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Lobsterfest Q&A: Adia Victoria

By Devon Hannan, Features Editor

Adia Victoria photographed by Julia Leiby

This year’s Lobsterfest lineup had more than enough to offer between soft n’ sweet melodies and an emotional final farewell. In addition, making her way from Nashville, is a southern blues artist by the name of Adia Victoria. Her unique and progressive take on blues earned a spot on Rolling Stone’s Ten New Artists You Need to Know last January. Her haunting, gothic twang and outstanding stage presence left her audience with goosebumps and unable to get enough. After her set, ACRN talked with Adia about her upcoming release, the South, and reclaiming her legacy as a woman of color in blues.

Let’s dive right in. Your music is sick; it’s like nothing else going on in the scene right now. It has a gothic country sound to it. It’s interesting not only lyrically, but instrumentally. How did you learn to play and where did you find your style?

I learned to play when I was 21. A friend left me an old, acoustic guitar when she moved out west. I had just started listening to blues coincidentally at the time. I had been writing poems and since I could play guitar, I was like, “I can write songs now!” I just learned by listening to a lot of my favorite blues artists that which, in turn, influenced my style.

What kind of blues artists?

Artists like Skip James, Victoria Spivey, Robert Johnson- basically a ton of old dudes.

Your new album, Beyond the Bloodhounds, is coming out May 13th. How has that experience been for you so far?

I think it’s been amazing. I started recording it three years ago. The man who helped me produce it and the man who would be my manager saw me play out in Nashville at a little club called “The Basement” and they asked me if I wanted to go into the studio and maybe lay down some tracks. I said I would. It’s been a gradual process between working, school and my family. I just go into the studio about every three months and be like, “Here’s a little song, let’s try and grow this together.” Over the course of the last three years, I’ve found my band members one by one. It’s grown very organically and we are finally at the point where we get to share it with you. It’s kind of surreal.

You’ve been getting an insane amount of traction lately, including publications such as Rolling Stone, The Fader, and Rookie. How does that feel and what has that done in terms of your career?

I mean, it’s definitely cool that these publications are noticing it, especially Rookie. They premiered my first song ever two years ago. That’s cool with me because I want to be able to tell my story to girls and let them know you don’t have to be “picture perfect” to matter. The way I see it is with these outlets, it’s a chance for me to share myself with more people. I try not to think about it too much. I don’t have a computer. I don’t have internet. I don’t have a TV in my apartment. I just have like… books and a chair. It’s cool! I’m grateful for the recognition, but I don’t dwell on it too much.

That’s really interesting. I wish I could stay off of Twitter for more than 30 minutes. Anyway, you mentioned Emmett Till before one of your songs today. Can you give us a little bit of background on that?

Emmett Till was a young black kid from Chicago. He was visiting family in Mississippi in 1955 and he saw a white woman coming out of a pharmacy who he thought was attractive, so he called, “hey baby” to her, and that was pretty much it. Then the woman went and told her husband and two of her friends went to Emmett’s mother’s house where he was. They took him out to the woods where they tortured and mutilated him. Then they tied chains around his limbs and threw him into the Mississippi River, so he kind of became a kicking off point for the modern civil rights movement. The murders were found not guilty, so I like to pay homage to the black bodies who have been killed by white supremacy. I like to say their names and keep them present and remember that the fight is ongoing.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your upbringing in the South?

Yeah! I was born and raised in Spartanburg County, South Carolina in a really small town called Campobello. I grew up in a very religious home as a Seventh Day Adventist, very closed off from the world. As a little girl I always thought that my imagination was bigger than what I was told. I have always been chasing my muse which is learning and experiencing more and to be able to tell my story. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

While the country and southern rock genres are still very dominated by white cisgender males, there are a few artists making changes. Obviously, there’s still a LOT to do there, but the genre as a whole seems to be making progress and you’re, in a way, at the forefront of this progress. Where would you like to see country music in maybe ten or 15 years from now?

I would like to see people’s stories being told in an honest way, and that’s with any genre of music. I want to hear people’s stories. I don’t want to hear something that’s cooked up on music row by a bunch of slick executives. I’m tired of it being a toss up between beer, trucks and girls in jeans. Like, c’mon. In the South we have such a rich history that we should be using to influence our art. I want to see the South as what it really is and push these narratives for it in music.

As a woman of color playing southern rock/blues music, what have been some primary obstacles, if any?

I don’t really see them as obstacles, but I do see them as opportunities to remind people that this music, blues, is my people’s music. This is my legacy. I kind of feel that occupying the space as a black woman is like reclaiming that legacy. I want to use the blues as it was originally intended, which is as a subversive art form against the status quo- kind of like a lifeline for my humanity. People get a little bit shocked to see me playing this kind of music, but I just gently remind them that black women invented the blues. This is us. I don’t know if that’s an obstacle, or a privilege.

#lobsterfest2016 #adiavictoria #devonhann

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