When I was a teenager, I spent my weekends going to see my favorite bands live with friends. Often held in VFW halls, at local YMCAs, or in the basement of Philly's First Unitarian Church, shows always made me feel at peace. The fact that I was usually the only nonwhite woman there didn't bother me, but the questions people seemed to have for me did. "You don't listen to rap music?" "What are you?" "Black people like rock?" The general curiosity that my presence sparked reminded me that for some, even in the early 2000s, seeing a black girl at a rock show didn't make sense. In their eyes, I was out of place, something peculiar. A living, breathing mystery.
Thankfully, those years are behind me, and I no longer allow people to ask me those questions. Books like What Are You Doing Here? , by Laina Dawes, and long conversations with friends of color who are also avid music lovers have taught me that I don't have to validate my presence at a venue and that it is not my responsibility to educate those who are still under the influence of rock 'n' roll's racist past. When I go to shows, I can count on two hands how many people of color stand beside me in the crowd, and I see myself represented onstage and in the media through the cinematic power of Lemonade, through my favorite song by Santigold, and in the Southern Gothic glory of Adia Victoria's debut, Beyond the Bloodhounds .
I had the privilege to talk with Adia over the phone a few weeks before her album's release about how her experience of living in the South led her toward music and why writing songs like "Head Rot" (which you can watch an exclusive live performance of below) is necessary.
Dianca Potts: How did growing up in the church shape your love for music?
Adia Victoria: One of the things that I loved most was the ability to sing in the choir with all of the little children at church. It was my first introduction to Oh my God, I feel different when I ' m singing as opposed to when I ' m just saying things . It was a way to bond with other people, and I felt more open when I was singing with my classmates. My Adventist school and the Adventist church were connected, so the school's choir would go and sing for Easter or for Christmas, and that's when I realized, I don ' t just love singing, I love performing for people . I was always the little soloist because I was a ham and I liked that feeling of I ' m going to sing something to you, and it ' s going to make you feel a certain way. It was a total feeling of power for a five-year-old.
DP: Who were your biggest influences when you first started writing songs?
AV: When I started writing music back in 2008, I had just gotten into Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, just old country music. I learned all the "cowboy chords" on this acoustic guitar that my best friend left me when she moved to Seattle. I started learning all of Hank Williams's songs and all of Johnny's songs, and I was just like, Whoa, there is a definite magic to putting the right chords to the right words. Suddenly I was able to shift moods with sound. I was also writing a lot of poetry, so it just made sense to consolidate everything, and I just start started writing songs from these very simple chords.