BeatRoute Magazine is a monthly arts and entertainment paper with a predominant focus on music – local, independent or otherwise. The paper started in June 2004 and continues to provide a healthy dose of perversity while exercising rock ‘n’ roll ethics.
AMYTHYST KIAH Southern Gothic swings due north BY ANDREW BARDSLEY BEGONIA a flower in the frost BY DEICHA CARTER 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 fullfledged 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. Winnipeg pop queen Begonia, the stage name of singer Alexa Dirks, takes us on a bright, ethereal, hard-hitting journey with her debut EP Lady in Mind. With a quirky blend of old soul and new-age production, she turns contemporary pop on its head. It feels like you’re listening to a one-woman rendition of The Commitments, transmitting from an abandoned prairie synthshack. The single “I Don’t Wanna Love You” is a moody doo-wop anthem drenched in slippery hammond organ, perfectly highlighting the chemistry of co-producers Matt Schallenberg (Royal Canoe) and Matt Peters (Royal Canoe, Close Talker). Spouting out search and destroy storylines with “If I could dream I had teeth like a tiger, I’d make you scream, drown ya in the mud. And on the news they’d call it friendly fire, but we would know what it was all made of”, you know this tigress is all too-capable to lunging right back. Dirks provides an adorable disclaimer saying the song is “basically the best I could do at writing a diss track.” “Hot Dog Stand” and “Juniper” dive deeper than conventional pop songs, reflecting darkness, vulnerability, and “not really know what the hell you’re doing in life,” reveals Dirks. The debut recording spotlights her step forward as a solo artist - previously with Chic Gamine, Juno award winners. “It was kind of like flipping the switch. [realizing] that I could write anything I wanted and when I step on stage I get to say exactly what I want to say,” says Dirks. However, there’s still an abundance of collaborative elements in her music. “I’m not really the type of songwriter that can throw a guitar in the back of my car and head across Canada on my own. It’s just not my style and I really respect people that can do that. I would just be too lonely, so there are people that I get along with that I can create and play music with. You just find a way to surround yourself with people that make you feel creative and passionate. It’s a different bag that I’m learning.” Begonia performs Saturday, Feb. 17 during Block Heater at Studio Bell. 26 | FEBRUARY 2018 • BEATROUTE ROCKPILE
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE nuthin’ but the straight dope Throughout his decade-long recording career, singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has defied expectation by sticking to a mainly straightforward amalgam of classic roots styles – never aiming for the pretentious or chasing that ”big leap” to the mainstream. His records have always sounded spare and unflinching, a really live-off-the-floor feeling of a songwriter with exactly the right pieces to fill out a song on any given cut. There’s long been a natural bluesy vibe in Earle’s work, though not the wanky blues hammer bullshit that so many artists trot out. Earle cuts closer to the bone, deeper than a lot of artists dig, relying on the elemental groove and rhythm of the style instead of the flashy instrumental gymnastics of modern blues. In hearing Earle play a blues number, like “15-25” from his most recent album Kids In The Street, it’s easy to imagine what Hank Williams might have sounded like had he lived long enough to record at Chess in Chicago in the mid-50s. Likewise in his ability to deftly run through a bluegrass barroom weeper like “Faded Valentine”, or the mix of hop-along folk with western swing on “What’s Goin’ On”, Earle has distilled the classic styles of American folk music down to the essential ingredients. Helping Earle bring Kids In The Street up was veteran Mike Mogis, perhaps best known ROCKPILE BY MIKE DUNN for his work with Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, and M. Ward. Mogis’s touch is evident in some of the arrangement choices, adding sonic touches that bring a new edge to Earle’s style, including the gritty textures on “If I Was The Devil” and the solo upright bass workout on “Trouble Is”. In addition, a few interesting choices on the country rock cuts “Maybe A Moment” and “What’s She Crying For” will appeal immediately to fans of Alberta prairie country. It’s a busy life for artists, especially ones who’ve likely had to answer the same questions over and over again year in and out. New West Records made an admirable and appreciated attempt to connect BeatRoute with Earle, and I waited all evening to see if he’d get back to me. Earle’s a hell of a songwriter, and probably a hell of a guy to those who know him best. It would have been great to have some straight dope from the man himself. Fingers crossed for another time. Perhaps then I’ll get to tell y’all more of what Justin Townes Earle has to say about making records and being on the road from the wizened tenor that hitchhikes from Texas to Tennessee. Right now, all I have is a voicemail greeting that calmly warns, “Don’t waste my time.” Justin Townes Earle performs Friday, Jan. 16 at Studio Bell during Block Heater. DELHI 2 DUBLIN as desi as they wanna be What happens when you slam together all of the most visceral dance music you can find? You get Vancouver’s Delhi 2 Dublin, a world-binding fusion of Bhangra, hip-hop, Celtic reels, and electronic. That’s exactly the kind of spicy Canadian Masala that the five-piece have been serving up since the group’s inception at the Vancouver Folk Festival over a decade ago. Following that fateful meeting, tabla player and beat wizard Tarun Nayar, dhol/dholak virtuoso Ravi Binning, and vocalist Sanjay Seran, have been steady churning out groove-filled albums, including the bombastic ‘We’re All Desi’ (2015), and bringing electro-clash dance parties to festivals around the globe. “The whole ‘Where do we fit in?’ thing has been really hard for us,” says vocalist and lyricist Sanjay Seran. “It’s a blessing and a curse. We fit everywhere, so we’re able to take a lot of gigs and we’re always booked. And, we’re grateful for that, but the curse is not fitting here, there, nor anywhere. It’s a constant battle. We’re coming up on 12 years as a band in March and the core of the band is still together and getting along.” The same identity crisis that makes their offerings so unique as feeds back into the band’s own internal culture. “We’ve done a lot of self-reflection and soul-searching about the confusion of being born in Richmond,” Seran continues. “It’s a pretty affluent suburb of Vancouver, BY CHRISTINE LEONARD which means I grew up pretty sheltered, yet I grew up as a Brown kid born there. I didn’t experience a lot of racism, but most of it had to do with the embarrassment of hiding my culture – from the smell of the cooking, to the clothing. So, you’re walking through life, trying to figure out who you are.” The journey of unraveling that age-old mystery has revealed some important truths to Delhi 2 Dublin. And while their mid-career identity crisis is not entirely resolved, the turntable-and-tabla outfit has emerged from the conversation with a renewed sense of purpose. “We do have a lot brewing under the hood. We’re hard at work on writing a new album right now and we’re stoked. We’re scrambling like mad to get a single ready to drop in February, but otherwise we’re working on trying to get the best songs we can,” says Seran, who welcomed violinist Serena Eades into the trio’s touring compliment. “Lately, we’ve been honing in on the idea of ‘Sub-continental Pop.’ Delhi 2 Dublin really resonates with this. We spent a bunch of time talking about and I feel like we’re more focused than ever. Finally, we feel like we fit into this weird world we’ve been juggling. Everything’s getting better and better. Maybe we were ahead of our time. I will reflect on that.” Delhi 2 Dublin perform at Block Heater on Friday, Feb. 16. BEATROUTE • FEBRUARY 2018 | 27