Rising Appalachia hits the speakeasy in the new video for its track "Cuckoo," premiering on Billboard exclusively today (Aug. 29), and the Americana sextet hopes it can be a perception changer about its home region.
The Atlanta-based group's Leah Smith tells Billboard that "my sister [Chloe] and I have spent the last 10-plus years of our chosen career really wanting to tell our version of a very ornate south that is very, very vastly and diverse and mystical and magical — and not what I think is the stereotypical delivery of the southern story. That's been our path and our goal and our creative intention this whole time, and I think this video is perhaps striking representation of how that feels and looks for us. It's a very broad, very honest look at our understanding of this part of the world and the creativity in it."
Filmed at a friend's studio and speakeasy space in Asheville, N.C., the "Cuckoo," features Rising Appalachia playing and surrounded by a colorful cast of gentrified hip characters — played by real friends of the group, including artists, dancers, herbalists and even a dog. The song itself is an adaptation of a traditional fiddle tune the Smiths learned from their mother, with Duncan Wickel's Irish-flavored fiddle and Biko Casino's West African n'goni broadening the stylistic footprint.
"Our mom's deepest passion in the world is to really know and learn the traditions of music in this region," Leah Smith explains. "We grew up between those two worlds: the vibrancy and diversity and the real cultural richness of the city as well as the beauty and magic of the rural south. Those two are often not allowed to pair together, but from the very origins of Rising Appalachia we wanted to tell a broader understanding of the beauty and diversity of Southern culture and make space for the more powerful and more righteous stories to have a stage…and really counter a lot of the stereotypes of what the south is."
That mission informs Leylines, Rising Appalachia's sixth and latest full-length album, which came out in May and features a guest appearance by Ani DiFranco on the song "Speak Out." The 12-song set marked a couple of firsts for the band — its first time with a producer [Joe Henry] and its first recording sessions away from the south, during a 10-day residency overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Marin County, Calif.
"We've always been open, creatively," Leah Smith says. "We never took a traditional approach. We never signed to a record label — we considered it and talked to some labels but just decided to keep it much more non-traditional and a much more self-managed process. We're a little bit out of the boundaries of the more traditional music industry, I think, and that's something that's deeply important to us. That's made it a little bit harder to get people in the door, but that's also kept us really motivated and hungry in the long haul."