaving through burbling melody lines — she says it’s an underrepresented genre in Asheville’s listening rooms. “It’s pushing some envelopes, but in other ways it’s traditional pop,” she explains. “It’s music that’s not highlighted a lot in this area, especially by nonmale performers.” So when Verbeck was approached by two women artists from Nashville looking to play in Asheville, she jumped at the chance to book the show.
Verbeck shares a bill with Tennessee musicians Eve Maret and Dream Chambers and fellow Ashevillean Caroline Cronin at Revolve on Monday, Aug. 20. The show includes stage sculpture by local artist Johanna Owen and projections by Marcus Sisk.
Maret’s new record No More Running, drops (just before the Asheville performance) on Nashville cassette label Banana Tapes. The boomy title track pairs Maret’s vocoder-drenched voice with thrumming, otherworldly synthesizer sounds. Dream Chambers, the dream-tech project of songwriter Jess Chambers, feels more organic, more wistful, but no less cinematic and futuristic than Maret’s offerings. That the two artists are touring together, presenting different (if not opposite) facets of the synth-pop coin, makes sense.
Cronin, meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to the Asheville music scene. While she doesn’t yet have an extensive back catalog, she’s in the process of building a following. It’s Cronin’s softly sweeping vocal that grabs the listener, her voice equally angelic over a simple, strummed acoustic guitar as it is with lusher instrumentation.
Cronin will be performing new pieces at Revolve. So will Verbeck, who explains that she has “a ton of songs” ready for release but is hoping to attract label attention before putting out a next album.
Originally from Greensboro, Verbeck moved to New York City at 18 to work for a major pop artist (who can’t be named), followed by a stint in Austin, Texas, before settling close to Asheville. Though songwriting has been a part of her life for many years, “There was definitely a long time that I didn’t perform because I didn’t necessarily feel like it was for me,” Verbeck says. “The type of music I make … a lot of the tracks are made at home, and I [thought], ‘I can’t do a live show this way.’”
But once she figured out how to play onstage, “I focus on singing and transmitting that energy,” Verbeck says. “I like it because … I don’t have a huge persona. I’m not an extroverted person. … It shows other people you can do this. It’s your own artistry.”
Up-and-coming artists often need that kind of a role model or guide — especially female-identified artists who tend to resist performing until they feel they’ve reached a level of proficiency. In many cases, women artists feel less welcome in the realm of electronic instruments or are intimidated by the learning curve of the technologies. To address those barriers, Chambers has created Hyasynth House, “a Nashville-based electronic music collective for [women of color], nonbinary, female and trans persons.” The group aims to “provide access to knowledge and resources in comfortable learning environments [and] to empower creative expression and increase visibility.”
“I would love if something like that could be started in Asheville, even if it wasn’t synth-specific,” says Verbeck. “A wide range of demoing different instruments, different technology, going over [programs such as] Ableton or Logic or Pro Tools, teaching you to EQ your recordings.”
Much of the help she’s gotten recently, she says, has been from students at UNC Asheville. Verbeck also works with Missouri-based composer Ryan Sublette, aka Adeodat Warfield, a collaborator she met online.
But hands-on coaching and feedback might be just the thing to take the local pop scene out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Even if that genre (and its various subsets, from pop-noir and dream pop to dance and indie-pop) isn’t at the top of the average Asheville-based music fan’s listening list, that could change: This city is not as much of roots- and bluegrass-heavy stronghold it once was.
Meanwhile, Verbeck isn’t planning to alter her sounds to fit in. “It’s the music that feels best to me,” she says.
That, and country songs. “I did an electronic version of ‘Jolene,’” she says. “I need to release that.”
WHO: Celia Verbeck with Eve Maret, Dream Chambers and Caroline Cronin.
WHERE: Revolve at RAMP South Studio, 821 Riverside Drive, No. 179, revolveavl.org
WHEN: Monday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m. $10 suggested donation