Anya Hinkle of Tellico Moved to Asheville for Bluegrass, but Found Soul of the Music in Japan
Anya Hinkle moved from southern Virginia to Asheville in 2006 for the bluegrass music scene. She says she absorbed the soul of a bluegrass artist from the scene, of all places, in Japan.
“People are really comfortable with a lot of silence, what I would consider awkward silence,” said Hinkle, whose husband is from Japan. They and their daughter visit Japan for a month or two every year.
“I’ve learned a lot from how they play. Much more reserved, less frenetic,” Hinkle said. “It’s been a real relief to fell I can let that much space hang out there, in my music and in between songs and in the things I say. That’s where a lot of the magic is communicated."
Hinkle is a vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter of the Asheville band Tellico. The group’s new album, “Woven Waters,” is a tapestry of calm and storm. Atop delicate rhythms and moving melodies are stories laced with truth and the fire of human experience. Tellico celebrates “Woven Waters” with a show Jan. 18 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville.
“I’ve always loved folk music and singer-songwriters. I’ve always loved bluegrass too, but I feel like I’m bridging those worlds more than I have in the past,” Hinkle said.
Before Hinkle thought seriously about music, she was an avid competitive cyclist—that’s how she met her husband—and studied ethnobotany in Berkeley, Calif. Her research led her to the Pacific Islands, from the remote Marquesas Islands to New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and Japan. She has also lived in Mexico and studied in Costa Rica—all experiences, she said, that left her stuck after she moved to Asheville and tried writing her own music.
“I had traveled around the world. I had seen so many cultures, and I was back in the hills and hollers and playing music of a tradition that just wasn’t a fit, all the experiences I was feeling and thinking about,” she said. “At first I tried to write things I felt fit traditional bluegrass themes, such as the landscape and family, love, weather. Any kind of political topics or anything personal just didn’t seem like a fit in that genre. Now I feel there are so many things to write about, I sometimes don’t know where to start."
Hinkle had a breakthrough when she began understanding the music from the perspective of a listener.
“Maybe part of that is discovering how broad our expression can be musically and also learning more about the audience for our music, what people are listening for,” she said. “Sometimes we can all get in ruts of expressing the same kinds of themes. I guess I find it inspiring to think of how to share my music with an audience, because I’m always considering them.”
When Hinkle moved to Asheville, she found a quick community through the open jams at Jack of the Wood. One night, she had mistakenly left with a guitar belonging to Greg Stiglets, and he left the club with hers. The two have written and performed music together ever since, first through three albums with the band Dehlia Low and two albums now with Tellico.
“His style is pretty different than mine, so when we put an album together, it’s got a lot of variety,” she said of Stiglets. “His themes he’s writing about are very different. His singing style and all those things are counterpoint to what I do.”
Hinkle credits another creative force, the producer and musician John Doyle, with bringing Irish-influenced songcraft to “Woven Waters.”
“When you listen to Irish music, the way they bring color by doing chord substitutions throughout instrumental music, was something John really brought,” she said. “(It’s) something that brought a lot more emotion and feel to a lot of the songs.”
Hinkle sometimes sings music at home to her daughter in Japanese or Spanish—she’s fluent in both—and says both languages continue informing her music. Still, after traveling the world, Hinkle expects Asheville to remain her home.
“I think the musical connections have really helped me here,” she said. “When you have a band that’s trying to build on what it’s doing, those things become things you want to stick around for.”