By Andrew Bardsley
CALGARY – From deep within Bayou country, self-proclaimed Southern Gothic songstress Amythyst Kiah speaks about new music, inspirations and connecting with her audience. Kiah is ready to enrapture audiences with her powerful voice and passionate stories of love, loss, passion, and trauma. With songs like “Dark Holler” and “Doomed to Roam” Kiah has firmly cemented her place as a writer for the ages. Residing in Johnson City, Tennessee, Kiah is a powerful voice within the bluegrass and folk community. Her voice and touring band – Her Chest of Glass – have recently returned from a European tour where her 2013 album Dig has found a devout audience.
Amythyst Kiah has been playing guitar for most of her life but it was at East Tennessee State University where she went from song writing to traditional music.
“It went from me song writing into interpreting old traditional songs and reinterpreting them,” Kiah says over the phone from storied recording studio, The Cypress House, where she is working with acclaimed musician Dirk Powell.
Kiah is currently on a follow-up album to Dig, and taking her time in the process. A big roadblock was her own reluctance to co-writing. “I was writing the songs, but it wasn’t in the way I’d wanted. And I’d heard obviously of people who co-write all the time and I think a part of me that was a little apprehensive to open up.”
Kiah’s music is devoutly traditional, but her listening habits are broad. Her top three favourites are Tori Amos, Bjork and Radiohead. “These all rotated in my CD player because I liked their songwriting style. It was nonlinear, and each verse of their songs emoted a feeling, each word choice has a gripping metaphorical meaning. And so when it came to traditional music, I came to find that there was a lot of those same themes of struggle and pain.”
Regardless of background, individuals should aim to have a full-fledged human experience, and her music strives to reinforce this. “I’ve had people of all ages, and colours and religions come up to me and say what they felt was authentic and they felt what I was saying and they appreciated it. And because we are all human and because we have emotions and have struggle and I hope to connect with those people and that people feel a sense of humanity.”
Kiah has recently been collaborating with acclaimed folk singer, Rhiannon Giddens, co-founder of the Grammy Award winning folk band, Carolina Chocolate Drops. This new project – spearheaded by Giddens – Songs of a Native Daughter, is based somewhat off James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, which is a 1955 collection of essays dealing with issues of race in America.
“In this particular project, the focus is to look historically at things that have happened that people aren’t necessarily willing to have discussions about in a way that is healthy and honest. Our goal is to look at some of these themes and create songs that people can sing to, can dance to, tap their foot to, but also talk about some of these themes.”
Kiah uses her voice as a powerful connection to the past but also to an innovative story-telling future. With raw intensity and a guitar, Amythyst Kiah is a sound that travels north through from the Deep South via the Appalachians.
Amythyst Kiah performs Saturday, Feb. 17 during Block Heater at the King Eddy.Amythyst Kiah, Block Heater, Gothic, King Eddy