Written by Keyframe for Reality Sandwich
Keyframe had a chance to catch up with Leah and Chloe of Rising Appalachia and Ryan Rising of Permaculture Action Network to discuss music, inspirations, and permaculture.
Tell us how Rising Appalachia came to be.
Leah: We never set out to make a music project. We wanted to create a song homage for our family as a thank you for their creative dedication to us. We made an album in one afternoon in a friend’s basement. No budget, no band name, just pizza and the crew in ATL having fun and mixing up styles. Our boy and long term musical collaborator Maurice Turner came through with his phenomenal trumpet, and we pulled some drums out of the corner of the studio and laid them over old banjo riffs and some gospel tunes. It was a fun afternoon. We thought not much of it. I was producing the Vagina Monologues and getting deep into radical creative expressions in a big international community. Chloe was laying low and working with youth in the city. The album was just a side project. But the response was ferocious.
We were brought into a big concert hall at the local University and asked to represent the voice of the young Southern music influence. We almost sold out of the entire amount of albums we made that night. We were brought into the local radio stations, and invited to perform all over. It was held with high regard by so many of our community members, not so much because of its profound musical prowess (remember — it was recorded in a day!) but because of the fusion of sounds that we were beginning to explore. We did not mix styles as a cool musical gimmick, or to explore genres; we mixed the styles that we were born and raised into. That brought us Appalachia folk traditional, urban hip-hop and soul, southern gospel, jazz, and world roots songs. That was the material and fabric of our upbringing. Putting that into our creative voice was a natural extension. That is what really called to people. It created a place for our generation’s soundscape to have a voice.
What is it about the folk music genre that you feel compelled to create?
Chloe: We were raised with folk music and the community that goes along with it, so naturally, it worked its way into our own creative expressions. I’ve always found folk music to be historical, rooted in place, humble, by and for the people, and full of soul in ways that have spread throughout many generations of singers and activists. It is natural and simple. In our current times of tech and fast-paced everything, folk music can encourage the great slow down, time on the porch swing, and a lesson or two.
What’s the most important thing you hope people take away from your music?
Leah: We hope that our concerts or shows can create a bigger impact, encouraging people to dialog and join forces in local community building. We try to make each live performance a myriad of experiences: a dance party, a place of nurture, a dialog about how to uplift communities, a political questioning, a call to action, and a respite. We hope that every song will reach somewhere that we may never know, and that it brings a moment of place back into someone’s life. We are all entitled to a music, a story and a sound that is telling our story. We are making and holding our own traditions and we need everyone’s voice.
How does your sister relationship pose a challenge to your work or asset? How do you each navigate that healthy balance between familial and individual identities?
Leah: Ha! Our sisterhood has kept this project alive and breathing for the most part. When one of us is about to collapse, the other one can step in and take the touch. We know that about each other so well. We also know every button to push. But mostly we are allies to each other. We try to take time off to just hang out together and keep our friendship strong. There is never any doubt about where the loyalties lie. Perhaps sometimes we might crave a little more space than we get, but we keep a strong balance.
Tell us about your Slow Music Movement?
Leah: The Slow Music Movement was a term I coined while I prepping for a TEDx talk. I can sing in front of ten thousand people at a concert with ease, but a 12 minute lecture in front of 30 people made me incredibly nervous because the ideas needed to be clear and focused and concise. I wanted to discuss our ways of touring and moving through 12 years of music. Alternative touring has always been a priority to our music project. We tour independently and creatively, remain self-managed, and have always had a relationship with local communities on the ground as often as we can. But, when we gave a voice and a title to that intention, it became much more powerful.
Hence the Slow Music Movement, a platform that we hope will grow around our intentions to push music into many realms of grassroots organizing and old school public service. It will also provide a blueprint for other artists to utilize for alternative music industry options. We hope that it will grow much bigger than us.
Please share with us what inspired you to work with Permaculture Action Network?
Leah: A few winters ago, David Sugalski and I spent some time together on a friend’s very amazing permaculture farm, Punta Mona, in Costa Rica. We talked in depth about bringing more activism into shows. At that point the Permaculture Action tour was in inception mode. But, we were really inspired to strategize more ways to make an impact. It was a real inspiration to follow their work and project as it went from idea to reality, and to witness both its strengths and growing pains. We are excited to work directly with the Permaculture Action Network and see how this effort allows people to harness their human potential to do good. Linking direct action to our live shows has been a long time goal.
Chloe: We were inspired by PAN when we attended one of their action days in Colorado last year with The Polish Ambassador. All the energy and vibration that was mustered up at the show was transfused into the soil and garden beds we were all working on. The fans and families that came out to help became closer to one another and invested in the bigger picture of this planet we all share. As artists, we were given the opportunity to shed the stage persona and become worker bees in the environment, as opposed to musicians on a pedestal. All these things happened in one action day, and reflected back to us the sort of world we want to live in.
What other music or art inspires you?
Chloe: Pretty much anyone who is standing in their own integrity, working in community, and creating paradigm shifting art. We are inspired by the artists who see beyond themselves and invite people to be a part of their journey.
Leah: We love an array of bizarre and wonderful roots music. Everything from Ani DiFranco and Ali Farka Toure to old-time Appalachian string band music, to old school hip- hop and the blues and soul of New Orleans. We are touched by the underground, the front porch, and the soul.
Any shout outs you want to make or people you want to thank?
Leah: We want to thank Jasmine and Ryan for carrying this torch, and for David Sugalski and Ayla for planting the initial seeds. We want to thank all our elders and peers who have kept the fires burning for our commitment to arts justice, especially Climbing Poetree, Winnona LaDuke, Joanna Macey, Rosemary Gladstar, Eustace Conway, Alternate ROOTS, and so many more folks. We have such powerful community.
Rising Appalachia website: http://www.risingappalachia.com/
Ryan Rising of Permaculture Action Network
When did you first get involved with permaculture?
Ryan: I began studying permaculture in 2008. I first heard the word “permaculture” while riding down an escalator in Denver, Colorado at the protests around the Democratic National Convention before Obama’s election. Rage Against the Machine had put on a free concert, after which they lead a march with the Iraq Veterans Against the War to the DNC convention center. A crew of us had driven out to Colorado from Massachusetts to participate in the street demonstrations and protests against the war and corporate globalization. After a couple long days of rowdy street protest against the systems that are harmful to people and planet, a friend mentioned permaculture. They explained it saying, “You know how we live in this linear culture where everything is taken from one place, used, and then thrown away? Permaculture is the opposite of that. Everything is cyclical, which is the way natural systems work.”
This clicked for me. After an entire youth spent fighting against the things I did not want to see in the world (racism, exploitation, war, oppression), it was great to start to get to know what I was for. I took my first Permaculture Design Course that year at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, CA. I then went right back to Massachusetts and started practicing. I designed chicken forage systems, planted gardens, conducted design consultations for large properties, and started to teach workshops on composting and edible plants walks at festivals. It was obvious that if I want to be part of creating autonomous communities free of injustice and oppression, I need to start learning how we’re going to grow our food, build our shelters, collect our energy, gather our water, weave community, and anything else required to sustain ourselves.
At what point did you know that this would be an integral part of your life’s work?
After that first year or two of learning about and exploring all that permaculture has to offer. Up until 2011, the worlds of permaculture and of community action were very far apart from each other. In fact, they represented two different possibilities of how one confronts the social problems we all face. Do you dip out of the system and create an ecological homestead, grow all your own food, etc., or do you organize in the city and confront systems of power?
Shortly after Occupy in 2011, these worlds made sense and converged. Occupy the Farm, a direct action that happened in the Bay Area in 2012 (about which there is a documentary film) really coalesced those two threads. It combined the deep community building and egalitarian models of social relationships of Occupy with the livelihood ethos that permaculture enthuses.
After that, bridging community organization and action with permaculture was obvious. With the Permaculture Action Tour, I participated in a number of projects where we created gardens in empty lots, built urban farms, and taught classes at elementary and alternative schools on growing and ecology. Music and culture gave this convergence of permaculture and community action a huge embrace. After the tour, I knew I had to keep doing this. It was my greatest point of leverage to affect the change I wanted to see.
What inspires you in your work?
A serious commitment to improving the lives of others and making the world a better place. Also, seeing how truly close we are to creating a world that works for everyone: a beautiful place with strong communities, healthy ecologies, and relationships of mutual benefit.
Love and rage, pretty much. Rage against all the systems of power that are entirely unnecessary and degrading the lives of so many. Love for the people, communities, and natural world that’s desperately trying to emerge and re-establish itself in its full strength and symbiosis. I’m inspired by the countless organizations and people worldwide that are dismantling systems of power that cause harm and establishing alternative systems that breathe autonomy and life back into the world.
You’ve worked with The Polish Ambassador’s Permaculture Action Tour and you’re featured in the ReInhabiting the Village book. Share your story about your involvement in these and other projects.
I organized Pushing Through the Pavement: a Permaculture Action Tour with The Polish Ambassador, Ayla Nereo, Mr. Lif and Liminus back in 2014. I discussed the idea of the tour with some folks from NuMundo, an ecovillage-networking platform, down in Nicaragua during a month-long EcoVillage Design Course after a Polish Ambassador show. They and David Sugalski (Polish Ambassador) spoke about bringing people on the road to teach folks about permaculture during a music tour. Polish expressed his enthusiasm and long-standing desire to see what could happen if we mobilized the crowds at concerts and festivals to get active together outside of the events.
While teaching at the Course I shared the experiences I had organizing in the urban environment and doing permaculture in cities. It became apparent that it would be of great benefit for a tour going through 32 cities in the United States. Then we started scheming about organizing action days after every show, so people could get directly involved in building, planting, and crafting projects with their own hands. I wrote up a proposal to The Polish Ambassador and his manager, and the first Permaculture Action Tour was born.
The tour was absolutely incredible. The action days were largely informed by the work I’d been doing for years with different urban farms, community gardens, food justice organizations, etc.
When I was asked to write for ReInhabiting the Village, I wrote about Occupy The Farm back in early 2012, which inspired all this, and the larger connection between permaculture and direct action. Permaculture is ‘what’ we want to create and the techniques, and direct action is the tactics. Occupy the Farm was hugely influential to how the tour combined direct democracy, horizontal decision making, mutual aid, and other Occupy Practices. Check out the piece I wrote, “Direct Action for a Regenerative World,” in the ReInhabiting the Village book for more on this.
Tell us about the fundraising campaign you just launched with The Permaculture Action Network and Rising Appalachia?
We’re really excited about this. We’ve been observing Rising Appalachia and the way they move with great respect. The dedication and vocality with which they urge social action and bring attention to community initiatives is incredible. Last October, Leah, Chloe and Biko and the crew came through to our Permaculture Action Day in Denver, where we transplanted a couple urban farms to a new location. A crew built a bunch of tiny homes to house people. I think, I hope, they fell in love with the experience of having three to four hundred people working together after a show, planting, building, taking direct action, celebrating, all to make the world a better place.
We decided to partner and hold Permaculture Action Days with some of their concerts. With our launch of the Permaculture Action Network as a broader organization, the timing was perfect. We had a multifold path of inviting people to become active in their own communities and take agency over their lives. So, we launched the Permaculture Action Network with a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo and booked some Permaculture Action Days with Rising Appalachia in New Orleans, where we haven’t been yet, Denver, and our hometown, the SF Bay Area.
We’re not just raising money for the Permaculture Action Days; we’re raising money to build the network as a whole. There are so many people getting in touch with us, wanting to get involved. They have projects and food forests and ecovillages. They want to host action days. They are artists and musicians who want to get in the network. It requires a much broader organizational network to continue involving everyone who wants to participate, and to make this a leverage point for the transition into a just and regenerative future. We’re developing crews in each city who can organize action days when aligned artists come to town. We’re gathering groups of teachers in each bioregion who can teach Permaculture Action Courses and put on workshops and skillshares at Permaculture Action Hubs within large festivals and events. We’re developing processes and platforms to connect people with one another along shared passions and interests, and incubate the formation of new organizations and projects.
Basically, we’re creating a network that can move people from not knowing how to engage to having the skills, grounding, and the team to get right out into the world and start growing a better one.
What other ways can people help the campaign besides donating?
Ryan: Spread the word! And get in touch with us if you want to participate in this organizational network. We’re raising money right now because in the last year and a half of our work, it made this all happen. But we also know what can happen when people share their skills and their gifts, outside of the capitalist economic paradigm. We do a lot of this in our courses, asset mapping activities where people see just how much of what they need is met by the skills and resources of everyone else in the room, and vice versa. So get in touch to get involved, spread the word, and get active in your own community. Please do grab the link to the website or the campaign and share it on social media, message your friends who you think would be interested in supporting and getting involved, and let them know what we’re up to.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start implementing permaculture principles in their life?
Ryan: Start somewhere, make mistakes if you have to, but just get going. Don’t worry about reading all the books first or getting your certification. Just get going a little at a time and start practicing. Be humble when you go into communities of people who’ve been at it for a while. Observe, learn, and ask questions. And reach out to the people who live around you and find out what they need, what their dreams are, and vision together what your neighborhood could like like. Get active.
Permaculture is not something that just happens in your backyard or in a garden bed – it happens all around us. That’s why we plant public food forests in public parks, turn entire urban buildings into common spaces, re-imagine what 100-acre parcels of land can look like and how many people could live in community there. It translates as largely as we can dream it together, if we take action to make it so.
Check out and donate to the IndieGoGo Crowdfunding campaign: http://igg.me/at/PermacultureActionNetwork
Permaculture Action Network website: http://permacultureaction.org/