Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia

by Jeff Suwak

On the Rising Appalachia ethos, and their 2021 album, The Lost Mystique Of Being In The Know.

Chloe Smith (L) and Leah Song (R)

From the moment of their 2005 inception, Rising Appalachia has been a band of the people.

Started by sisters Chloe Smith and Leah Song, they built their legacy from the ground up, busking for bucks and building a fanbase one listener at a time. Untethered from corporate obligations, they've done things their own way and built a platform based on musical and personal authenticity. More than a performing group, they've done something similar to the Grateful Dead in that they've built a traveling community of performers (the RISE Collective) and fans that operates more like a family than a business. Their approach has always been direct communication, both emotionally and literally, with their supporters.

So it was interesting to hear that they were putting out their latest album, The Lost Mystique Of Being In The Know, without any notice. As it turns out, this decision was just one manifestation of the band's transformation-in-progress, a conscious mutation spurred into breath by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

For a group of people that have spent years baking their bread off of constant travel and performance, the pandemic was even more jolting than it was for people living more traditional lives. Out of that has come a new spirit, new thoughts, and new direction. Chloe talked with Songfacts to tell us about all of those things, about their new album, and, of course, about those new songs.
Jeff Suwak (Songfacts): What made you decide to publish this one without any pre-release buildup or official announcement?

Chloe Smith: We wanted to let this piece of work speak for itself. Live a weirder life. Be less defined and more surprising for our fans. After one of the most difficult and strange years any of us can remember, we wanted our art to reflect that sense of unknowing and unexpectation.

Songfacts: The Lost Mystique Of Being In The Know is a truly fascinating album title. What's it mean?

Smith: It's a phrase that our guitarist spoke many years ago in a conversation with a dear friend about modern times losing its grip on true knowledge. Knowledge that is deep and well trained has, in some ways, been swapped out for noise and opinion. This is not all encompassing of course, but the mystique of knowledge is that anyone who is a true master would never call themselves that and most of our brightest minds don't engage in the promotion of themselves.

Thus, it's a lost mystique. The subtle. The humble. The refinement. The pace of good work going slow.

Songfacts: It seems like touring and live performance are keystones to the Rising Appalachia identity. What was it like having to go a while without the in-person live shows and festivals?

Smith: Honestly, we have cherished this time at home and in quieter spaces. We have toured for over 12 years and were right at that point of needing a break from the road. Not from shows of course, as that's where the magic lives. But from travel and sleeping in different beds every night and relatively nonstop social hour. This year, albeit hard, nourished something deeper.

Songfacts: What was it like making this album during the pandemic?

Smith: A treat. A treasure. A joy. A remembering. A honoring of the muses that got us through, the art that is a saving grace. We couldn't be more happy to share this work, and to have had the opportunity to make a living piece of art in a beautiful room all together. It was a lifeline.

Songfacts: I assume all the lockdowns gave you both time to think about your music, your artistic direction, and your plans. If that's true, did you come away with anything that you think will have a long-term effect on how Rising Appalachia makes music?

Smith: Absolutely. I believe the future of Rising Appalachia will be a bit quieter and more abstract than the constant accessibility we once presented. We are leaning more into writing music for film, collaborating on folk ballads, teaching online songwriting classes, writing new albums and collaborating with other artists in the studio, and only playing shows that really feel authentic to how we want to share.

Songfacts: Can you tell us what "Catalyst" is about?

Smith: Written during some of the civil unrest in the United States last year, this song is a honing and an honoring of the activists who ignite change in their very unique ways. Lasting change, not ego-feeding change. It's for the work that makes the lives of our future sons and daughters more livable and just.

Songfacts: How about "Silver?"

Smith: Grace and maturation and remaining glorious in all your chapters. Nostalgia and looking back at one's self through the tempest of time.

Songfacts: "Top Shelf?"

Smith: New Orleans love lost and the momentum you gain after heartbreak. It's a bit of jest in putting someone on a pedestal without seeing the real depth of who they are.

Songfacts: "Clay?"

Smith: Abstract poetics framing the black mountain of our Appalachian home.

Songfacts: Are you hoping to tour this album, or is that too much in the air still?

Smith: We will weave it into our future shows for sure!

Songfacts: Do you have any other projects or plans you'd like to share with our readers?

Smith: Yes, Leah and I are teaching an online song class called The Song Catcher and The Muse. Please reach out or visit our website to learn more and join us for a future class on poetics and song catching.

We have a Patreon page running that hosts some of our unreleased material, writings, and behind-the-scenes work. That has been a great way for fans to support us while we are unable to tour, and a percentage every month goes to nonprofits that we have partnered with that focus on racial justice and somatic healing. Biko and Arouna build beautiful handmade instruments, so check out their work if you are interested in ngonis. David and Duncan each have solo music projects that are unique and alluring, so follow each band member for their own offerings.

June 2, 2021
Further Reading:
Donna Jean Godchaux
Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek
Grateful Dead Songfacts entries

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Comments: 1

  • Jeff Strong from Charleston OregonI am in full agreement with your direction and vision. That being said, I would still like to see Chloe create her own book of poetry.
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