Adia Victoria, our Artist of the Month for September, filmed performances of three songs from her new album, A Southern Gothic, with a four-piece band, demonstrating her command as a storyteller who need only focus intently on the scenes she’s conjuring to draw us deep into them with her.
The first song she played was “Magnolia Blues,” flanked by her musical partner Mason Hickman, whose effects-laden electric guitar lines provide eerie, expansive embroidery.
Victoria and Hickman laid the foundation for that and many of the album’s other tracks on their own during lockdown, fleshing out the instrumental parts themselves in his home studio.
As she surveyed her surroundings, in an existence shrunken down for the sake of pandemic survival, she fixated on the magnolia tree in her backyard, and from there, expanded her perspective out to the reflections on childhood and genteel Southern mythology that she captured in the song.
“I started thinking about the relationship that I’ve had with my magnolia, or any magnolia,” Victoria told me during a recent interview. “Growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, oftentimes in the summer, me and my sisters and little girls from the neighborhood, we would gather underneath the magnolia and just play imagination. We created entire worlds. I thought about the ways that the magnolia had been this fertile ground for for my own world-building. But on the flip side of that, the magnolia is also this icon of white supremacy and white Southern myth-making with mint juleps, magnolia, moonlight, all that, you know, nonsense. I was like, ‘What does a magnolia have to say to me still? How can I reclaim the magnolia for myself and all these Southern Black girls?'”
The other two new songs that Victoria filmed were “Whole World Knows” and “Mean Hearted Woman,” the former a harrowing tale of a young woman deadened and judged by those in her rural, religious environment and the latter a slyly simmering testimony to how a woman cast out builds up her own armor and autonomy.