The Appalachian Inspiration Of The Black Lillies The Knoxville band's regional roots are at the center of its sound. Members Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady explain how the mountains inspire their music.
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The Appalachian Inspiration Of The Black Lillies

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The Appalachian Inspiration Of The Black Lillies

The Appalachian Inspiration Of The Black Lillies

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And I'm Steve Inskeep. We're in Knoxville, Tenn. We're at Holly's Gourmets Market. They sell water here called Holly Water which they advertise as one L away from holy water.


INSKEEP: We're in front of a live audience. We're in the heart of Appalachia. We're also in a center for Americana, which is one name for a style of music also called alt-country, a lot of which comes out of this region and says something about life here. So let's listen to members of a Knoxville group The Black Lillies, Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady. You may applaud. That's...


THE BLACK LILLIES: (Singing) I've been working my fingers to the bone. Every day, one more day done gone. Show me a sign so that I can see that the sun's going to shine one day on me.

CRUZ CONTRERAS: The region that immediately was attracted to our music and was where we ended up playing our first shows were East Tennessee, of course, where we're from, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. There's a rich musical tradition there - the birthplace of country music, mountain music, Appalachian music and culture. And there's a darkness in that area, whether it's poverty, religious, cultural, just making a living. There's a darkness that people have had to deal with for generations.

INSKEEP: I wonder if there's a song of yours that you guys play that speaks to the place where you live in a specific way.

TRISHA BRADY: I'd say the closest would be "Bound To Roam." this." It's a killing song, which is a very big Appalachian tradition. So it's nice to include one of those in all the albums.

INSKEEP: What is is a killing song?

BRADY: Where somebody gets offed.

CONTRERAS: The - you know, it's the ballad tradition.

BRADY: It is. It is.

CONTRERAS: The murder ballad.


THE BLACK LILLIES: (Singing) I've got a dagger and a silver dollar. Ride away and you're bound to die.

INSKEEP: What happens in the story?

CONTRERAS: We still debate this. What did happen?

BRADY: I do believe that she kills him, which is great. He wants to go roaming, and she was, like - no, I want to marry you. And if I can't have you, nobody can. And we're going to go down to the river one last time. I'm going to drown you (laughter).

CONTRERAS: I think she kind of tricks him. If you've ever been in a quickly-moving river, it doesn't take but a few feet of water to get you in a tight spot.


THE BLACK LILLIES: (Singing) Darlin' Willie, come down with me to the river one last time.

INSKEEP: What do you see when you look out in an Appalachian crowd?

BRADY: Dancing, usually. That's one thing about the music in the mountains. The mountain folks dance.

CONTRERAS: People need that outlet. And they found that outlet through music for generations.


THE BLACK LILLIES: (Singing) We're going to rock 'n' roll till the break of dawn - set them up, knock them down, sing our song, forty days and forty nights.

INSKEEP: How do you think living in the mountains influences the way you look out at the rest of the world - look out at the news, the presidential campaign, anything Else.

CONTRERAS: The Appalachian Mountains are old. I always think of them as teeth, and they're all worn down. It's why they're...

BRADY: They're the oldest, yeah.

CONTRERAS: ...Rounded. And there's an old spirit to it. So you can step back and look at things in the big picture, I think, you know, that things are going to come and go. And things are going to be tough. And there's going to be a crazy political year. But all this is going to go on long after we're gone, you know? And the best thing people can do is have a conversation and ultimately, you know, we're all in this together.


THE BLACK LILLIES: (Singing) Love it changes like the seasons. Steal your heart like an old freight train.

INSKEEP: Trisha Gene Brady and Cruz Contreras of the Knoxville band The Black Lillies.


INSKEEP: They have some fans here in Knoxville.

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