Kia suffered from intense social anxiety, so she was content to be a bedroom shredder. Learning classical fingerstyle guitar, blending rhythm and lead, made him feel self-sufficient, like he had “This Little Orchestra Beneath Me”.
Switching to an arts high school brought some relief. “I met the first black nerd I’ve met in my life,” she said. “On top of that, I was able to be openly gay and literally nobody cared.”
This did not mean that she was eager to play in front of others. His third public performance was at his mother’s funeral, where he sang an important original. “He committed suicide,” said Kia, “so my whole point was, ‘Why did you leave me? She re-examines that loss, and how to deal with it, in her new song “Wild Turkey”. “When I was 17, I pretended not to care, went numb for years to avoid disappointment,” she sings, professing her self-protection.
A decade and a lot of therapy passed between those two creations. “I’ve completely stopped writing down my feelings about anything,” Kia explained. “I just wanted to be like a robot.”
After the death of her mother, Kia and her father moved to live with their grandmother in the much smaller Johnson City, Tenn., and enrolled in a bluegrass guitar class at East Tennessee State University. A new fascination with the flatpicking technique developed in the study of old-time music when he became aware of the black string band tradition, once sold as hillbilly music.
“To see that history unveiled to me, I was like, ‘Oh, so I have a place in this country,'” she said. “I’m an American. I’m Appalachian. This music is part of my heritage, and it influenced everything I listen to. Why wouldn’t I want to play it?”