Band of the Week: Rising Appalachia

Music Features Rising Appalachia
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Hometown: Atlanta, Ga./Asheville, N.C.
Fun Fact: The group lives on the road in a biodiesel-fueled bus.
Why It's Worth Watching: The harmonious singing and instrumentation between sisters Leah and Chloe Smith paired with old-time lyrics feel like a step back, then forward.
For Fans Of: Gillian Welch, Ani Difranco, The Be Good Tanyas

Rising Appalachia stands for everything that tends to get swallowed up in a slick and shiny society. It’s the rise of a past lifestyle that is still rooted to the land. Drive up to one of the group's shows in a fancy car, and you’ll want to leave on foot. And that’s the goal. By resurrecting and reinventing their parents’ nostalgic old folk and mountain music, sisters Leah and Chloe Smith pave the way back to lost simplicities and social responsibility.

“We eventually want to have a whole section [of the music] dedicated to alternative fuels and political activism and human rights,” Leah says.

But as focused as the young women have become, they’d never planned to be an official group. They didn’t even have a name when they recorded their first album a little more than a year ago, which was done as a Christmas present for friends.

“The reception to [the first] album was really strong," Leah recalls. "People wanted us to perform all the time. It just kind of took over. It’s been a blessing because we were all very scattered and it’s like we’ve been guided.”

As activists stumbling onto such a captivated audience, the only choice was to keep going and use the music as both a channel and a platform. “This is such a huge tool," Leah says. "If we go ahead and work hard on our music, then our politics come back and we fill them in.”

Rising Appalachia just wrapped up a second album, Scale Down, which will be out on March 18. It builds on the first, but this time only half the songs are traditional covers. The six original tracks, while remaining steeped in the sounds of banjo, fiddle, jaw harp, washboard, empty bottles, spoons and myriad other folk instruments, are also heavily influenced by political hip-hop, spoken word, vintage jazz and roots music. Percussionist Forrest Kelly brings additional influences into the fold, such as fire spinning, beatbox and junk percussion from the thriving indie-folk scene of his hometown, Asheville, N.C. Storytelling is also becoming a bigger part of the band's live performances.

While the group wants to remain open to evolution and new influences, Chloe says that its very important to her and her sister to remain rooted with an underground aesthetic. Currently, the trio lives on the road in a biodiesel-fueled bus, which Leah feels is important to staying in touch with the objective. “We’re essentially using the road to figure out where we’re going," she says. "It’s a little intense right now, but I have to believe we can reach some people.”

[After March 18, you can purchase Scale Down at Rising Appalachia's official website.]

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