Chloe Smith is an American singer, multi-instrumental musician and activist known for her role as a lead singer in Rising Appalachia together with her sister, front woman Leah Song. In their early days, the sisters busked in the French Quarter of New Orleans and elsewhere. They began to find their own natural interpretation of Appalachian music, bringing together folk, soul, hip-hop, classical, Southern Gospel and other styles all based on the sisters’ upbringing on traditional Appalachian string band music, as well as their exposure to urban music like hip-hop and jazz, plus the roots music of all kinds they experienced during their worldwide travels.
An activist before she became a musician, Chloe credits her father with fueling her desire to combine art with activism in a spiritual way. She says, “Our father brought to our attention from day one that art for art’s sake is lovely, but there is something more pressing and all-encompassing about the folks who speak to the bigger picture. Our ‘human experience,’ our spiritual and social need to lean on each other, find support systems and ways to rally for a higher purpose.”
Their latest album, “Wider Circles,” was inspired by folk standards and traditional hymns, old mountain odes, and activist anthems that pull equally from the swampy sounds of the bayou, the contemporary twang of the Appalachian mountains, and the beat of a global rhythm.
What environmental issue(s) do you consider to be the most critical at this time?
Well, the ones closest to home always hit the hardest… although there are so many around the world that need attention. For me, fracking and the mountain top removal industry are some of the most destructive and dangerous issues that are prevalent in our region and for our generation. The amount of water that is used in the fracking process as well as the carcinogenic chemicals that are left as an aftermath in the earth should be, and is, a huge concern to everyone. Its extraction as another distraction when so much of that money, time and infrastructure could be used to create and implement cleaner, more renewable sources of energy. We have been working and raising awareness for years with an incredible Appalachian environmental and health rights organization, Mountain Justice, on the mountaintop removal issue. Fracking is another huge concern for all of us.
Additionally, we have a deep relationship with California as a place of creative inspiration and support of our music, and the drought there is high on the list of environmental concern for many members of our band, as well as, of course, the nation. We are reaching out to water sustainability organizations based there in the hope we can learn about what is going on on the ground as well as team up and collaborate in action steps and support from our end. As musicians, we have the ability to gather the people in an uplifting setting. If there is information sharing and participatory action before or after shows, then we all activate and push things forward. This is a model of touring and creating that many musicians in our generation are working towards, and we are inspired and ignited to continue doing that work as well.
What has inspired you to combine environmental activism with music?
Leah and I were both activists before we were musicians, and in many ways, that has always just naturally carried through into our career and work as musicians and troubadours. Be it environmental or social-justice based, it’s always been clear to us that music is one of the most powerful catalysts of change and unity, and it is our responsibility to speak to some of the pressing issues happening around us all. Additionally, each member of our band has interest and concern in using our music as a tool for change, so we overlap in that way and have always drawn support from that calling. We hope to create dialogue as opposed to pretending we have the answers to any of these struggles. But, by creating a space to address concerns (by forging relationships with nonprofits on the ground, establishing mentors with elders in communities, inviting people to speak at shows, etc.) we have hope that we all might slowly make our way towards the answers one day.
Where is your favorite place in nature to go to find solace or inspiration?
I love the woods, forests and waterfalls of Appalachia of course. It is the very backbone of my family story and my chosen home for now as well. I love the density of these mountain in the summertime, almost sub-tropical at times, and the fireflies that sparkle and thunderstorms that wash over us so many evenings. Western North Carolina is a treasure, no doubt. However, my adoration is not limited to this region alone as I do spend so much time away on tour across the globe. I think some of the strongest places in nature for me are where mountains and fresh water open up into the ocean …the sheer wildness of river and sea meeting each other and cross pollinating sediment and sea lion and salmon and all the things that flow in-between. We also have some hidden places on the West Coast that we retreat to and gather great strength from ;).