Charleston ghost tales don't just haunt the Holy City. The legendary spirits of the Lowcountry have entered many a tourist's mind, including one who happens to be a Kentucky-based musician.
When Rhyan Sinclair, formerly of roots band All the Little Pieces, went on a ghost tour at the Old City Jail during a visit to town a few years ago, the story of Lavinia Fisher, who is thought to be the first female serial killer in the nation, stuck with her.
Fisher's story is full of mystery and intrigue. She was executed at the jail, and her ghost is said to haunt the grounds.
Chilled and inspired, Sinclair took the tale back home and wrote a concept album based on it. The result was "The Legend of Lavinia Fisher," which came out in 2016. She then returned and played the record at the Old City Jail for a special performance.
Now, she's back again, this time with a free show at 8 p.m. Friday at Dockery's on Daniel Island.
Q: Tell me more about the time you spent vacationing with your family on Kiawah Island while growing up.
A: So many of my favorite childhood memories are from Kiawah Island, on the bike paths and at the inlet watching the dolphins. We went twice, pretty much every year. It always felt like a second home to me.
Q: What about your Bulldog Tours ghost tour at the Old City Jail inspired you to write a concept album about Lavinia? What about her story compelled you?
A: Something about her story just really haunted me. I think it has a lot to do with the strong visuals that go along with the legend. The tea she gave the travelers to put them to sleep, the beds that would drop through the floor, wearing her wedding dress to the gallows — all of the details just really came to life in my mind and inspired me.
Q: Her story really does fit well with your sound, that haunting acoustic folk rock. But why did you decide to write an entire concept album?
A: It started with just wanting to write a song about Lavinia, but some songs I’d already written really fit with Lavinia’s story and put a slightly different spin on the narrative. That’s when I got the idea to make it a concept album.
From there, I kind of filled in the missing puzzle pieces of the story I wanted to tell. The first half of the album is from the perspective of a traveler going back in time to the 1800s and ending up at Lavinia’s Inn. The second side of the album is from Lavinia’s perspective.
Q: I read that you’re a fan of Tim Burton. How did that play into the writing of the album?
A: I think that his influence is part of the reason why the story stuck with me and why the visual aspects of the story came to life in my mind. I constantly watched his films growing up, and I still do, of course. I think that caused me to view Lavinia’s story through a Tim Burton-esque lens, especially since there are some real Sweeney Todd similarities in the legend. (Composer) Danny Elfman’s work in collaboration with Tim is a huge inspiration, as well.
Q: So you came back and performed the album at the jail. What was that experience like? Did you have any Lavinia encounters?
A: It was creepy, for sure. We got to play the songs right by the cell where Lavinia was held. I don’t think it was quite as scary being there during the day as it would’ve been at night. One of the guys’ fitness trackers got stuck on all sixes and wouldn’t move for a while. That was pretty freaky.
I personally didn’t have any weird experiences while we were there, but then I started trying to edit the videos from that day. I’ve never had so much trouble with footage in my life. I dealt with every possible glitch or error that could occur. It took me many months to get one video edited from that day.
Q: What have you been working on since that album? What can we expect at the Dockery’s show?
A: When I was writing the Lavinia album, my songs made a definite shift towards more country/Americana territory. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, but as a songwriter, I’m somewhat at mercy to inspiration.
I started All The Little Pieces as a roots country, jazz and blues band. Then, we ended up shifting to a heavier, rock-based sound. That was a lot of fun, but returning to the rootsy sound we started with felt like coming home to me. The other members of All the Little Pieces wanted to stick with a more rock sound that I couldn’t guarantee, so the band naturally dissolved throughout the recording of that album.
Last year, I released my debut solo album, "Barnstormer." The journey of writing and recording that album and then touring for it has been an absolute blast. Right now, I’m in the writing phase for my next project, and I’m super excited to see what’s in store.
At Dockery’s, we’ll be playing a mixture of songs from "The Legend of Lavinia Fisher," "Barnstormer" and then some of my brand-new songs, along with maybe a couple fun covers thrown in there. It’ll be a party, and I can't wait.