Music News

Amythyst Kiah Creates Her Own Brand of Rock

Amythyst Kiah blends country, blues, soul and rock in creating music that resonates across genres.
Amythyst Kiah blends country, blues, soul and rock in creating music that resonates across genres. Courtesy Emma Delevante
The voice and music of Amythyst Kiah cuts across genres, so it's fitting that she’s currently on the road with country singer Cam mere months after opening for legendary rockers the Who.

Growing up and honing her musical chops in Tennessee allowed Kiah to experience and perform in old-time string and Americana country bands while incorporating more contemporary influences, she explains.

“Before I started playing old-time music and that became the basis from which I would write songs, my favorite singers that had a huge influence on me were Tori Amos, Michael Jackson and Thom Yorke from Radiohead. … Björk is also another one with a really interesting, emotive voice,” Kiah says. “And also the songwriting of all of those artists. The songwriting was just really unique and interesting, and [each] has their own distinct sound. And then there's also singers like Nina Simone. I would say really getting into Americana and old-time music and roots music, I really became interested in the Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers and Big Mama Thornton. … I think with all of those in mind, I had always been very, very inspired and attracted to artists that were able to sort of cultivate a very distinct sound and allowed for their experiences to really shine through their performances and their music.”

Kiah, who also plays guitar, knows something about sharing her experiences through song, which she’ll do when she plays the Gothic Theatre with Cam on Tuesday, August 9. Wary + Strange, her 2021 album, deals with her experiences as a Black LGBTQ+ woman in the South, and the sudden passing of her mother, who drowned in the Tennessee River. She says singing about that tragic loss she experienced as a teenager hasn’t necessarily gotten easier as she’s toured the album more over the past year.

“There'll be a night where I'll sing a song, and at the end I'll get chills from singing it because of remembering that feeling of the song,” she adds. “It kind of ebbs and flows. Most of the time, I'm able to perform the song and just focus on the performance, but every now and again, I'll finish a song and be like, ‘Whoa,’ and kind of get that sort of tension or release feeling from it. … You have those occasional moments of, ‘Oh, God, I might cry.’”

Songwriting hasn’t necessarily always been such a free-flowing process for Kiah, but while writing and recording Wary + Strange, she decided to give in to her mix of musical muses and found herself exploring more unknown areas of blending them into something new.

“It took about three years to really fully bring it all together. But I think it was a huge learning lesson for me. I was learning to trust my instincts and follow what really moves me. And if I try something and if it doesn't work out, that's okay — we can try something else,” she says. “I think when it comes to writing songs or even listening to music or wanting to learn a song, I really like to go on that little adventure.”

One adventure Kiah’s looking forward to taking listeners on is an upcoming EP of covers that includes renditions of Green Day’s “Hitchin’ a Ride,” Tori Amos’s “Sugar” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

“I know some people continue to be skeptical about cover songs," she says. "But for me, I've always been about striking the balance of making the song your own while also still keeping the emotional integrity of the song, too, which is hard. To me, it's as challenging as writing a song."

Kiah also is among the artists who appear in the documentary For Love & Country. The film, which examines country music’s evolution through the lens of a new generation of Black artists, is available on Amazon Music and Prime Video. Kiah recorded an acoustic version of her Grammy-nominated song “Black Myself” for the film.

Amythyst Kiah, 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 9, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway; tickets are $30.
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