After a lifetime of introspection and silent observations, American musician Adia Victoria is an almost mythical being. Intertwining elements of punk, blues, rock and country (what genre she fits in is up to you), Adia Victoria creates an eerie, haunting and beautiful Southern Gothic sound. Her lyrics, the essence of which are in a similar vein to the prose of Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams, are sung through a blood-born howl, shining a light on the unseen, messy side of the female experience, in all it’s imperfection. With a love of singing stemming from her time in the local choir of her Seventh Day Adventist Church as a child, Adia Victoria is a natural performer – commanding the stage and her audience, drawing them in and casting a spell.
Her album “Beyond The Bloodhounds” is a memorial to her twenties – the ups, the downs, the beautiful moments, and the messy descents. Produced by Roger Moutenot at Haptown Studios, the album is an exploration of the mental and emotional state of a young black woman growing up under the poverty line in the Deep South. Sounds like a heavy topic? Adia Victoria breaks it down and relates it to issues we can all understand, showing that there is a special beauty that lies in the imperfect. Her lyrics are like poetry crafted to be sung – they are lonely, vicious and haunting, but it’s these gothic elements that set her apartment from other blues artists.
Where did you begin singing – were you in a choir when you were younger?
Yes, I was in the choir as a little girl. I began singing when I was about five, we had Easter concerts, Christmas concerts, stuff like that. I loved to sing and so I was the soloist, and I would get up there in front of all the grown ups and sing these hymns. It wasn’t so much that I believed in the words of the songs, but when I sang I wanted other people to believe in what I was singing.
You’ve lived in South Carolina, New York, Atlanta, Paris and Germany and now Nashville.
I spent a lot of time in Paris, and London too, I have family in Europe. So I spent months on end over here, for a few years, just coming in and being in a place where no one knew me. Hanging out, learning new languages. My whole family lives in Nashville, my mum, my brothers and sisters, my grandparents, uncles, cousins, everyone. My mum called me and said “I think you need to come and be in Nashville with your family.” So that led me there. I was never trying to move to Nashville to make it, I thought I guess I’ll go and be with my family now. I’d been alone in Atlanta for three years. So I got my cats and my guitar and my brothers came and picked me up and I went to Nashville.
What genre would you pin your sound in?
It’s whatever you feel like it is for you, that’s your job and that’s your duty as a listen to dissect the art and figure out what it means to you. That’s why I do it. You can go as a listener and you get lost in that world. I’m interested in the blues more as an expression of your life, and what that means, the messaging of the blues. I don’t pin any genre on myself, that’s how you go crazy as an artist.
What was the starting point for your album?
I realised I’d never really had the chance to express any of this, I don’t really get to talk about this. Music for me was a way for me to make sense of my life. When I went to Nashville I started going out and playing these songs and met Roger Moutenot, who was my producer, he happened to hear me sing. He asked me if I’d be interested in coming into his studio and working together and record some songs. I said yes, and so for the next three years I would go in whenever I had a new song and say hey, let’s try and record this. I was never looking at a finished product, I was enjoying going in a learning how to work in a studio, playing music with my band. I started going out on the road and playing and performing these songs. It was a totally different side of my art to recording and writing them. My record label came to one show I was performing at in Washington DC and they said that they’d like to release this album.
You recorded it at Haptown Studios – what was it like there and how was working with Roger Moutenot?
Working with Roger was really interesting, he’s recorded a lot of things I love like Sleater-Kinney. I was allowed to take time to live my life and to have the experiences and the emotional moments and then go into the studio and do a song. He was the person who challenged me to consider the listener when I’m writing. He said that I should consider the people that are going to be listening to it – what’s their relationship going to be like with these songs? What moments do you want to create for them? He taught me how to open up my music to allow other people to enjoy it.
Had you already written the songs, and then adapted them for the listener?
He never said, “I’m going to change your music and do this to it”, but he was like, what do you think about this? He would always ask me what the songs were about, what did you feel when you wrote this song? We would sit down and try and find ways to sonically represent what it felt like to be lonely, what it felt like to be angry.
How do you work with your band?
What we do is come together, I’ve already written my guitar parts, and I’ll tell them what the song is about and what feel I’m going for. Then I allow them to explore that emotion and what it feels like to you, as a drummer, to be anxious, to be scared. If they’re playing something that’s terrible, I’ll say let’s try this… They’re able to express themselves as well and then I guide them, to where I need them to go. That way is better for them than if I told them what to do. There are some parts where I say play this, do this with your guitar, but for the most part I let them explore and then I guide them.
Your album title “Beyond The Bloodhounds” references a book by Harriet Jacobs, Incidents In The Life Of A Slave girl – what was it about the book that inspired you?
I thought about myself as a young black girl, all the experiences I’d gone through growing up in the south where I felt like everything in nature was set out to get me. All I wanted to do was get past these things that wanted to rip me apart and get to the other side. I feel like it’s something anybody can relate to. It doesn’t matter you age, your race or your gender, you know what it’s like to be under duress, under attack, by forces bigger than you. I wanted to pay homage to this brilliant black woman, and keep her story alive and to introduce other people to her in that way.
What’s your live performance like?
I think it’s more of a theatrical performance than just a rock show. My background is in the performing arts, so I have a certain reverence for the stage. I tell my story, I go back to where I was emotionally when I play these songs because that’s the only way to keep it fresh and honest for people is to relive these experiences on stage. It’s like I’m playing a part. That’s just the kind of performer I am, I would never just get up there and play the songs, I use my body, I use my expressions, I go out into the crowd, I bring people in. My goal is for you to be able to look at what I’m going through and for you to feel more comfortable with your own humanity.
Your album based around your twenties – was it specific events that triggered songs?
Yeah, I think that’s why it took three years for me to write the album, because I had to go through life. There’s songs on there about drinking too much whisky when you’re 21 and you’re out running around in New York City, that’s what “Dead Eyes” is about. There’s songs I wrote after my aunt died, there’s songs that deal with depression, there’s songs I wrote after dealing with a guy that was a fuck boy. It’s all over the place. I want young girls and young women to look at it and think hey, I don’t always have to be pretty and Instagram-ready. I am big, messy, neurotic, messy person and that’s okay. You are human, make really cool art out of it.
Adia Victoria’s debut album “Beyond The Bloodhounds” is out now.