Art That Responds to the Times: Wisdom from Rising Appalachia

An interview with Chloe Smith, multi-instrumental musician, co-leader (with her sister, Leah Song) of the American musical group, Rising Appalachia, conducted by Bioneers Arts Coordinator, Polina Smith.

About Rising Appalachia: Rooted in various folk traditions, storytelling, and passionate grassroots activism, the band routinely provides a platform for local causes wherever it plays and frequently incites its fans to gather with it in converting vacant or underused lots into verdant urban orchards and gardens. In a time of social unraveling, Rising Appalachia’s unique interweaving of music and social mission and old traditions with new interpretations exudes contagious hope and deep integrity.   

POLINA SMITH: What was the genesis of Rising Appalachia? 

CHLOE SMITH: The group arose out of a combination of what our family passed to us musically and culturally, our rootedness in community, our burning impulse to self-expression, and the bridge between sibling brains.  

POLINA:  How has the pandemic changed your trajectory? What have been the challenges and the gifts this crisis has brought you? 

CHLOE: We had been aiming to take a sabbatical in 2021 anyway, so we are taking this year as an early sabbatical and mostly using this time to rest our bodies from the rigors of touring (which we had been doing a lot of for years) as well as to write new material. Leah and I have been in a songwriting class since March with a few other women in our music circle, and that has proved to be immensely nourishing in these times. It’s given us an incentive to write but not to rush to perform. Artists need that cave from time to time.  

I believe we all know the challenges of the times, especially for those parts of the entertainment industries that rely almost completely on live shows for revenue streams. Leah and I have also been apart this whole time, which has been challenging.  Still, we try hard to be optimistic for the sake of moving the needle upwards when so many people are down. It’s an ebb and flow for all of us, with good days and bad days. The silver lining is that we are each forced to rethink how we were working in this world and whether or not it was sustainable for our bodies, our resources, our families, and the world. I believe there will be some poignant innovation coming out of this time.  

POLINA:  What are your ultimate dreams and vision for Rising Appalachia?  

CHLOE: We don’t have any ultimate goals or visions, to be quite honest. We make art to respond to the times, to reflect our inner and outer world, to be an extension of our souls and spirits. There has never been an endgame or final place we were reaching towards, simply a following of a golden thread along life’s many routes.  

POLINA: What do you believe is the role of art and music in social justice movements in general, and in this time specifically?  

CHLOE: To add umph and spark to movements, to bring people together, to try to make sense of the times as well as to continue the conversation that has been happening through art for millennia. In the time of the pandemic, art is still finding its way to come through and make us laugh, cry, and remember our place in the grand scheme of things. There is so much noise and news and chatter, some of it really important but it’s wildly distracting as well. Perhaps music can bring us to our center throughout these hard times and strengthen our missions with a little bit of magic and a sprinkle of soul. 

POLINA: What are you most excited about your participation in the upcoming online Bioneers Conference? 

CHLOE: The cross pollination: it’s always been fascinating for us to collaborate with people outside the art sphere, to see how creativity can lend a hand to design and science and education and justice and all the things Bioneers works towards. Rising Appalachia has always thrived in diverse spaces where music is not the main focus but an accent to a larger conversation.  

POLINA: What would your message to young artists be right now?  

CHLOE: Stay in charge of your art, stay ahead of it. Don’t pass it up or pawn it off for money before you can really comprehend what it is that you want to do or say. True art is quite radical and untethered. Make sure you have learned some ropes of the world, some business skills and some honing of craft. Then, if you want to build a team, you can do it with backbone and experience. 

POLINA: Thank you so much Chloe, for taking the time to speak with us, we can’t wait to see you at the Bioneers Conference and to continue to follow your extraordinary journey!

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