Ghostwriting and auto-tune continue to percolate into the musical consciousness, yet there are certain artists who serve as a balancing antithesis – Adia Victoria is unequivocally one of those. A voice that haunts the listener, like a morning mist circumventing Spanish Oaks in the deep South, Adia can’t help but play the notes of brutal authenticity. Having released her debut album, Beyond the Bloodhounds, in 2016, Adia is now touring the country on her sophomore album, Silences. We spoke with Adia about her religious upbringing, evolving spirituality, and the origins of her gothic musings.
You were born in Spartanburg and call Nashville home right now. What was your motivation to go to Tennessee?
Funny enough it was not music. I was living in Atlanta at the time, so I’d been bouncing around for most of my early twenties, going from Paris to New York, Tucson, and I landed in Atlanta. I was working there as a telemarketer. Then I got fired and I was on unemployment and just smoking weed and learning guitar. My family had been slowly moving from South Carolina, relocating to Nashville since the early nineties, 1991, and I was just the last to arrive. So my immediate family was there, all my siblings, my grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and I was the last to come home, and my mom was just like, “Why don’t you come to Nashville and be with family?” And that’s what brought me there. It wasn’t me chasing the Nashville journey dream of anything.
Your first album, Beyond the Bloodhounds, struck a chord with a larger audience. You seem to have much wider exposure. How’s that experience been?
Oh, I mean, I think as an artist it’s definitely you’re grateful that people are connecting with your art. For me, growing up, because I moved around so much, it was hard for me to establish a sense of community because I was always changing schools, always moving houses, so I was never able to surround myself, and feel known by people, because every year I was the new girl, every year. I was the new weird kid that ate in the library.
So, to be able to do this and channel a lot of the experiences that I put into the first album, and then release it to the world and have people in every city that are waiting to welcome you. For me, that feels amazing. It makes me feel like I wasn’t so isolated, that maybe people are a lot more similar than we realize. And that’s how I felt going out and touring Beyond the Bloodhounds. And even now.
How did singing in church when you were younger influence the music you’re making today?
Well, it certainly was not gospel music. I was in a Seventh Day Adventist church in a predominantly white congregation so it was a lot more of “How Great Thou Art, How great” … That was what I went to church to do. For Easter, or for Christmas, we would sing at most of the Sabbath services, and I had a chance to sing the solo. Even then I was able to put my emotions into these songs, these very sterile, Christian, clean songs. I was able to put my emotion into the words and see the effect that it would have on the people in the crowd. It was my own little way of averting the rules, the expected tradition of just singing these songs like (singing). To have a full black girl singing in a church of white people being like, “This is how I feel about these songs.” So that was my first introduction to singing publicly.
I recognize that a couple of your favorite artists today are Fiona Apple and Radiohead, but growing up, did you have any artists that inspired you?
You know what’s funny is because we were raised Adventists and there was a large premium paid on keeping out the secular world. So I didn’t have my own music, but music found a way to kind of seep in through the hermetically sealed environment that I was in for the first twelve years of my life.
My mother on Sunday mornings when she would wake up before us and get the house clean for the new week, that was my mom’s time. She would wake up and she would put on Basia records, the Polish singer. And she would put on Blood, Sweat & Tears and Cream while we were still sleeping and clean up. I remember seeing my mom interact with that music.
I’d go sneak down the stairs and peer at her while she was sweeping or making us breakfast. And I just saw this completely different side of her. I saw the way that she was with her music, her records. She wasn’t just mommy she was Jackie, my mom. I loved seeing that side of her. I fell in love with those songs too, those were my Sunday morning songs.
Listening to “Promises” by Basia or “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears. Those were the small, little pieces of music that would break through my Christian upbringing.
Do you engage in any type of spirituality to keep you sane and whole?
I don’t. I don’t consider myself a believer in the traditional sense. I am Agnostic, I don’t know what happened before I was born. I don’t know what happens before or after I die. But I do still carry with me some of the tenants of the Christian faith. Being kind to your neighbor, looking out for your brother. We’re all in this together, the human experience. I believe that the teachings of Jesus have been misconstrued and warped and perverted by capitalist money makers.
Your second album, Silences, definitely seems to be evolving and it’s taking what I saw is a different direction. Can you just expound on that?
I think, like anybody else, I changed a lot in the three years between the two albums I had to deal with a lot of hard knocks in life. I had to deal with a lot of adulting that wasn’t necessarily present when I was writing Bloodhounds.
Silences was the first time that I had been in the world as a working woman, a business woman, and dealing with the exhaustion that comes from that and the ways you have to stretch your brain and your imagination to create art.
For me it was I had a business to run, I had to go to my day job in Nashville, I had to be a band leader, and still find time to create. I think that there was this almost desperation fueling me. Making Silences was having all of these plates spinning, being in that frame of mind, and that had put me in touch with a lot more women around me that I saw who may have had creative talent and ability that never had the time to nurture that instinct because there are so many demands put on women.
Domestic, and professional, and we work 80 jobs. We’re constantly having to please everyone and we don’t have the privilege that men have where men can just be completely self-oriented and do what they do and they can expect to have a woman to take care of them.
For women, we are the hunters. We make the bread, we give the bread, we have to do all these things and so I think that that’s had a very powerful silencing effect on women throughout the years.
A lot of your songs, there’s definitely some darker emotions, around oppression and suffering. I’m assuming some of them are drawn from personal experiences? But it sounds like you’re inspired by others as well.
It’s funny. You’re in a system that constantly bores into your brain, “You have to produce, produce, produce.” It’s always about making gains, gains, gains. This is what naturally will happen to a human being. They will be afraid and just run down. I think it’s a very matter of fact condition of the system that we live in that a lot of people don’t talk about,
Especially in America, you don’t want to be seen as lazy or complaining when you’re exhausted and working two jobs and you still can’t feed your family. I don’t think that that’s ‘dark’ necessarily, I think that we need to have more frank conversations about the workload that we are taking on as adults and Americans.
Silences just kind of deals with the effects of those pressures and you try to escape by any means necessary. Whether it is getting rid of religion, or drugs, or partying, or running halfway around the world. This is what happens to people when you push them like this.
On a lighter note, I first heard your song, “Stuck in the South,” on a meth documentary. Have you heard about this? How did it end up on there?
Somebody at my agency thought this would be a good match. So the documentary asked me and I got a little summary about what the show was about, meth in the deep South, and these dilapidated towns, and I was like yeah, that’s cool.
What is your ideal dream gig? What would be your favorite place to play and what setting?
I don’t know, man, but I think it might involve me and Thom Yorke and a white sheet and some interpretive dancing. That would be great, I would love that.
This is the last question, and it’s pretty open-ended. What is it that you truly love about music?
I think that music is one of the only true, tangible ways that human beings can experience transcendence in this life and not have it be bigger than anything other than this life. It’s not promising you salvation, it’s not condemning you to hell, but it does take you to a place outside of yourself and closer to people around you.