By Matt Wickstrom
It’s not often that you hear of a musician writing a concept album centered around an 1800s legend, but if you knew Rhyan Sinclair you’d understand her musical stylings are far from ordinary.
Sinclair, the 16-year-old frontwoman for Lexington-based Rhyan Sinclair & All the Little Pieces pens music heavily influenced by Jack White, Nora Jones, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Cyndi Lauper and more. Forming the group when she was only 11, Sinclair was writing music that fit the mold of a big band, resulting in a carousel of musicians performing with All the Little Pieces over the years along with occasional solo performances from Sinclair.
According to Sinclair, her name was recently added to the beginning of All the Little Pieces due to the big band’s ever-changing cast of characters, allowing her to play with various lineups or solo depending on the occasion. Sinclair further elaborated on the name change in a May 18 post to the band’s official Facebook page.
It was on a ghost tour on a 2016 tour stop in Charleston, South Carolina where Sinclair found the inspiration for her latest album after being introduced to the story of Lavinia Fisher, an inn keeper hung on a conviction of highway robbery in 1820 who some believed to be the first female serial killer in the United States.
Per Sinclair, the story of Fisher brought her passion and influences for renowned director Tim Burton to life, adding that she already had several songs written that went along with Fisher’s story “like puzzle pieces.”
The record, appropriately titled “The Legend of Lavinia Fisher”, takes listeners back in time, putting them in the perspective of a traveler visiting Fisher’s Six Mile House, told through a blend of grunge-soaked southern rock.
“The Legend of Lavinia Fisher” was recorded primarily in Lexington with Jason Groves at Sneak Attack. However, guest tracks by Carl Verheyen, formerly of Supertramp; Warren Hood of The Waybacks and Fats Kaplin, known best for his work with Jack White, were recorded in California, Austin, Texas; and Nashville respectively.
According to Sinclair, she joined Kaplin in studio the two days he tracked his portions of the record in Nashville. Sinclair met Verheyen when he appeared on BalconyTV Kentucky‘s Newport location in June 2016, which Sinclair presents, co-produces and edits for along with her parents Julian and Toni Karpinski. Sinclair added that she’s also been a fan of Hood for years, and his violin on “All Your Friends” is one of her favorite parts of the album.
Sinclair recounts her first-time meeting Kaplin, who performed mandolin, pedal steel and fiddle on “The Legend of Lavinia Fisher”:
“The first time I met Fats [Kaplin], we met him for lunch before going into the studio for his pedal steel tracks. He was sweet and funny and awesome, but I was so nervous I spilled my iced tea all over myself at the restaurant. We went to Thomm Jutz’s studio and it was like magic listening to him lay down the tracks – very surreal. He immediately picked up on the sound that I was looking for and it was just like what I was hearing in my head, but better.”
“That night, we all went to see Dick Dale at Nashville Palace and the next day, he took us on a behind the scenes tour of Third Man Records, so it was about the best weekend I can imagine!”
“His second day was in George Bradfute’s studio in Jim Reeves’ old house. You could feel the history in that place. It was also really cool to get to play live with him when he joined us for our show at Grimey’s. Through that experience, I got to know Lillie Mae Rische too. At one point, she was going to play fiddle on the album, but she got started recording her own album at Third Man and it didn’t work out scheduling wise, but she’s been super sweet and supportive. It’s been an honor getting to know both of them, because I’ve been a huge fan for a long time,” Sinclair said.
One of this critics’ favorite tracks from “The Legend of Lavinia Fisher” is “Blood and Bones”, a song sandwiched in the middle of the record that puts Sinclair’s voice in the spotlight paired with an elegant pedal steel and violin and the catchy refrain “Down by the railroad tracks / down by the railroad tracks.” Below Sinclair discusses the story behind the song and how it came to be:
“I wrote “Blood and Bones”, and quite a few of the other songs pretty shortly after hearing the story of Lavinia for the first time in Charleston. I had been tossing around the “Down by the railroad tracks” line/melody in my brain for a while and that surge of inspiration caused the rest of the song to come pouring out.”
“Usually my songs are more lyric driven, but I think Blood and Bones is more driven by its melody. I think it’s melody alone conjures up a very specific feeling. I didn’t have to think about the lyrics really, they just kind of flowed, because the mood was already set. They just set the scene for the song and I think they can be taken literally or figuratively in multiple ways.”
“As far as it’s place in the album, “Run Away” introduces the dark vibe, but then “Blood and Bones” takes the darkness to a whole other level. From the moment I started writing it, I heard a ton of booming voices on it and it was fun to hear that come to life in the group vocal,” Sinclair said.
In late March and early April All the Little Pieces returned to Charleston for a handful of shows, including one on March 31 in the Old City Jail that Fisher is believed to continue to haunt to this day. Sinclair said that the experience of performing in the jail was both spooky and surreal to stand in the same room that Fisher had been in.
“The Legend of Lavinia Fisher” has earned high regards from countless talking heads in the music industry along with being recognized earlier this year as a nominee for album of the year at the 2017 Lexington Music Awards. Although the record didn’t win, falling short to The Wooks “Little Circles”, Sinclair, who did walk away with an individual award for best pop act, said it was humbling and a huge honor to be recognized by fellow artists and Lexington residents.
“Even though my influences and experiences are broad and eclectic, I feel like they really all came together through the writing and recording of this album and I finally know who I am as an artist,” Sinclair said. “I know I’ve still got a lot of growing and learning ahead, but this new sound feels like home.”