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Smoky Mountain Sirens have wrapped female empowerment into a big-sounding rock record

From left: Aimee Jacob Oliver, Eliza Hill and Rose Bales are the Smoky Mountain Sirens
Heather Burditt Photography
From left: Aimee Jacob Oliver, Eliza Hill and Rose Bales are the Smoky Mountain Sirens

Rose Bales said she and her bandmates in the Smoky Mountain Sirens knew they had made a special record even before hearing the final mixes.

“I had been playing music by myself for four billion years, but it wasn’t until we made this album and wrote music together and had a collective goal that I actually thought ‘This is something I could potentially do and people will care about it,’” Bales said.

The Smoky Mountain Sirens are a trio of Asheville women with years of experiences in other bands. They started performing covers and have only written and performed their own music less than two years. Their new, debut album is unlike anything that’s emerged from this region’s music scene.

Magazines such as Pitchfork have showered attention on Asheville indie artists such as Angel Olsen, Indigo de Souza, Moses Sumney and the bands Wednesday and Secret Shame. A handful of newer bands are kindling a local hardcore scene. Now, the Smoky Mountain Sirens are stepping in with “Solid 8,” a big-sounding rock record steeped in polished grit, catchy hooks and lyrics bursting with female empowerment.

“We saw potential, for sure,” said Aimee Jacob Oliver, the band’s guitarist, who splits the lead vocals with Bales, often in the same song.

“We started knowing that there’s not really a lot of female musicians, not only in Asheville, kind of on the spotlight, but also in one band,” Oliver said. “So, that was kind of the start of it, like, ‘We’re gonna do this.’”

“Solid 8” isn’t a concept record, but band members were aware of the connecting feminist threads once they’d written a handful of songs—many stemming from shared stories and conversations. The title track was inspired by a male interviewer who gave drummer Eliza Hill an unsolicited appraisal as a “Solid 8.”

“Every time I talk about ‘Solid 8’ and the message behind it and the story behind the song, whether I’m telling it to a woman who’s 16 or 56, everybody has a story like that,” Hill said. “But the songs are about taking the power back and not coming from a place of being a victim and coming from a place of power instead."

“I think a lot of this music, this is really more about how we feel and how we want other people to feel,” Oliver said.

“Because We’re taught for so long to just keep it down, don’t even mention it, let it go, let it slide, brush it off,” Bales added. “But some things don’t need to be let go. Some things don’t need to slide.”

The Sirens are still an independent band in every literal sense. They have no manager, booking agent or record label. They’ve shot all the videos promoting the new album on Oliver’s iPhone. “Solid 8” sounds like the kind of record that could vault the band beyond the Southeast. Band members said they’re determined to fulfill that potential.

“It’s not like walking into a place anymore and being like ‘Listen to my CD. Oh, you like it? Cool, I’ll give you a million dollars.’ But it has to be kind of organic and natural and a good fit,” Oliver said. “Just going and getting anybody isn’t going to work. We want someone that’s gonna care about us as much as we care about us.”

The last chance for a while to catch the Smoky Mountain Sirens is Friday, when the band performs the entire “Solid 8” album at Fleetwood’s in West Asheville.

Matt Peiken was BPR’s first full-time arts journalist.