“I was a high school dropout. I didn’t have an education. I saw quickly when I turned 18 what the world had in store for me, and it was basically filling people’s cable orders or cleaning people’s houses or frying people’s chicken. And that’s a kind of death. And I see that as a black girl in the south, you’re not valued, no one has any expectations of you.”

Adia Victoria is an artist from Nashville whose music has been called “southern Gothic blues,” a nod to both its religious and unsettling imagery, and Victoria’s connection to the tradition of blues artists speaking their minds in midst of injustice and control.

For her latest album, “Silences,” she worked with producer Aaron Dessner (The National), and the two created an edgy, sometimes theatrical sonic palette for Victoria’s ferociously outspoken songs. She told us she and Dessner weren’t afraid to embrace ugly. “I’ve never been drawn to very pretty music, and that’s something I struggle with in Nashville. … I wanted to have the angular, the awkward, the jagged there because I think these are important elements to one’s humanity,” she said.

Victoria’s intense desire to create and express herself began with her childhood in the small town of Campobello, South Carolina, population 922, along the North Carolina/South Carolina border. There, her isolation was amplified growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist.

“We didn’t have TV, we didn’t have radio, we had our imaginations, and you looked outside and all you saw were the mountains and the stars and the woods, so whatever you needed that to be, you had to think it, you had to create it in your own mind,” Victoria said.

Victoria left for the bigger cities of New York and Atlanta, before landing in Nashville, where she started to perform regularly, and where she eventually signed with Canvasback Records — home of major indie rock acts Alt-J and Frightened Rabbit — which is how she was introduced to Dessner. 

Her first album, “Beyond the Bloodhounds,” took its inspiration from the book “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs. The new album, “Silences,” takes its title from a book by the late feminist author Tillie Olsen that “speaks about the silences that hamper creative women.”

Victoria is outspoken about her own path to music.

“I think as a child, what I realized was that adults are very afraid. They’re powerfully afraid,” she said. “And once you realize that as a kid, the jig is up. And I see, with living in the South, with the racism and segregation, that’s also fear and social control. And once you realize the people with the power are the most afraid, they no longer have any power over you. So I guess that’s how I arrived at my art. I was completely unmanageable, I was unlorded, and I was completely unafraid.”

Credits:

Audio recordings and mixes: Nalin Silva / Steven Kray
Cameras: Jarratt Taylor, Nate Sjol, Nick McClurg, Jennifer Sowell
Video production: Jarratt Taylor / David Christensen
Executive Producer: David Christensen