Sarah Siskind releases a new album, embraces change

POWER IN NUMBERS: Sarah Siskind primarily worked with the Jeff Sipe Trio to craft her new album, "Modern Appalachia," but also recruited remote collaborations from guitar legend Bill Frisell and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. “Those are two really kind dudes right there," she says. "They’re very similar in soul. They’re very kind and peaceful souls and have been just such great friends to me and musical partners. I definitely wanted them involved somehow on this project.” Photo by Brian Boskind

Winston-Salem native Sarah Siskind left North Carolina when she was 18 years old and never thought she’d move back to the Tar Heel State. But when Nashville — her home for nearly two decades, during which her songs were recorded by Alison Krauss, Randy Travis and Wynonna Judd — became too big for her and her then-partner Travis Book (singer/bassist for The Infamous Stringdusters), they looked elsewhere. After a stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia ended when their “sweet setup” rental house suddenly became unavailable, and having “gotten attached to mountain living,” they moved to Brevard, which Siskind visited regularly with her parents during childhood.

“It’s only five hours from Nashville, so I go there still a lot to work and write — I mean, obviously not right now, but when the [COVID-19] craziness lifts, I will be going back there some,” Siskind says. “Within the [Brevard] community, there’s so much talent. Jeff Sipe is a hero of mine. I got to have him on my record, but he is part of why I wanted to move here. I thought, ‘Well, it must be awesome if he’s there raising his family.’ And Shannon Whitworth and Woody Platt are here. It’s sweet. Jeff’s wife, Rainbow Sipe, calls Brevard ‘the center of the universe.’ And it is. It’s its own microcosm.”

The album Siskind mentions is Modern Appalachia, which was released on April 17 after multiple delays, the most significant one being the bankruptcy of crowdfunding service PledgeMusic, which she says never paid her the money she raised for the project. Produced by Siskind and tracked at Echo Mountain Recording Studios with engineer Jason Lehning, the 12-song collection finds the singer/songwriter backed by the Jeff Sipe Trio. The eponymous drummer, along with Mike Seal (electric guitar) and Daniel Kimbro (bass) imbue her soulful, introspective compositions with their distinct jazz fusion sound, and Siskind is elated to share the work with listeners, despite the COVID-19 pandemic preventing her from performing it live before a physically assembled audience.

“Now that we’re in the middle of all this, and the album’s coming out, I actually think it’s a great time for music. People’s attention spans are a little bit longer right now, and people need uplifting, and people need inspiration and new creative input,” Siskind says. “Now, the tour isn’t going to coincide, but that has never been that big of a deal to me to have that match up. And honestly, I think, in a way it’s nice to give people time to live with the music so that by the time you play it for them live, they already feel like they know it.”

Opening track “Me and Now” could be one selection that resonates especially strongly with listeners. Currently going through her second divorce, Siskind wrote the song as a way to process the challenges of living alone for the first time in her life, specifically sitting with solitude and struggling with the inability to be still. But since the advent of “stay home, stay safe,” the work has taken on new meanings.

“When I wrote it, it was very much me self-isolating or quarantining in a different way, because I was not cut off from people, but I was in a house by myself, except for when I had my kids because we split [custody] 50/50,” Siskind says. “One of the cool realizations that I have had through this is that maybe it’s not me that has that struggle. Maybe it’s all of us. And I think all of us are really feeling challenged with not being able to incorporate with each other and socialize and hug. The smallest things like giving a hug or even shaking somebody’s hand, we took all that for granted, and now that it’s taken away, it’s like a craving or a yearning to want to connect with people.”

Helping bridge that gap, Siskind recently launched Mod App Live, a Sunday night variety show on Facebook and Instagram featuring “music, conversation, cooking, crafts, living and weekly special guests.” The weekly schedule has provided her a welcome bit of consistency and a creative outlet to consciously plan in order to make each edition memorable. And in times of great uncertainty, the show or similar options could just replace traditional ways that listeners have interacted with artists.

“The music business has been going through a metamorphosis already for years because of adapting to streaming,” Siskind says. “I think that this might be the turning point for that old model to change of you release an album and you put together a release tour around the release date. We’re just having to find new ways to do everything, but I really think that this could be what really makes musicians step back and assess things in a different way.”


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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