For nearly two decades, sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, professionally known as Rising Appalachia, have made a career out of merging world influences with their southern roots. A delightful mix of rootsy and worldly folk-soul, the pair have perfected a globe-trotting sound, punctuating the music of their upbringing with the beats and rhythms collected on their travels.
Their latest album, Live from New Orleans at Preservation Hall, sees the duo take their music a step further by taking a step back. Going back to the place they called home for seven years - a place they still consider their “soul home” - Leah and Chloe brought their music to New Orleans, Louisiana for a moment of homecoming, celebration and communion at the legendary Preservation Hall.
The live album houses favorites old and new, injected with the spirit of the city. Full of vibrant sounds and refreshed arrangements, Live from New Orleans at Preservation Hall, is a sonic treasure trove. The album sees hot jazz arrangements collide with gentle folk stylings, where glimmering horns mingle with eclectic rhythms, and where Rising Appalachia is reintroduced to the musicians they became under the influence of the Big Easy.
Not unlike the duo themselves, New Orleans is a product of its rich history. A beautiful blend of African, Caribbean, French and Spanish influences shaped the city into what it is today – a kaleidoscope of stunning sights, otherworldly sounds, and incomparable flavors where le bon temps rouler.
It’s a tough-as-nails, but sweet-as-home place that holds strength and resilience in its belly and holds visitors in its heart. It embraced Rising Appalachia and inspired some of their most enduring works - a city they lived, learned and loved in, a place they owe much of their artistry to.
Below, the sisters discuss New Orleans, their fond memories there and the spirit of the city they translated into their new album.
New Orleans is known as a party town, especially when Mardi Gras is concerned. With destinations like Bourbon Street becoming synonymous with free-flowing libations, what is your favorite bar in New Orleans to grab a drink away from the hubbub?
We have always loved The Spotted Cat, of course. Live jazz at its finest all day every day. And Prez Hall (Preservation Hall).
Honestly, the tourist traps of the city and the big bustle of Mardi Gras were never what drew us into the town. It was always the moments in between the hustle, the dive bar with the lone pianist, or the swing dancing down Royal Street that moved us. Being swooped up into a jazz funeral procession or a lantern parade along the Mississippi River are the moments that the tourists will never see. Those are the places that left us in awe and enamored with our lives there.
This is a loaded question, but what is New Orleans’ best kept secret?
The things that happen only when you live there – what will come to pass on a bike ride to the grocery store on a lazy Tuesday afternoon; how it feels to come home day after day, year after year, no matter how long you’ve been away on a long tour and have everyone say, “Welcome home.” Nothing will ever beat that feeling.
If you could be a tourist for a day in your city, what is something you wouldn’t dare miss out on?
Prez Hall. Period.
You are world travelers and have infused your global experiences in your music. What influence did New Orleans have on the making of this new record?
We have been students of traditional music our whole lives. First, through the influences of our family, traditional music keepers in the Appalachian and Celtic folk traditions and lovers of old jazz, as well. Once we moved to New Orleans, we realized that as Southerners, the influences of New Orleans music was the third part of our trinity.
We needed to learn and be immersed in the music of the swamps to truly complete our Southern identity. Leaning into some of the jazz standards, like 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee' and 'St. James Infirmary' are testimonies to the traditions of the city.
Plus some of our originals like 'Rivermouth' and 'The Long Haul' are songs we wrote at the base of the Mississippi River, or in the living room of our little shotgun house on Alvar St. We wrote those songs immersed in the fertile grounds of Louisiana, and to have them recorded and tracked in their place of origin, in a place as deeply rooted as the Preservation Hall, feels as proper an homage as we could offer.
You recorded the album live at Preservation Hall alongside some New Orleans legends – Branden Lewis of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on trumpet, and treasured saxophonist Aurora Nealand. What did that mean to you to have such celebrated accompaniment who are the heart and soul of New Orleans?
To be able to play with such esteemed musicians that hold the traditions of New Orleans jazz in their bones was a treasure. Also these are our friends, these are folks we have played and laughed and grieved with over the years.
Branden and Aurora are our collaborators, brilliant musicians in their own world, and beloved influences to our work. We learn from their work, as well, anytime we are able to sit in on a show, or simply catch up over a cocktail or a potluck. It’s a different feeling to be able to collaborate with such brilliant artists that we have also shared life with.
It feels like a real treasure trove of recorded music that we are so honored to be able to put out into the world. And we had so much fun getting these tracks ready for the world.
A portion of this album’s proceeds will be donated to the Preservation Hall Foundation. Why was it important for you to support them? What is about the foundation’s mission and position in New Orleans that aligns with your own.
We owe so much of our own creative understanding to the city, and the way that New Orleans holds art and music at the core of its ethics. It is important to us that our work and our success also pays back.
To know that a portion of these proceeds will go directly into education of future musicians through the lineage of Prez Hall feels right. It feels honorable. May there be more musicians carrying these traditions into the ages! Any way we can support that we will.
You still consider New Orleans your "soul home". Home sticks with us, it affects us and inspires us. How do you continue to carry the city with you?
We were swooped into that city at a time of immense vulnerability both in our own lives and in the life of the city. We will be forever changed by the years we lived, learned and loved in the city of New Orleans.
We are touched by the things we learned, the way our music was embraced and coaxed out of us, the street culture, the deep dedication to art and music as the soul food of the city.
New Orleans knows how to celebrate and how to grieve and how important the arts are for our collective catharsis. We are forever changed from our many years living and learning in the city. Nowhere on earth do people understand the role of the artist like New Orleans, and it helped us to learn how to be artists in the world, how to show up for each other, and how to really honor our craft.
Plus, when times are tough a dance party will fix many things. That’s something we want to remind folks in these hard times: dance hard, play hard, love hard, celebrate hard. It helps the world go round.
Rising Appalachia's 2022 album, Live from New Orleans at Preservation Hall, is out now.