Entertainment

Amythyst Kiah turns trauma into roots-music triumph

For breakout artist Amythyst Kiah, making her critically acclaimed new album, “Wary + Strange,” was like musical therapy, helping unpack the trauma of her mother’s suicide.

“I’ve dealt with social anxiety and dissociating my feelings and repressing my feelings for a very, very long time, and it really kind of sunk in and solidified when my mom committed suicide when I was 17,” said Kiah, 34, who will open for Brandi Carlile at Forest Hills Stadium Friday.

“I interpreted my mom’s suicide as that she didn’t love me and she didn’t want to stick around. I now know that that’s not how suicide works, but I was 17, so my coping mechanism was to keep my distance from people.”

The confessional intimacy in “Wary + Strange” — a rootsy trail mix of folk, country and blues, with a distinctly indie edge — brings the listener in close as the Tennessee singer-songwriter works through her “weird stuff.”

Amythyst Kiah
Amythyst Kiah unpacks the trauma of her mother’s suicide on “Wary + Strange.”
Credit: Sandlin Gaither

In fact, Kiah said, “pretty much all of the songs on the record were written either right before or during the time when I started going to therapy in 2016. And what’s been amazing is that people have been responding to my music in the same way that I’ve responded to music … as something meant to heal.”

Kiah digs deep on songs such as “Wild Turkey,” which deals with her mother’s suicide, while “Hangover Blues” and “Firewater” address her drinking to cope with her social anxiety. “How many spirits does it take to lift a spirit,” she sings on the last.

Amythyst Kiah on the Grammys red carpet
Kiah was nominated for Best American Roots Song at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
Getty Images for The Recording A

Then there’s “Black Myself,” which earned Kiah a Best American Roots Song Grammy nomination in 2020 for the original recording that she did with supergroup Our Native Daughters. “It was really the end result of being in the studio with three black women, all of us in a genre of music that historically has been seen as white — and all of us being able to share in those experiences of being that black person that either was accused of acting white or was still too black to be in certain spaces,” she said.

“Doing something for the ancestors” on 2019’s “Songs of Our Native Daughters” with the group, which also includes Grammy-winning banjo player Rhiannon Giddens, was a liberating experience for Kiah.

“I had a shut-up-and-sing policy for a really long time,” said Kiah. “I intentionally stayed away from protest songs because I was worried about backlash. So the final frontier was really openly talking about white supremacy.”

Amythyst Kiah
Kiah first recorded “Black Myself” with the roots-music supergroup Our Native Daughters.
Credit: Sandlin Gaither

Now Kiah is fully — and fiercely —embracing both her blackness and her queerness, proudly representing for both communities: “I know what it’s like to feel ‘othered.’ I know what it’s like to feel like I don’t belong somewhere. And I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. And so I want to play music, create moments where people feel included.”

To be included on a double bill with Carlile — another queer female artist — will make Friday a very special night for Kiah. The two first bonded in a mutual fan-girl moment in 2019.

“Our Native Daughters opened up the Americana Music Awards with ‘Black Myself,’ and at the end of the ceremony I ended up meeting Brandi, and she was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so amazing!’ ” said Kiah. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God, but you’re amazing!’ It was one of those things where I was just like, ‘What planet am I on?’ ” 

nypost.com

New York Post

The New York Post is a daily tabloid newspaper in New York City. The Post also operates NYPost.com, the celebrity gossip site PageSix.com and the entertainment site Decider.com.

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