North Carolina songwriter Abigail Dowd and I have something in common.
Both of us have grandfathers we love who served in the Korean War.
And both were tight lipped about their service and experience.
Abigail Dowd, on Not What I Seem, her new record, delved into her grandfather’s war experience, and the trickle down effect it had on familial relationships, on “Chosin,” a song inspired by the battle at Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.
Trail Mix is happy to feature that song this month, and I was lucky enough to catch up with Abigail to chat up the new record and the power of that song as she reflected on her grandfather.
BRO – I love the title of the new record. I think that might be a little true for everyone. Thoughts?
AD – For sure. I think sometimes we define ourselves by what others see of us, whether it’s being beautiful or smart or some other attribute, and then we realize we are much more than that. Sometimes it’s hard to show all of ourselves, how complex we are, or to be seen beyond the surface.
BRO – I read that you have spent some time studying anthropology. How does your work in that field impact your songwriting?
AD – I think anthropology has a big impact. Seeing different world views or someone else through their own lens, learning each others’ languages in order to communicate, or finding universal connection in a story are all things that carry over into my songwriting. I love looking at ways that place – especially nature – are reflected in the arts and music we create. The song “Wiregrasser” is an example. I couldn’t have written that song if I hadn’t grown up in the longleaf pine region, hearing stories of turpentine workers. It was fun to pull those stories into a song and write from the wiregrassers’ perspective.
BRO – We are featuring “Chosin” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
AD – The title is from the Korean War battle at Chosin Reservoir. A couple of years ago, I learned that my grandfather had fought in that battle and it shined a new light on who he was. Writing that song, I saw parallels between the literal battle and our own internal battles. It also helped me let go of some of the stories, the harder memories, that I had of him and to appreciated the strength and toughness that he passed on, the grit to never give up.
BRO – Have you played “Chosin” for any Korean War veterans?
AD – I haven’t, but recently someone in the audience told me that his father fought in the Army unit at Chosin, as did my grandfather. We could only assume that they may have known each other and it was a strong connection to make with someone.
BRO – Care to ponder on what your grandfather would say the first time he heard it?
AD – Wow. Truthfully, I can’t imagine. He never spoke about the war. Writing this song, it became clear that trauma can be passed down through generations, and I realized that I’ve carried some of it without ever living it myself. Letting go of that in the process of writing, I’d like to imagine ripples through our family in unseen and healing ways. I just hope that, wherever he is, his soul is resting peacefully.
You can catch Abigail Dowd live this weekend at Lost Province Brewing Company on Saturday and then in Greensboro at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen.
For more information on Abigail Dowd, how you can grab a copy of Not What I Seem, or when you can catch her live, be sure to check our her website.
And be sure to check out “Chosin,” along with new tunes from Ian Noe, Ona, Lucette, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.
You can also check out the brand new video for “Wiregrasser,” a tribute to North Carolina’s turpentine workers, right here!