The Southern-based sister-lead folk sensation Rising Appalachia has taken the world by storm, producing six albums in as many years. The sisters, Chloe and Leah Smith (the latter of which performs as Leah Song) have spent the last few years of their career blazing the way for independent artists all over. The two-some, greatly in touch with their creative intelligence, began their careers in experimentation and street performing – which quickly took off into much higher summits of accomplishment. The band has been to Colorado twice this year already, opening for Elephant Revival at Red Rocks in May and showcasing their talents at ARISE fest in August. With last year’s release of Wider Circles, the girls have proven that they are here for the long haul, ready to move forward while remaining content in performing the creations they have already produced.
303 Magazine took the opportunity to chat with Leah and Chloe before their two shows in Boulder tonight and Denver tomorrow.
303 Magazine: Colorado has been very needy for you this year. Are you ready to headline some seriously addicted fans?
Leah Song: Ha ha! Well, I guess that if we are going to be discussing addiction then live music is a pretty healthy addiction, especially in such a tumultuous climate of our country. Colorado has always been really good to us. We will be there for two nights this time and both nights will be packed full of live music, speakers and tablers bringing in local non-profit information. We hope to have a proper throw-down, Rocky Mountain style.
303: What sort of energy does Colorado have that differs from that of other stops on your tour?
LS: I feel like there is a vibrancy here in Colorado, you can tell there is a lot of really fresh ideas and well-supported creativity. You can tell that there is a pulse here. A lot of young people are moving here and there is a very active move to push forward the use of medicinal herbal remedies. There is a very powerful wilderness culture here. It feels like it is a geographical crossroads as well, combining the slower older ways of east coast and the wild more out there ideas of the West Coast. Our shows have always been really well attended and the CO community has always been big supporters of our music so we always expect, and have come to appreciate an active, engaged audience and a full house.
303: You have mastered such a wide variety of instruments, when did your musical appetite begin? Do you think it will ever be satiated?
LS: Well, I am afraid that the honest truth is that we have not mastered any instruments at all except arguably our voices. We play pretty simply on our strings, and use them to craft texture and accompaniment to our lyrics. However, we are surrounded by amazing musicians including our family and our band mates, so the appetite to continue to learn will never cease.
303: You started your career in a basement, which turned to busking the streets of New Orleans, which evolved into huge tours with epic acts. Do you ever miss the simplicity of those beginnings?
LS: Absolutely. I think I miss those days all the time. Not to be overly-nostalgic, because it is a true gift to be supported in the work that we do, however, to be completely inspiration-driven and wide-eyed by the world is such a profound time of life. And our “day job” of riding bicycles to the French Quarter in New Orleans, studying the art of public performance and making friends with the post workers and the tourists to earn enough money to pay rent and buy a few groceries … that was such a rich time in our lives. We had very little but we were so alive and immersed in the world around us. One day, there will be time like that again, but I think if the river is flowing then you just gotta paddle. We are in a fast moving stream at this point.
303: You have remained independent from the turmoil involved of the mainstream music industry, which is impressive today. How do you think that has assisted you to remain who you want to be? Do you find it limiting at times?
Chloe Smith: Indeed, Leah and I are the captains of this sound ship and have done our best to remain involved in the inner workings of the project so that our passion and our voice is a leading force in our movements. I’ve always enjoyed having a hand in the many folds of this work and watching it grow up throughout the years.
The “industry” has changed so much throughout the past decade and now you see artists leading their own companies and steering the reins of their own images in what I believe to be a very positive and empowering way. Rising Appalachia is, of course, deeply invested in being whom we want to be artistically and taking our music down some dirt roads that are less traveled. We now have an amazing team of booking agents and managers and pretty dynamic, incredible people helping us navigate the circles we are weaving, which has been nothing but a blessing. At a certain point when things get real busy, delegation and trust in a team is priceless and necessary. We just do our duty to remain involved and present in the conversations.
303: Rise Collective is such a unique implementation of creativity in all of its forms. The fact that you use your platform to encourage activism in music, education, spirituality and so much more is phenomenal. Would you mind expanding on its origin and future goals?
LS: The Rise Collective has been our initiative to incorporate the larger community of performers, teachers, mentors, and influences. When we are lucky, we bring some of those artists onto stage with us in collaboration. Right now, our most living current project is called the “Slow Music Movement.” This is our full steam effort to create sustainable and holistic tour strategies.
Meaning, we are challenging the status quo of touring: physically slowing down and staying in regions for longer amounts of time, staying locally and eating local food from the places where we are making music, taking days off in between shows to get into wild places and learn about the nature of each place, connecting each show to local non-profits that are doing direct action work in their communities so that our impact can create longer relationships than just a few hours at a show and exploring alternative travel options (train, recycled fuel, sail boat, horse back, etc.). There are so many ways that we want to continue to navigate our music so that we can in fact have impact and be more rooted to the work that we do.
303: You were here in August for the ARISE festival in which you taught workshops of various topics. How did the Colorado crowd respond in comparison to other environments that you have shared this with?
CS: ARISE Festival is doing incredibly, stunning work building community through a festival environment. Each year Rising Appalachia has been involved, we have gotten deeper and deeper into the beautiful layers of purpose that they weave both at Sunrise Ranch, as well as in the greater Colorado area. We did a global vocal harmony and improvisation workshop this year, as well as a Permaculture Action Day at the ranch, and the staff and visionaries of ARISE were beyond accommodating in our visions to offer more than just a concert. They built the container, which inspires the audience and the performers to step it up some notches and dig in, thus becoming a beautiful ecosystem for growth, change, dance parties, and important dialogue.
303: Will 2017 bring new tunes?
CS: YES! We have recently hired on some new amazing team members so that all us artists can spend more time making art and music and less time on the computer! That being said, we are all studying, writing, learning and keeping the muses close. I imagine 2017 will be a year of writing as well as finding new golden nuggets within Wider Circles as well as our other six albums.
LS: Yes, ANDDDDD truly we are so excited to continue to find more nuances and new parts of the music we have already created. We are really inspired to let Wider Circles continue to breathe and find its subtleties. We are inspired to not rush another album. It will come, but all in due time.
303: What can you say to the crowds of Coloradans who will be greeting you at your upcoming shows this weekend?
CS: That now is the time for us to all be resilient, talk to our neighbors, have civil discourse and get some positivity back in the forefront of our lives after this messy political season. These Colorado shows are the first few of our tour which we titled the Resiliency Tour, so we look forward to talking with folks about what that word means to them in the coming months.
The sisters and their accompanying band members of Rising Appalachia will grace the stages at the Fox Theater in Boulder and the Ogden Theater tonight, November 3 and tomorrow, November 4, respectively. Tickets can be purchase here and here.
Interview has been condensed and edited.