Rising Appalachia goes more global and more local

DEEP ROOTS: "I want us to be thought of as representing the South: the mountain culture, the urban culture, the swamps," says Rising Appalachia's Leah Song. "We hold this whole region as our home base." Photo courtesy of the band

Sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith lead Rising Appalachia, a renowned folk/world music group whose sound is as intriguing as it is hard to classify. The band’s eighth album, Wider Circles, has just been released, and the group (also featuring percussionist Biko Cassini and bassist/guitarist David Brown) will appear onstage in its current hometown, at New Mountain’s amphitheater on Saturday, June 13.

To the uninitiated, the group’s name suggests Americana. But even a quick listen to one of Rising Appalachia’s songs reveals that such a term would be far too limiting. “We actually — years and years ago — wanted to change the name,” says Song, “because we did want to be exploring roots music and folk music from all around the world. We even put in some effort to change [our name].” 2008’s Evolutions in Sound: Live rebranded the group as R.I.S.E. “But our collective fan base sort of put their foot down and said, ‘No. You should stick with it; there’s a legacy that’s important for you to hold onto. You’re redefining what [Appalachian music] means to the mountain culture.’ They really didn’t want us to let go of that. It was part of our initial identity; we had folk traditions in our upbringing.”

She elaborates, “Several generations [of our family] have studied and played Appalachian fiddle. We were also brought up in this wonderful, urban metropolis of Atlanta, with all that that includes. So we had the idea that we could rise out of the traditions and see how they mixed. The name Rising Appalachia was an attempt to redefine that tradition and to figure out all the other ways in which we have a folk tradition. So we have found the name limiting, but we have also found it a really, really valuable part of our pursuits.”

Rising Appalachia manages and produces itself. From the beginning of the band’s recording career, the musicians made a conscious decision not to take part in the massive machine known as the music industry. Based on the current state of that industry, the business choices that the sisters made years ago show their prescience in opting to stay outside many of the traditional distribution channels for music. Song recalls being offered a major label record deal in 2006. “We said, ‘No.’ We decided, ‘If we want to do this, we want to do it on our own terms. We want to learn what we’re doing and then decide how we want to do it.’ We didn’t really want fame, glitz, glamour. But,” she says, “it was nice to be asked.”

Continuing to embody the DIY ethos, Rising Appalachia has been at the forefront of self-funding and crowdsourcing. Recorded at Echo Mountain Studios, Wider Circles is being crowdfunded to the tune of $30,000. “This will be our second Kickstarter project,” says Song. “Our first one was a really amazing honor and very exciting. When we got to a place where we were ready to record this album, we thought long and hard about [whether or not to do] a Kickstarter. Because we’re not really interested in taxing our fan base. We don’t like to always be asking; we’ve been taught to be self-sufficient. And we did have some funding opportunities; we did have some donors who were interested. So Chloe and I round-tabled it and decided we would [crowdfund] again. We were able to direct the funding we got into producing the most nuanced and delicate work we’ve ever done.”

Originally based in New Orleans, Rising Appalachia recently relocated to Asheville. “I don’t really want to be considered an ‘Asheville band,'” says Song. “I want us to be thought of as representing the South: the mountain culture, the urban culture, the swamps. We hold this whole region as our home base. We came to the mountains to get some respite. We wanted the quiet relationship with nature, and we’ve been able to get parts of that on our off-time, get into the local crafts and study the culture. We’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America and in New Orleans, so we wanted to make sure we were adding fuel to the mountain culture that is also part of our story.”

WHO: Rising Appalachia
WHEN: New Mountain Amphitheatre, newmountainavl.com
WHEN: Saturday, June 13, 6 p.m. $20

About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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