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Rising Appalachia is a band, but the founding sisters say it’s also a community

Chloe Smith (left) and Leah Song are the founding sisters of Rising Appalachia
Chad Hess
Chloe Smith (left) and Leah Song are the founding sisters of Rising Appalachia

Leah Song and Chloe Smith say it’s unusual to go a day without connecting. So when Chloe found herself grounded in Costa Rica for nearly the first year of the pandemic—a continent away from her older sister—technology took care of the communication. She said their challenge was more spiritual.

“We were doing a lot of Indigenous Rights work, we were at Standing Rock. One of our main songs, “Resilient,” came from that place, and then it was like everything went quiet,” Chloe said. “Now we’re resurfacing.”

The sisters said their band, Rising Appalachia, is as much an outlet for community as for artistic expression. Since their recorded debut in 2006, they’ve produced eight albums of socially urgent Americana infused with sounds and inflections from around the world.

Rising Appalachia performs this Saturday at Salvage Station in Asheville.

The pandemic cut the sisters off from people, but not their muse. They formed a songwriting group with three other women, each of them sharing new music with one another every week for the past two years and counting. They said they’re excited by what’s come from it—a collaborative album of new a capella music.

“None of us had been in a sphere where you shared super fresh music,” Chloe said. “It was very vulnerable, but eventually you get over the vulnerability part and realized, wow, this is how writers keep that muscle going, is you learn not to be super attached to the outcome of a song. You just kinda wanna write.”

Music was at the root of the sisters’ upbringing in Atlanta. Their parents were string players in a community of squaredance and Cajun musicians and folk artists who brought them to the Swannanoa Gathering and the Black Mountain Music and LEAF festivals.

"We knew as very young women that art would be part of our story, but we didn’t know it would take its shape,” Leah said. “And that’s continued to be formed as we have continued to grow as an ensemble.”

Leah Song and Chloe Smith are looking to balance Rising Appalachia's performance schedule with non-musical life.
Stefon Poulos
Leah Song and Chloe Smith are looking to balance Rising Appalachia's performance schedule with non-musical life.

While the sisters say feminism and globalism have always been at the roots of their lyrical inspirations, Leah says conversations with audiences have shaped much of their artistic evolution.

"We had a stage where we were very angry and we were very frustrated and we wanted to put that directly into the music,” Leah said. "Not at all that we are not still feeling a lot of the furor of the times, but we started to realize we wanted the music to be a tool that brought people together, and we actually began to write music that had more questions in it.

“It’s not like an intellectual process for us,” she continued. “It’s not like ‘Let’s make an album of fusion music because it would be quirky or interesting or weird or catchy.’ The musicians who have naturally come to the project have informed us. And then the music tends to be more responsive than designed.”

"There’s been times in the studio where we have too many styles going on,” Chloe added. “And we’ve nixed really beautiful songs because there was just too many influences going on, to be totally honest.”

Leah lives near downtown Asheville and Chloe lives in Weaverville. When not making music, Leah said she’s obsessed with rock climbing and looking for horse archery classes. Chloe is deep into small farming.

"We want to have a home life and balance out the nervous system from tour,” Chloe said. “As glorious and fun as it is to play live shows, it’s hard on the body. So we’re rebalancing and recalibrating the road to be probably about half as much as we’ve done.”

The sisters said their collaborative a capella album, titled “Cradle,” will be out in the fall, and that they’re very early in their writing for the next Rising Appalachia record.

“And we’re happy to be back out on the road,” Leah added. “We just want to do it a little better.”

Matt Peiken was BPR’s first full-time arts journalist.