Titled Silences, Adia Victoria’s sophomore record is out THIS FRIDAY (2.22) via Canvasback Music, but for those of you in the Nation’s Capital, you’ll be able to hear the new material live TONIGHT at DC9. (Or if you’re in NYC, just swing by the record release show at Rough Trade on Friday!)
I was able to hop on the phone with the Nashville-based songstress last week to talk about the experience of writing this new body of work, as well as what it was like to record with Aaron Dessner (The National) at his studio. We got into the benefits of meditation for staying grounded on and off tour, and we talked about the metaphorical root canal that America is currently undergoing. We also touched on what audiences can expect from these upcoming shows, why reflection is key in 2019 and MORE, so be sure to internet-eavesdrop on our full chat below. (You should also pre-order a copy of the LP, ’cause it’s a stunner.)
So I know you’ve addressed the sort of adjustment period in terms of getting used to dealing with the spotlight being on you, both from a media perspective and a general public perspective. How have you learned to cope with that kind of attention, which can often feel invasive?
With the first album, it was obviously a lot more of a shock to have to delve into your life with strangers. It’s something I’d never done before, but I think at this point I’ve kind of just accepted that it’s part of the process of making art. I see it as me inviting people into my life, and so I don’t feel intruded upon. I kind of feel like I’m the one that’s taking control and allowing people to engage with me. Honestly, it’s a big fucking privilege that people even want to talk to you about your art, you know? So I’m happy. I’m good. [Laughs]
And what about with social media? Have you been able to find a balance between being your authentic self but not giving too much of yourself away?
Social media’s a funny thing. I actually don’t have it on my phone. I had to take the internet browser off just because I realized I was reading so much stuff, just scrolling, and it was hard to be for focus. I also have anxiety, so it was making that worse. I don’t try and be anything online that I’m not in person. I know people on my team would probably want me to tweet more and be more zesty Adia, but this is just who I am, pretty much, in my normal life. I think it’s cheap. I think you’re giving people crumbs, and I’d rather just sit down and have meaningful conversations. Even if that means just putting on a show. You don’t want to hear about my life in Nashville. It’s very boring.
I just turned thirty-one, and boring is very exciting to me.
Yeah, the thirties are great, okay? I just turned thirty-two. It’s fabulous. You couldn’t pay me to do my twenties again.
Same here! It’s an incredible difference. Alright, so take me back to the seed that sparked this sophomore record. Was there a certain track or idea that kicked everything into motion?
I think for me, the seed of this was kind of the reaction to being out on the road constantly for almost two years. Kind of having your life turned inside out and blown apart…kind of just losing yourself completely. You give so much of yourself all the time that you come home afterwards and don’t really know who you are anymore. It’s not just being a touring musician, it’s also people who work nine to five jobs and have families and have obligations that take so much out of them. At the end of the day, there’s not much left for you. For me, it was kind of meditation on trying to crawl my way back to myself. Trying to come back to a sense of wholeness and completion. The first song that I wrote for this project was the track off the album called “The City”. It was me coming home and dealing with Nashville, a city that’s rapidly changing, and you’re not really sure, like, “What is this town anymore? Who am I in it? Everything that I love is disappearing and being gentrified.” So that adds to the sense of displacement within yourself. It gives it a kind of externalization. Not only are you not at home in your own skin, you’re now not even home in your own town.
I can’t even imagine. And what about just night to night? I imagine there’s a level of imbalance there, too, just in terms of the come down after a performance.
Yeah, I mean, you’re so in the moment. You’re so present on stage. A lot of the time, I don’t even remember what happened on stage. I can’t recall, because I’m just so involved and engaged that I’m not really taking a mental record of what’s going on. You come down from that, get in the van, and then drive to the next town, the next state. It’s a land of extremes to be on tour, the highs and the lows of being a musician. In this interim that I’ve been on break, I’ve found that meditation helps me deal with finding that balance, that sense of equilibrium, regardless of what’s going on externally. Just finding that within myself.
I completely agree. I’ve recently started meditating, too, and it’s something that I used to kind of laugh off when other people would talk about how helpful it was, but now I’m a total convert. It’s astounding to me how much of a difference it’s made, and I would assume that that’s compounded when you’re on the road.
Yeah, I mean, I was starting to feel legitimately schizophrenic. I was starting to hear voices of things that I had to do, all of this shit running through my head, and then you’re constantly scrolling on social media, so you hear other people’s voices in your head, too. It was just a very unhealthy mental state for me, and meditation gave me the ability to give my mind some space to process, to not constantly feel under attack and ambushed by the world.
Absolutely. And it sounds like you’re in a really good place in terms of knowing how to handle all of these situations; you’ve had all of these experiences and have found coping mechanisms, so you seem well-equipped. But do you still have any sorts of apprehensions about getting back on the road?
You know, I do feel very much equipped. I have a lot more support this time around with my team and my band members; they’ve got my back, and I feel completely protected and supported by the guys I’m playing with this time. I’m better equipped to lead and guide as we go around the world. I don’t know, I think what I want to do is remain present and appreciative, and to notice things. I want to journal a lot more intentionally while on the road this time around, not sit in the van and scroll through my phone. I want to be aware, even on the shitty drives where you don’t think anything’s happening; there is stuff happening. You’re still in that moment, so I just want to remain completely plugged into myself.
Right. And I know you extend that awareness into the field of activism, too. How do you deal with the current state of political turmoil when trying to stay plugged in but not getting overwhelmed, especially with the 24/7 news cycle? Clearly a lot of these issues are nothing new, it’s just that some people are having to sit with them and feel uncomfortable for the first time. But even in having a prior awareness, it’s kind of a terrifying time, and I just wonder how you personally deal with it.
Well, I think this was a necessary time. Our country was always going to have to deal with this; we were always hurtling towards this. If it wasn’t Trump, it was going to be someone else like him, because the demographics are changing, because the white population is in decline. America’s in the throes of an identity crisis, but I think the only crisis is that the places where we used to hide, the respectability, the veneer of fairness and goodness which was never true, has now been taken from us by the orange lunatic in the White House. After he was elected, I was just…I was kind of in shock for a little bit. I was kind of in a daze. Like, “Wow, that really happened. This is our president.” But I went to my brother’s house, and we were speaking about it, and he was like, “Donald Trump is the most American president we’ve ever had. He’s not an exception to Americanism, he is America.” It’s like that Childish Gambino song. This is America. And it’s uncomfortable to deal with, and you wish you didn’t have to deal with this shit, but at the same time, it’s like, if you don’t dig out a cavity and clean it out, that shit’s going to rot. So this is us at the dentist. This is America getting a root canal right now.
That’s the best way I’ve heard anyone put it up to now. “This is a fucking root canal.”
Yes, this is a fucking root canal!
Well, music has been essential for my personal self-care routine in all of this, so I’ll shift the conversation back to the record now. What was the experience like recording at Aaron’s studio?
Working with Aaron is probably one of the most amazing…I hate to use the word “amazing”, it’s just so blah…I guess I’d say it’s one of the most enlightening experiences I’ve ever had. Just the whole vibe of it, you know? The studio is right near his house on his property, you’re in the middle of the Hudson Valley, completely disconnected. And when I went up there in the winter a year ago, of 2018, I was coming out of a very heavy depression. I’d just lost my best friend Jessi Zazu of Those Darlins to cancer a few months prior, so I was having to awaken a lot of parts of myself that had just shut down emotionally. So I kind of commingle my time with Aaron with me waking up, allowing myself to feel again. He knew what I was going through personally, so he was very protective and patient. He allowed me to set the pace, and I was able to not force myself to write a bop or a hit. He was fully engaged in the process of helping me tell the story of the characters in this album. There was no ego; I was able to do things that made me feel comfortable. We kept his kitchen stocked with groceries so I could make dinner every night for the band and the crew, and just allow myself to engage with this process in a way that was healthy for me.
Yeah. My happy food was…we kept a bowl of Haribo gummy bears in the studio. Kept it fully stocked at all times in case anybody was getting stressed or frustrated. “Hey, have a bear. Regroup, recenter yourself and come back into the fold.” So now I associate gummy bears with Aaron Dessner’s studio.
That’s too good. I hope they sponsor you!
Yeah, they should!
Alright, so fast-forward to the upcoming shows. What’s the format looking like?
Man, so the band I’m working with now…we’ve made some personnel changes, and I think I’ve finally found my group of guys that are able to articulate this kind of sound I’ve been hunting after. It’s a lot more rhythmically dynamic, a lot more based on beats, and there’s more jazz elements to it. There’s a lot more electronic moodiness, and the live show is basically just an unfolding of that, going from silences into just full, exploding sound. It’s almost like a sonic book slash theater that’s going to be presented at these live shows.
That’s so exciting! Well, I know we’re all super amped for these dates. Before I let you go, let’s end it on a fill in the blank. “I hope 2019 will be the year of __________.”
Reflection. Reflection, yeah. Just putting a pause on consuming, and taking time to reflect on everything that’s going on around you.