2097RA_sesh_hi-resBy Franklin Abbott

Sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, who headline the “Slow Music” band Rising Appalachia, will be coming home to Little Five Points, the neighborhood they grew up in, and Variety Playhouse on Friday, Dec. 18. The sisters took the inspiration for the name of their band from frequent trips to the mountains with their mother when they were kids?. Now based in Asheville, they are on tour with bassist David Brown and percussionist Biko Casini promoting their new album Wider Circles.

?This is the fifth album for the band and brings together their signature mix of folk standards, traditional hymns and activist anthems. They have clocked over 14,000 miles touring the U.S. and have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. They have performed in venues as varied as Emory University’s  Schwartz Center, the Naropa Institute and Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. Rising Appalachia shows often feature acrobats, world musicians and spoken word artists.

INtown interviewed Chloe Smith ahead of Friday’s show.

Did you and your sister grow up in a musical family? How did you begin singing together?
Yes. We grew up in Little Points to a musical family and extended family of fiddlers and contra dance callers and blues harmonica players and spoken word artists. Atlanta has always had a diverse spectrum of artists amidst its layers, and we happily grew up in many different styles and sounds. Our mother used to sing us harmony parts to various songs in our ears at a young age so that we could hear how the sounds stacked up and complemented one another, and how some notes would bounce or create tension with other notes. It was all a learning by ear process. Leah probably began singing to me when I was in our moms womb, as older sibling do to that nebulous bump that is to become a sister, but as adults we stepped it up a notch and sang often as young adults to and with one another.

Your music is both personal and political. What current issues are inspiring your music the most?Oh, there are so many! It’s hard to not get overwhelmed, as we all know. However, right now we have pushed the compass over to the prison industrial complex and the mindfulness work of The Prison Yoga Project, as well as some pressing environmental issues such as fracking and mountaintop removal. We also have been inspired by some of the Permaculture Action work of our fellow musician and friend t?he Polish Ambassador, who aims to bring permaculture work days to each town that he performs in. Mostly, it’s about consistently using our voice and “gathering the people” strength to highlight local projects and nonprofit ground work in each town we stop through.

You work with an ensemble of other artists. Two of the poets you have worked with are based in Atlanta, mother and daughter Alice Lovelace and Theresa Davis. Can you talk about working with them and how you include other artists in your concerts?
Alice Lovelace and Theresa are staples and bright lights in the Atlanta art and poetry scene. Leah visited Theresa at the Horizon School and taught with her class years back when we all lived in Little Five Points, and since then our friendship and creative collaborations have extended all over the country. Spoken word has always been one of our favorite things to open up a concert with as it really draws the audience deeply into a listening space and sort of strips away any layers of distraction that one might have walking into a busy concert hall. That being said, and after watching countless poets, Theresa still strikes us as one of the most authentic, hilarious, and vibrant poets that we know. Each time she opens a show for us we get ample feedback raving about her impact. It’s a treat and a treasure to build creative partnerships throughout the years and support one another’s growth and journeys as artists and friends.

How do you experience the creative process when you are writing songs and developing performances?
Its a slippery, mysterious, seductive process that requires one part song-catching (as Bobby McFerrin says) and one part song creation from the ground up. You have to be an empty vessel to receive and/or coax the damn thing out sometimes!

Talk a little about your upcoming shows in Atlanta and Athens. What can your audience anticipate about your performances here?
Well, Atlanta is our hometown. We used to sneak into the Variety Playhouse for hip hop and Ani Difranco shows in our teenage years. There is a certain rebellious yet extremely comfortable air about performing in your hometown. The stakes are high, and yet, there’s always more family in the room than any other show that year. So, for this show, we are looking forward to hearing Brock’s work ( from Little Tybee ) opening the evening, as well as some of Theresa’s new slammin’ poems, also showcasing our drummers newest collaborative project of traditional music from Burkina Faso with his teacher Arouna Diarra. In addition, of course, the Rising Appalachia sound boat will also be playing all our new songs from our new album, Wider Circles, which the Atlanta audience has yet to hear. So, lots of art, lots of heart and a good final cheers to a long year of creation.

?For tickets and information to Rising Appalachia at Variety Playhouse, visit this link.

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and consultant, poet and writer. www.franklinabbott.com

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.