The music video for "Dead Eyes" opens on Adia Victoria, beautiful and striking, staggering through the woods in a flowing hospital gown. Later, she's held captive by a gang of masked, cloaked men. After they nearly toss her off a cliff into the raging waters below, she makes another escape and races off through the trees.
In a lucky twist, a sleek 1960s Cadillac Coupe de Ville awaits her at the bottom of the hill, where Adia trades her institution attire for a powerful black ensemble with gold-lined lapels and makes off in the getaway car driven by some mysterious, invisible entity.
This airy, stylized scene, rooted in some scary, hard truths is indicative of what it's like to see Adia Victoria play live—or sit down with her for a meal and a chat. Adia is a 29-year old Nashville-based musician who just released her first full-length album Beyond The Bloodhounds on Canvasback Records. She started recording Bloodhounds in 2013, began touring in 2015, and hasn't stopped moving since.
When we met Adia for dinner last month before her show at the historic Austin blues club Stubb's BBQ, she was charming and candid. In conversation with the singer, you feel like you're getting to know a new kind of rock star—one who's effortlessly glamorous, smart, opinionated, and filled with ideas about how to make the world a better place.
You've talked a bit about being a young black female playing rock n' roll, and the double consciousness you feel about it. Can you elaborate on that feeling?
Absolutely. When I was speaking about that I was mostly referring to being a person of color in America. You are American, but you are also black and your inner life is not often reflected in society because you're extremely stereotyped and you're put in this very small box—especially as a black woman. That's one of the reasons why I decided to get into music. I remember how important it was for me to see other black woman making art, to know that was a possibility for me. I want to make art so I can potentially reach other black girls who are not Beyoncé, girls who don't see themselves in Rihanna—not that there's anything wrong with these women.
As far as the double consciousness, I think there's something naturally subversive about being not just a woman making art, but a woman of color making art, because you're able to offer a different vantage point. I think that's what music needs right now. I think that's what pop culture needs, because we're getting the same messages over and over and over again.
How do these ideas factor into the music you make? Is it through lyrics or, simply by showing up and having a voice?
I often have to ask myself when I'm creating: "What is your intent, who are you making this for? Who is your audience?" I remember when I started listening to blues music I found my main influence in Victoria Spivey. She was recording back in the '20s and the '30s—that was her heyday. Victoria Spivey was a pianist and she got her start in Houston as a 12-year-old playing in whorehouses. She lied and told them that she was 16, but she was a 12-year-old playing whorehouses. She wrote a lot of stories about the Great Migration, of blacks leaving the Deep South, going to Chicago, to Detroit for better economic opportunities, to escape the Jim Crow legislation.
I remember thinking to myself, 'Here's a woman talking about being poor, rambling around the country.' She wasn't trying to present herself as flawless or glamorous, but there's this humor. It wasn't like this poor Negro story. She was proud of herself, but she's just like, 'I'm a mess right now, y'all. I'm out here. I'm too poor to even beg.' There was this sense of ownership that I remember being fascinated by as a 21-year-old getting into the blues. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and I was trying to make my way in the world, and I found her music at a very opportune time in my life.
Who is your dream female performer to collaborate with or play with?
Fiona Apple. She's my fav.
Have you ever covered any of her songs live?
Not for the public.
Oh yeah, with passion... We're toying around with the idea of covering a Fiona Apple song.
Do you cover any other songs live right now?
We open our set currently with "Detroit Moan" by Victoria Spivey. That's a song she wrote about a young woman moving to Detroit to make it into the big city. She's so broke that she's just walking around, knocking on people's doors like, 'Hey, can you help me?' People are turning her away. There's one lyric that I love: "I'm tired of eating chili and I can't eat beans no more."
I can't eat no more beans—that's how we open our show. Then there are little, very secretive little samples. We sample Skip James, another bluesman, in one of my songs. There's also a Nirvana sample that not a lot of people know. It's their song "Aneurysm." It's not a super well-known one, but there's this line, "She keeps it pumping straight to my heart," so I just took that, lifted it and put it in this one song about stalking men. [Laughs]
I was seven when Kurt Cobain died, but one of my earliest memories was back in '92. We got cable for the first time and the guy came in and installed our box. I was there with my dad because I was so excited about Disney and Nickelodeon. The box was set to MTV and the "Come As You Are" video was on. I was just like 'Wow.' That was one of my first memories; I remember seeing all that blue. I miss those days when pop stars didn't seem human, when there was no social media and stuff...
They were larger than life. I sometimes wonder if that's just part of being a kid.
I listened to this podcast recently about training or un-training little girls to be sexy and it was interesting, talking about how a 13-year old girl uses social media to convey her identity to the world. On some level they know that they're going to get more likes if the photo they post is kind of provocative.
How do we undo that?
Well we had Britney [Spears] and she did it well. They marketed her as the sexy schoolgirl and that fucked up a lot of girls our age. Last week there was a really big Twitter uproar because this little girl in this magazine that is marketed to prepubescent girls was showing them what swimsuits to wear for their body type—like, if you're bigger on top wear this, if you're smaller on the bottom wear this. It's already teaching them to hate their curves. It's making little girls insecure. It's not about empowering. I'm not trying to say that kids don't have sexuality because we were born with it, but you're teaching them to focus on the only parts of their personality that they can show for other people, instead of the real things that are attractive about a person—your character, your personality...
It all circles back to where it started. It's not like there's anything necessarily wrong with pop stars and sexiness. It's when you have no alternative to that, when you have nothing reflected back to you, that's when it gets a bit dangerous.