One of the rising stars of the Americana music scene is playing a concert in Winston-Salem on Saturday, March 7. Amythyst Kiah is a self-described Southern Gothic alt-country blues musician, known for her powerful vocals, and nimble guitar and banjo picking.

She was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for her song “Black Myself,” performed with the group Our Native Daughters, which includes Rhiannon Giddens.

WFDD's Eddie Garcia spoke with Kiah about her music, and how it's influenced by traditional and contemporary sounds. 

Interview Highlights

On arriving at her sound:

My first 10 years of playing music, I was really big into a lot of forms of contemporary popular music and then really got into alternative music when I was a teenager, getting a little off the beaten path and sort of broadening the palette. But the thing about old-time music that attracted me was that I saw a lot of parallels between alternative music and traditional music, in that in alternative music there is a sense of seeking, or more or less presenting oneself in a very distinct, unique way, crafting a distinct sound. And typically that distinct sound ends up getting crafted because at some point that person was alienated from a community, and they kind of went down their own path because they're like, "Well, if I'm being alienated, I'll just figure it out on my own."

On finding her musical voice:

The first time that I think I really wrote a song that I was really certain of, or felt confident enough in, was a song that I wrote for my mom's funeral when I was about 17. The people that responded to it, like I could tell that they weren't just saying it to be nice to me when they said that they loved it. My dad was like, "you know, I can't believe that song. And the way you performed it. Put that in the back of your mind as something you can maybe do again in the future. You know, keep writing, keep working on that." And so that was kind of my first moment of like, huh, maybe I could be a singer and songwriter, performer. Maybe I could do it.

On the role music can play in building empathy:

It's a matter of deciding how does each person want to use music, and how do you want to utilize music in a way to promote connectedness. And I think that's, in my personal opinion, I feel like music should be used in that way. Again, coming in with kindness and compassion, when you're creating music, you have a better chance of really helping change someone's perspective. Obviously, preaching to the choir is always fun because everybody's on the same page. But for some people that maybe aren't on the same page, but aren't inherently sadistic or evil people [but] maybe just don't understand something, if they can have that one moment of, "Oh, I never thought of it that way. Maybe I should rethink some of the things I've been thinking,"I think that's what music should be. It shouldn't be weaponized to, you know, take advantage of people. It should be used as a way to create a stronger connection, in my opinion.

*Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 


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