Rising Appalachia’s Leah Song and Chloe Smith have sailed around British Columbia, crossed the United States and Europe by train, and will now travel to Petaluma to bring audiences some folk and soul.
The folksinger sisters, who formed their band in 2005 in Atlanta, will perform at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater Monday and Tuesday as part of their first West Coast tour in nearly three years. They’ll be bringing their Americana sound to the Mystic stage, and audiences can expect to hear tracks from their seventh studio album, “The Lost Mystique of Being in the Know,” and other musical gems.
“Our West Coast tour has always meant a lot to us,” said Song, who typically passes through the Bay Area, Petaluma, Washington and Oregon for the tour. “I’m so excited to bring the music back to the stage and see the Pacific Ocean again. It’s been so long.”
Rising Appalachia, influenced by Song and Smith’s global travels, old-school bluegrass training, and upbringing in the city of Atlanta, is known for fusing multicultural sounds and instruments from around the world, including the banjo and violins, conga drums, musical spoons and the washboard.
The sisters, whose parents are dedicated early music students from Appalachia, had no idea their debut album, self-produced and recorded in a friend’s basement studio in Atlanta in 2005, would lead to opportunities to perform across the country.
“Every place we’ve traveled infuses a little bit of history, culture, smell and sound into our songs,” Song said from his home in Asheville, North Carolina.
As a family, they traveled to fiddle camps and Appalachian music festivals across the Southeast. Their travels didn’t end there, however. The group toured British Columbia, the United States and Europe, learning various instruments and folk traditions along the way. Today, Rising Appalachia is engaged in cultural exchange programs in Bulgaria, Ireland, Southern Italy, and Central and South America.
“We are sponges,” Song said. “The places we’ve been through have influenced our music in ways we don’t always know.”
Like most tours, the band had to suspend touring during the pandemic. Instead, they focused on recording and releasing new music, with the occasional gig here and there, Song said.
This year, the sisters released a folksy rendition of English pop-electronic musician James Blake’s “I Need A Forest Fire” featuring Bon Iver, from Blake’s 2016 album “The Color In Anything.”
Their cover is the first in a series they plan to release folk-pop songs this year and through 2023, covering artists such as folk-blues singer Hozier, rapper Anderson. Paak and Billie Eilish.
“We look to contemporary music but cover these songs through our own sonic lens,” Song said. “We admire the music of James Blake. It has this beautiful, simple, minimalist, down-tempo feel.
When they started recording “I Need A Forest Fire” in their home studio in an old church in North Carolina, they had no idea where it would go, Song said. But as they experimented, letting the cello lead and overlapping the vocals, the song naturally blossomed.
The song, which originally featured Bon Iver’s signature falsetto and Blake’s arrangement of vocal samples and synthesizers, is now a slower acoustic version full of angelic harmonies and plucked guitars.
“The song came to life as we played it in the studio,” Song said. “It was so easy and simple and so easy to keep simple, you know?”
“I Need a Wildfire” is about the “death of the ego”, starting over, and the destructive yet purifying nature of a fire, as it promotes renewal and change. Besides their admiration for the original meaning of the song, they chose it as an ode to their friends and family across the West who are dealing with the threat of a wildfire.
“We found a way to tell the story of the song and its meaning, but we also incorporated it to represent contemporary struggle,” Song said.
Their latest nine-song album, “The Lost Mystique of Being in the Know”, released in 2021, is the result of Song, Smith and their band reuniting in December 2020 at the North Carolina studio to play a live gig. line after being separated by the pandemic for almost a year.
On a whim, they decided to spend a few more days in the studio with no plans other than to bond and “record and see what happens,” Song said.
“This album was really for us,” she said. “We needed catharsis. We were all still scared and confused. We missed each other so much; we wanted to connect and bond again.
The abstract-style album, which departs from their generally clean musical arrangements, is more “exploratory and improvisational,” Song said, emphasizing instruments and light vocals.
“We just hit a record and we kept passing the baton in the studio,” Song said. “We played improvisational tunes almost without speaking. Someone would start a song, then another would add to it.
“It’s our favorite album,” she added. “We were in uncertain times. We wanted this album to reflect that.
You can reach editor Mya Constantino at [email protected] @searchingformya on Twitter.