Before she takes the stage at AfroPunk’s first Atlanta showcase, get to know the self-described Carolina Creeper behind the South’s most electric sound.
When I phoned up Adia Victoria following her explosive AfroPunk set at Brooklyn's Commodore Barry Park, she'd just hosted a round of Simpsons trivia back in Nashville. On top of a mean Kirk van Houten impression, the 29-year-old songwriter boasts a seriously addicting sound -- as if Ma Rainey, Fiona Apple and The Growlers shook their skeletons out at a bluesy gothic waltz before Jack White joined in to jam. Earlier this year, she released a knockout three-track EP, Sea of Sand. In addition to a vocally acrobatic title track, the record also features Howlin Shame, a slow burner laced with masterfully executed, reverb-soaked Epiphone riffs. Then there's her lightning rod debut single Stuck in the South -- a haunting homage to the region's sinister side. Swampy staccatos combine with snarling lyrics that by the three minute track's end, Adia lifts to fully anthemic proportions.
Over the past five years, Adia's been collecting her experiences and developing her work with Roger Moutenot, the producer behind Yo La Tengo and Sleater Kinney's most memorable efforts. Although her debut album likely won't arrive until early next year, she'll be back on the AfroPunk stage for the festival's first ever Atlanta showcase in October. As she sets off on the next leg of her Mean Heart Tour, find out how Grace Jones almost killed her.
Where are you from and what were you interested in as a teenager finding your way in the world?
I was born and raised in upstate South Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in a very religious family. We were rather isolated from the secular world because of our location and the church required it. So, most of my hobbies were centered around nature, the mountains and silence. I think this is one of the reasons that my imagination and my inner life flourished.
As a teenager, we had left the church but all the isolation of my youth had left its mark. I had my own little world, even at fifteen, that I didn't trust many people to enter. I sought out musicians who seemed to live in their own world, too. On Saturday nights I would stay home and listen to NPR in my mother's walk-in closet in the dark. This is how I discovered Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk. Jazz allowed me to think beyond the small mindedness of my dinky, conservative town. The music took me to places I had never even been and made them real to me.
Tell us about your upcoming LP. What are some themes or issues you were confronting?
I wrote this first album over the span of my twenties. I began writing these songs at a time when I had no idea or expectations of my future. Most of the songs are me trying to make sense of the space I occupy as a young women of color in an environment rather hostile to my very existence. This album is full of responses I was too shy to speak to someone in the moment -- me questioning the role I was "meant" to assume, but either failed or refused to. This album is me making sense of senseless lovers, and dealing with letting myself down in so many respects. Our twenties are not a pretty time, but they are vital in our development. It's a time of first apartments, first lovers, first jobs, bad style, and different identities. I wanted to pay homage to this time in my life.
One of Stuck in the South's best lyrics is "I don't know nothin' 'bout Southern belles, but I can tell you somethin' 'bout Southern hell." What have your experiences been like as a black woman in the South?
I must be honest when I say that I come from a fairly privileged background as a woman of color and have been afforded opportunities that many black women in the South have not. That said, I think when you occupy a role as the "other," it gives you a better vantage point on society as a whole. Being the other in the South meant that I was never afforded a complacency with my history that so many Southern white people live with. I understand, and still feel, the reasons why my ancestor's blood was spilled on the very same land I live on. I am bound to this injustice because it was never made right. As a black woman, I'm looking at society from a different vantage point. That line in Stuck in the South is calling out the hypocrisy of the genteel South. It is a lie white folks tell themselves in order to be able to live at peace with the cruelties done in their name and which are still being perpetuated.
You recently played AfroPunk and will be playing AfroPunk Atlanta. Why the festival is so important?
The coolest part about playing Afropunk was to be able to see just how wide and beautiful the spectrum of blackness unbound is. As a black person in this country, your humanity is so policed and patrolled and utterly distorted. It was amazing to see black folk freely expressing themselves away from the white gaze. Also, my band and I were almost hit by a golf cart carrying Grace Jones to her tent backstage. That was pretty amazing!
What are some of the biggest issues impacting yourself and other young people today?
We have been lulled into a false sense of comfort living so close alongside the bullshit. Today, all it takes is a swipe on your phone to gaze at celebrities on social media. I am guilty of this -- I immediately begin comparing myself to those who I perceive as better off than I am. This is dangerous; that world is not real. I do believe that comparing yourself to your peers is as old as humanity itself, but never has it been so easy and the images we are comparing ourselves to are so often completely manipulated. I can't imagine how hard it is for teens today growing up with social media. So to them, and to myself, I will quote Fiona Apple quoting Maya Angelou: go with yourself.
What's up next for you?
Looking forward to sharing this album with the world, to getting back to Paris in the new year to take more winding walks alone around the city, and to getting pho with my sister again. That's more than enough for me.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Danielle Holbert