Adia Victoria’s music will make you question the ‘Big Lies’ of the South

If your college literature courses covered Southern Gothic at all, it was probably a quick unit that included Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, maybe Carson McCullers. It’s usually described as a Southern writer’s preoccupation with the dark, decaying and other South. And yet even the stories that examine the South’s flaws have a way of perpetuating moonlight and magnolias stereotypes. And almost all of the writers that get categorized as “Southern Gothic” are looking at the South through a white lens, even when they take on the South.

But my favorite album of 2021 offers a fresh take on the old tropes. Adia Victoria’s “A Southern Gothic” may be the best work to emerge from the South in several years.

Each song on her album feels like a short story you’d find in the Southern Gothic canon. There’s the story of a preacher’s daughter, and a great flood, and the feeling you get when you’re away from home. But Adia imbues the old forms with fresh energy. She weaves in the perspective of a young Black woman growing up in overwhelmingly white spaces and the impact that has on her — as well as the way it affects the South as a whole.

This week on the Reckon Interview, we go deep into her art and her thoughts on the American South. 

Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for length and clarity.

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Reckon: I want to start talking about the album title, cause I know you’re a poet as well as a songwriter and very precise with your language. So it feels deliberate that you named this album “A Southern Gothic” and not just “Southern Gothic.” So what were you hoping to convey with the inclusion of that article?

Adia Victoria: I wanted to specify a little bit. You know, I think with that genre, Southern Gothic, when you say it people have these preconceived notions already, you know, you think of ghosts and hanging Spanish Moss and back roads and dilapidated churches and whatnot.

So what I wanted to do was certainly create under that umbrella, but also add a little specificity to that Southern Gothic genre. Because oftentimes when we talk about a Southern Gothic, we’re usually thinking about the white perspective of it. A lot of the white creators, who you think of: Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty.

This album is a Southern Gothic from the point of view of a young Black girl growing up in the Deep South. And what would that mean for her? What would gothic mean for her?

Reckon: And it’s interesting because, you know, as I was preparing for this interview, I started Googling Southern Gothic and you’re right. Most of the authors that get associated with it are white.

You don’t see the names of Margaret Walker, Jesmyn Ward, or Randall Kenan. So what were you reading? What were you listening to while you were working on this album to inspire you to take on these tropes?

Victoria: I’d been reading a lot of literary criticism on Faulkner’s work. I’d been reading a lot of the same on Flannery O’Connor’s work and Eudora Welty.

I was especially interested in a lot of nonfiction by Toni Morrison: “What Moves the Margins?” “The Origins of the Other.” A lot of work that dealt with psychoanalyzing the South ,scratching beneath the South’s surface. The way that it uses location as an explanation. I’ve been reading a lot about… there’s a book called “The Sacred and the Profane” by Mircea Eliade that deals with how a society comes up with what is considered sacred. And also the flip side of that. What is profane? Reading a lot of old evangelical sermons and gospels, and basically trying to get inside the mind of the South. I also read the Mind of the South by WJ Cash again and again. It’s one of my favorites. And analyzing the South as an observer.

So the way that these stories on the album came to be was, you know, I didn’t necessarily want to write so much about my own story. I wanted to kind of use my story as an invitation to tell other stories through. And how we perceive things in the South. The surface of things. The appearances of things. The way we order and analyze our world.

I wanted to use a Black girl’s experience as a way to confront all of these issues and ideas and analysis on the South.

Reckon: And you started writing this while in Paris?

Victoria: Yeah, I started writing this record at the end of 2019. We just finished up what would be the final tour before COVID. We’d been opening for Iron and Wine and Calexico in Europe and the tour finished in Paris and I’ve got a lot of great collaborators there.

So we went to the studio and just started jamming as it is. Improvising. And I actually had a collection of Eudora Welty short stories. And from that session, the song, “My Oh My” came to fruition. And that was when I knew. I was like, I think I’m onto something. So I went back home to Nashville, came back to Paris in January of 2020 for a month.

Continued to write and record. Came back with about half of the album done. And then as soon as I got home, about a week later, you know, the world kind of just went to pot.

Reckon: You know, you’ve got some songs on here that seem to deal with sense that a lot of us go through, I think, at some point of wanting to escape the South, wanting to leave the South, then once you’re out, you know, wanting to come back home or feeling some sort of homesickness. Whether it’s “Magnolia Blues,” or “South for the Winter,” “Far from Dixie.” You have lived in and out of the South, I guess, for most of your life, is that something that you personally are dealing with? I know you’re telling these stories through characters. Is that something you wrestle with?

Victoria: Yeah. Every Southerner—the best way I think to sum up our relationship to this place is it’s unfinished business. You know, I feel like we’ve never been able to feel American par excellence because our story is so different from the common American story. You know, we’ve known defeat. We’ve known tragedy in a way that the rest of America hasn’t. We’ve known basically what it’s been like to be in complete opposition to what the American project claims to be about. So this was just a sense of cognitive dissonance, and I think it’s impossible to reach any sort of resolution with the South, in that regard. And so, yeah, I have traveled outside of the South. I’ve lived abroad. I’ve lived up north. I’ve traveled. But I always feel when I leave the South, just how Southern I am.

And I feel like I’m a Southerner first and an American second in a lot of ways.

I feel like the South will always be my muse because it is something that’s never going to be summed up or finished. Or there’s no happy ending with the Southern experience. I wouldn’t want there to be.

Reckon: You mentioned that you’d been reading Faulkner and some criticism about Faulkner. As I was listening to two of your songs, “Magnolia Blues,” where you’re kind of subverting the Moonlight and Magnolias trope of the of the Old South a modern narrator, but then also Deep Water Blues where you’re kind of taking on that modern trope of Black women saving the South and saving America, but you’re doing it through a historical narrator, it kind of brings to mind the Faulkner quote about the past never being dead it’s not even past. Tell me about your decision to play around in time and space like that with these two songs.

Victoria: Yeah, there was actually a really great Faulkner quote that I’d come across. It was from one of his unpublished manuscripts and he spoke about just the efficacy of that myth of moonlight and magnolias and mint Julep, and you know how that ties into the Southerners’ need, compulsion to explain themselves. To narrate. To tell stories. So I think that Faulkner was onto something quite interesting about the neurosis of the South, the original wound of the South, of its psyche. And, you know, I think so much of his work explored that wound. And I think that’s why it’s been so enduring it’s because that wound has never healed. It’s something that’s scratched on. And so, you know, going back to that famous quote, ” the past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” You know, this record was a way for me to walk alongside history, to see the way that history has moved through me, continues to move through me, continues to inform and shape and give contour to so much of our life in the South.

It’s that need to stick to tradition and be conservative. But at the same time, so much of that tradition is something that you’re trying to move away from. It’s shameful. So I feel like art has been one of the only safe ways for a lot of Southerners to even speak to that cognitive dissonance. And I wanted to do that on this record, you know, with “Deep Water Blues,” that was an homage to the Black women that have come before me that have had to clean up so many white men’s messes, you know, either literally or politically with Stacey Abrams. Everyone’s saying, “well, she’s going to save America.”

It’s like, no, she’s trying to save herself. She’s trying to survive you people. She’s trying to survive you white people.

And so that’s part of “A Southern Gothic” of turning my gaze, a black girl’s gaze out and seeing what would be grotesque in white society around her and looking at the world around her and saying, no, I’m not the ghost. I’m not what haunts you. You are the uncanny. You are what haunts me and here’s all the ways.

Reckon: I think the rest of the country has started to realize in recent years that the South’s demons are also the country’s demons. Southern artists have always kind of held up the mirror to the South in order to see the grotesqueness down here.

And increasingly, you know, we’re seeing people like yourself and the Drive-by Truckers and Jason Isbell being heralded as kind of American mirrors for culture that’s going on beyond the South. Why do you think that Southern musicians are having a moment nationally in maybe a way that before they were kind of sequestered to the South and now I feel like they are taking on more of a national audience.

Victoria: You know, it’s interesting, I interviewed sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom recently on my podcast Call and Response, and she was talking about whenever America deals with these white people call racial reckonings, you know, when the ugliness becomes just too big to ignore, which is what happened last year with George Floyd, there seems to be this instinct to go southward.

It seems that the South has these moments of resurgence where we want to be able to go back into that time of like innocence and simplicity that the South manufacturers so well. And you know, I think that, psychologically, that does something for a lot of white people of saying, “Well, it’s not so bad. Like the South, you know, they’ve overcome slavery and it’s still this place of beauty.” It’s almost like this narcissistic instinct to deny, repress and carry on. And what the south does so well is we manufacture the surface, we manufacture dreams. You know, I come to Nashville. Nashville is a place where white people come to make myths of themselves.

And so I think this time it was different because there was a call to people, white folks in the Americana scene where it’s like, “don’t sell nostalgia.” You know, if you do sell nostalgia, there’s going to be people willing to call you out on it in your community. And that’s something that I’ve done continuously with the Americana communities.

You know, white folks have not earned that glass of sweet tea on the front porch. You’ve not earned that sense of relief in the South. You’ve not earned that yet. If you come down here to the South, looking for art, looking to be persuaded or soothed, I’m going to give you truth. I’m going to give you a fistful of Southern dirt and the stories that are in that dirt.

And so I take my hat off, I tip it to folks like Jason Isbell, like, you know, folks like Drive-by Truckers, you know, white folks like Brandi Carlile that are starting to speak. But at the same time, it’s like it’s a very low bar to pass, to just speak the truth. So I can’t give you a big cookie, but I can say this is a good start. Keep going. Go get your white folks.

Reckon: But on the other side of that, it seems like any time we have these brief moments of progress like we have with George Floyd last summer, you also see a different group of white people turning to the South for, I guess, the resurgence of the backlash. You know, the Southern strategy with Nixon and what we’re seeing right now with the backlash to critical race theory and so much of the progress that was made last year. We’re starting to see that kind of take root in the south in states like Virginia and Alabama and Florida before spreading out the rest of the country.

Victoria: Yeah. But you know, the thing is like, I really don’t separate my whites. You know, there’s something about my great grandmother said to me when I was a little girl. She was 93 years old and she was from Little Rock, Arkansas. She’s born in 1903 so she she’d seen some things. And she said to me, “little girl, know your whites, know who these people are that have power over you.”

And so I just see the folks that are doing the blatant white lash, the critical race theory brouhaha, the coming down and trying to dismantle election rights in Georgia and across the South, I see that as an extreme on a trajectory. And on that same trajectory are the white people that whenever something terrible happens, they say this isn’t who we are. Or you know, that’s not what America stands for. It’s all the same sort of delusional thinking. It’s all the same denial. It’s all coming from the same place.

It’s just how raw do you want to be with it?

Either you can deny it and say this isn’t what we are. Or you say, hell yeah, this is who we are. But at the heart of it is still the refusal to look at truths of why you do what you do. What is driving your behavior? How does white supremacy feed you? And that’s a conversation that I have not heard very many white people talk about, even the nice kind liberal white people. I’ve not heard them explain really explicitly how white supremacy warms and fills their belly.

Reckon: And we see it even in the Americana scene like we were talking about, you know, roots music. You’ve been very direct about how the roots of roots music are the African-American experience in the South. And yet, you know, the Americana scene, whether it’s being recognized by the Grammys or album sales or things like that are overwhelmingly dominated by white artists. So what drew you to blues and Americana?

Victoria: Yeah. You know, blues music… that found me when I was 21. I was living in Atlanta. I was a high school dropout working at a telemarketing center and my best friend Jen gave me an acoustic Washburn guitar. And she had recently just introduced me to Johnny Cash, merle Haggard, Hank Williams. And I loved the storytelling. I loved the humor and the wisdom that these artists brought to their art. I loved that they were able to render these universal experiences down to very specific encounters that they had with other people, but also with the South, the natural world around them.

But the blues for me was something different. I think the blues was a revelation for me. I first heard Skip James after I gotten into The Black Keys and The White Stripes. I started doing research on them, like, who are these guys? How did they start making this music? And lo and behold, it looked like the truth was they janked a lot of their stuff from dead Black folks and they were rewarded monetarily and culturally very much so by that. From the labor and the brilliance of Black Southern folk.

And so for me, the blues was the first time that I felt located and spoken to as a Black Southerner. Someone who was poor, someone who didn’t meet the respectability tests and mandates of like polite society. You know, I’d grown up in a culturally white space in the church and a private school in South Carolina.

So I always felt gaslit about who I was. I felt erased. I felt that I had no true place other than what was given to me by white people.

And so the blues just allowed me to expand beyond those boundaries and allowed me to claim parts of my humanity that I had to shut down in order to survive. You know, finding someone like Victoria Spivey and Bessie Smith. And then Ma Rainey. Like these were Black women who told me, like, you can expand in yourself, you can spread out and claim and own and revel in the parts of yourself that they told you were dirty or unacceptable, or un-Christian. Celebrate those parts. That’s power. That’s humanity.

So that’s how I got into the blues. You know, I got into Americana listening to the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack. From there, I found Gillian Welch who knocked me sideways, who continues to do so. And so that was my entry point into older, standard American music. Southern music.

Reckon: And you worked with T-Bone Burnett on this album, right?

Victoria: It’s so weird cause, you know, when I got to Nashville in 2010, I arrived here with a CD player and I was listening to “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” when I got off the bus. My mom picked me up and I knew that I wanted to work with him. I loved the way that he could give sound to the South. You know, I listened to his music and I could see, you know, my front yard where I grew up in the mountains in South Carolina.

I could see the Blue Ridge Mountains. I could smell the pine trees. I could feel the heat and the cicadas. And so working with someone like him, you know, I didn’t know really what to expect. But he turned out to be someone that was just like a musical grandfather for me. Like he didn’t place himself above me. He wanted to learn from me as well.

So there was a lot of sharing of stories and perspectives. And one of the things that he said to me when I was kind of fighting with my label over this record, he’s like, “Adia you don’t need anybody’s hand over your hand to tell your story. You don’t need me to tell you how to tell your story. In fact, I would probably just fuck it up.” And so he gave me the confidence that I needed to follow my gut, follow my instinct. And, you know, he showed me how to put dirt into songs and how to mix and layer songs so that you opened up worlds for the listener. And that’s something that I will be eternally grateful towards T-Bone for.

Reckon: You grew up in South Carolina. You mentioned majority white spaces and the church. And then I believe at some point you left that Christian school Seventh Day Adventist school. And that was kind of when you got exposed to secular music.

Victoria: So I spent the first 11 years of my life in the Seventh Day Adventist church, and then the school that was attached to it. And it’s kind of like growing up in a cult. Everything was very much shut off and the outside world was considered dangerous. And you know, you didn’t want to deal too much with secular music and art and whatnot. Or people that weren’t sanctioned by the church. My brothers had actually left the church and the school a few years ahead of me.

So they were able to listen to music like Outkast and 90s hip hop, Mobb Deep, and stuff like that. So I would hear it through their room, like, “what are these sounds?” And when I finally left the church, I got into Nirvana and Miles Davis, Fiona Apple, Spice Girls. And it was the first time that I felt like people were talking to me because until then all I had were like hymns and Veggie Tales. And just singing, like, church propaganda, but listening to Hole in my room when I was in puberty, you know, that was, I felt like, “oh my God, I feel like a Human being. I feel like I’m not supposed to be some angel on earth. Like I can just be human and dirty and still a girl.” And yeah, it opened up myself to myself, those artists.

Reckon: What have you learned about, in addition to your experience growing up in that school, about the church as a tool of social control, as a form of social control in the South.

Victoria: Yeah, you know, I realized at a very young age, the adults around me, the people with authority, were very afraid of something. And they try to cover that up by saying, this is about salvation. This is about the end of times. And it seems like everyone in the church was hankering for the time when the world would end.

You know, we were rushing towards the end of things when we would be safe. And so I started wondering what did their fears look like? I realized that so much of this control that they needed to exert over me was based on their own fears. And that no one around me took me personally, I was just a vehicle to maintain this illusion of control.

And with children, you know, you have to get in there quickly to exert that control to shape their minds, to give them a framework, a moral framework of acceptable behavior. Don’t step outside of bounds or you’ll burn in hell for a thousand years. You’ll never see your family again. They’ll go to heaven and you’ll be left on earth.

So it was this threat. It was always this gun to my head. Be good or else. There’s always that “or else” after everything that adults told me. And so I wanted to write this story in this song “Whole World Knows,” a group that puts such a premium on belonging. What would be the personification of blaspheming that belonging? Those rules. And it’s like, okay, here’s this girl and her father’s a preacher. And yet she’s in a car shooting heroin on Sunday morning in her daddy’s car. She’s someone who her family cannot coerce, cannot bend or break into control.

So then what do they do? Well, you try and silence it. You try and keep it quiet. You try and deny and evade and pretend it’s not happening because you can’t face the truth.

So I wanted this girl to stand for an ugly, inconvenient truth that was put in the face of these people. And what does fear do when it has to face truth? It lies and evades. I wanted to tell that story, not from her perspective, but someone looking in at her. Because oftentimes so much of our reality in the South, how we experience it, it’s not how we feel, it’s how other people respond to us.

So I just wanted to have that girl be a spoiler to the manufactured surface of Southern society. Which is how I often felt growing up. That’s how a lot of my girlfriends felt growing up. A lot of young girls that I knew, my friends. So that story is not just mine. That story is for a lot of girls who have felt that their very existence, their very flesh was blasphemous. It was a very ugly truth for Southern society.

Reckon: What do you think it would have meant to you to be able to hear a song like that when you were that age?

Victoria: I would have felt validated. I would’ve felt vindicated. You know, I remember when I saw a clip of Fiona Apple’s famous 1997 acceptance speech when she said this world is bullshit. And she implored anyone listening to, like Maya Angelou told her, go with yourself. You know, you’re enough. I remember that that changed the game for me. That somebody with power, with an audience, with a stage and a platform called out the whole game. Watching her do that as a teenage girl was like watching the curtain come down of Oz and seeing behind.

It’s like, surely she knows the way this culture is manufactured. Surely, she has some sort of authority to say this is bullshit. Someone that has been rewarded by the system is calling it out. So I found freedom. That was like a personal dare to me, that Fiona Apple issued out to me, saying like nothing that they tell you means anything. The only power it has power that you give it by believing in it and keeping it going. But if you just go with yourself, if you decide that you’re enough, then all the people that claim to be powerful and celebrities, they have no power. It’s all a big game of make believe that we’re playing.

And so that’s what I hope, you know, any young kid that would hear my music, “Whole World Knows” that they get from it. That they get that feeling in their gut that the adults aren’t quite what they say they are.

I hope that pushes them to say, you’re right. Keep asking questions, keep poking. You know, I remember when I was in fifth grade in Bible class and we were talking about death and Adventists, we don’t believe that when you die, you go to heaven. We believe that death is just a nap and then you wake up and the Second Coming is here. So I asked my Bible teacher, well, if that’s the case, why don’t we all just commit suicide? You know, like why not just die and get to the good part. She kicked me out of the class. Cause she couldn’t answer the question. I was like, ah, okay. All right. Cool.

Reckon: I was also that kid who was asking those questions in sixth and seventh grade. And I wonder, I mean, I’m not Oprah. I don’t want to do any sort of armchair psychology or anything like that, but you know, my parents divorced when I was in sixth grade. I think your parents divorced around that same age. Is that right?

Victoria: I was in second grade. I was eight.

Reckon: You were eight. Okay. And you know, that, I guess ignited in me kind of two twin impulses. One, what you were talking about, the adults are bullshit. You can’t necessarily trust the adults. But also the desire to, I guess, try to see things from as many perspectives as possible so that I didn’t hate my mom because of what my dad said. And I didn’t hate my dad because of what my mom said. I tried to see it in both perspectives. Is there a way in which you think– second grade is pretty young– but did that shape your art and your writing later on?

Victoria: Yeah. You know, I think as a young girl, my parents, especially my mother, because my father was in the military, my mom was very afraid of me because I would not fall in line.

And because what she said to me seemed to have so little relevance, but I had my own thing going by the time I was eight. I had my imagination. I had my magnolia tree. I had these worlds that I was creating that I’d rather live in than the one that had been created for me by adults. And so I think that that was a blessing for me in a way to see that, okay, to adults, like this is what you want to do. That’s fine. But that has nothing to do with me. Like I liked creating, I liked building things that I can play with. I like nature. I liked feeling powerless. I liked the big questions.

Then I also realized too that the most dangerous question as a kid that you could ask adults is “why?” They hate why? You know, they’d rather you ask “how?” You know, but why? Why, why do you believe this? Why, if God loves us, would he threaten us? And when you do that, you start noticing the inconsistencies in the story and you have to ask people why they believe what they believe. And once you get people to—push them back against the wall, they get desperate. And then that’s when they exert power to just pretty much just break you and shut you up.

But I do think that that divorce happening, that crumbling of, you know, a family, it kind of left me with, “well, now what?” If I’m no longer the standard, if I’m no longer good, then what else could I be? So it just opened up the chance for me to explore new ways of being in this world.

Reckon: One of the things that you’ve done recently very publicly asking “why?” and challenging the status quo is an open letter you wrote to Spotify about their business model. You’ve also written on Twitter recently about, you spent part of COVID lockdown working in an Amazon warehouse, I believe. Clearly a working musician. You know, you’ve got three albums out, but what is it that we tend to get wrong as audiences when we think of musicians? You know, we think, oh, you’ve got three albums out, you must be living in a life of luxury right now.”

Victoria: Well, I think it’s the same that we get wrong with anybody that we meet out in polite society. We all put so much energy into manufacturing these facades, these personalities, these personas, these social media accounts and brands of ourselves.

And so we want so bad to believe in those lies. Those lies are comforting for us. You know, you want to believe that the person that’s making this art that you’re listening to, that means so much to you is just this one thing.

I feel like oftentimes with musicians, fans want to be in a cult, you know, it’s like Stan culture. Like you want to be taken away from yourself. You want to transcend reality. And, you know, that’s a very lucrative thing that musicians are able to do. If you’re able to get people to accept you as this cult figure, this symbol of something, they’ll pay you a lot of money. People pay a lot of money to escape the ordinariness of their lives. The uncomfortable aspects of their lives.

And you know, the reason why I’ve always been very forthcoming about who I am outside of my art is I don’t want the responsibility of being that for people. I know what it costs people. And also, I know that you can start believing in that and that too. And I think that’s why so many famous people lose their minds and ended up self destructing because you just get drafted off into the ether, you know. And I’ve always wanted to remain true to myself and my situation.

Like, I don’t want to lie to you because if I do that and convince you, then I’ll start convincing myself.

And then also, the aspect of working in places like Amazon during the pandemic or with Spotify. That to me is just another way of like questioning the big lies. Like how much money do you need? How many billions? How much is enough? When is enough? Why do you need to use people the way that you do to accumulate power? What is so scary about the fact of people being able to sustain themselves? When do we get to rest? When do we get to say that’s enough? Like, why are we on this rat race? Where are we running to?

It seems like insanity to me. It feels insane. It is insane. The way that our culture has set us up in this game. And so I want to use whatever dinky platform or power I have to push people to ask questions. Question me. Question everything. You know, nothing is, as it seems.

Reckon: What is it about the south that draws you back as a source of specific inspiration for an album like A Southern Gothic?

Victoria: I mean, it’s the land that raised me. It’s the only land that sits where it does in my psyche. It’s the only location that I respond to at a level deeper than reason and logic. It’s in my blood. It’s in my bones. You know, I learned language sitting in the South. And I learned to perceive and feel through the South. So I feel the South. And it is the most intimate relationship that I have. But I believe that’s true for anywhere people are from. And so anywhere that touches you that deeply and intimately, it’s also a place that could potentially wound you and scar you. And the South has wounded me. It has cut across my heart in myriad ways, but that is the fuel for my imagination. Because of that darkness and light, that beauty and pain and terror. All these dichotomies and experiences, it makes it fertile ground for me to question and examine and react to.

I challenge anyone that listens to my art to start looking at where they’re from and the stories that are told about their culture and the dominant beliefs. And don’t take for granted what you believe, just because you learned it when you were young. Like that’s the stuff that you need to go head-to-head with and that’s where good art comes from. And I think that that’s maybe a reason why a lot of our art seems to be lacking right now is because people are afraid of the answers they might get if they ask those kinds of questions.

And we’ve gotten so attuned to what people are comfortable with, with algorithms. So you can write, you know, like an equation, a song that’s not going to piss anybody off or a song that’s going to get played on this Spotify playlist or that. Or reach these numbers so we’re all just learning how to better and more efficiently go blind to the world around us.

Reckon: And it’s very easy, seemingly, to fuel that narrative of kind of the Cracker Barrel South through country music in particular. Through your music, through your show, you read, write and sing about the South. So how would you define your personal south? What is the South to you?

Victoria: The South is a question that does not have an answer. My South is a place that ignores all reason. It ignores and denies any attempt to be landscaped, to be shaved clean. It is uncompromising wild, both in nature and in its people. My South is a revealing agent. It’s a truth serum. Um, my South is a land of self-encounter of self-discovery. And I believe that that has been true every single person that has set foot here and people that were raised here. It’s that you encounter so much about yourself outside of yourself. Yeah. My South is a truth serum

Reckon: And we talked a little bit at the beginning of conversation about what you were reading and listening to as you were working on this album. Are there any artists or authors that you hope your listeners will check out after absorbing your album to further their explorations of themselves and of the South?

Victoria: So my brother in the blues, Tré Burt, he was born in Sacramento. He’s raised out there, but his family is from South Carolina and he’s doing amazing acoustic blues work and his latest record is called “You, Yeah, You.” It’s on Oh Boy Records and I believe he was the last person that John Prine signed before he passed. I met him at Newport Folk Festival last year, and he’s just brilliant. I’m a huge fan of. Joshua Asante, another blues brother based in Little Rock, Arkansas. He and I have collaborated, most recently on my video for A Southern Gothic.

There’s a Southern documentary maker, this young sister, her name is Zaire Love. She just got her master’s in documentary making from University of Oxford. She is putting new sights to the South. She’s based in Memphis right now.

Caroline Randall Williams, she’s a poet and essayist here based in Nashville, professor at Vanderbilt. One of my best friends, my poet sisters, blue sisters, Kyshona Armstrong. She sang with me on “You was Born to Die.” We recently sang together at the Ryman. You know, I just want to highlight so many Black folk who are still doing blues work down here in the South, still exploring what the blues can do, and must do, in 2021. The blues is not asking us to recreate what it did a hundred years ago.

The blues still has work to do now, you know, regardless if the recording academy understands that or recognizes it as such. You know, so I always just want to highlight people that are doing blues work down here in the South. And those are just a few. So if you’re listening to this, if you like what I do, you’ll love the folks I just mentioned.

Reckon: Right now things look a little up in the air COVID wise with new variants floating out there. Are you planning to tour to promote this record?

Victoria: Yeah, I’m actually going to be going out on the road with Jason Isbell in January, across the Southeast for a few weeks. Super excited about that. My band and I ,we just made our Ryman debut last month opening for Jason and, uh, yeah, he was like, all right, let’s take this shit on the road. So that’ll be our first taste back on the road since 2019. I’m very excited, nervous, anxious, vomiting. I’m feeling all the feels about that.

A Southern Gothic is available for purchase here. Subscribe to Call & Response on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And learn more about upcoming tour dates at www.adiavictoria.com.

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