A listener to Troubadours of Divine Bliss can't couldn't begin to separate their spirituality from the inventive blend of folk they've made their own over the last two decades. After growing up in an insular Pentecostal community of Central Kentucky, where both singer/guitaris Aim Me Smiley and singer/accordion player Renee Ananda played music within the structure of the church, they're uniquely able to blend the holy with the secular.
And that's what's become a calling card of sorts for the duo: The ability to write music with a message that doesn't beat you over the head.
“Music is awesome that way; it's the key that tumbles in and unlocks people and they don't even realize they're being unlocked!” says Smiley. “So it can be much more disorganized. You can sneak messages in that find their way into peoples' hearts without them feeling like they're being preached to or they're being taught. There's no specific dogma or religion attached to it.”
Smiley and her wife Ananda split time between their cabin in Southern Indiana and their home in Bloomington, where they were legally married a year ago. They've both been inspired by the way Central Indiana has embraced the LGBTQ community.
“The pioneers before us had to find a strength and an anger in extremes to get the attention they needed,” says Smiley. “And it seems like in the past 20 years it's been more of a relationship changing, a relationship building between the heterosexual and the homosexual community. I know for us personally, we've made the most progress by reaching peoples' hearts and by letting them see a loving, mature relationship, and in loving them regardless of how they feel about us, by respecting their beliefs. Inevitably any kind of barriers to just having respect and love for one another just fall away, because it seems like you're fighting too hard to be against it.”
Bringing a spiritual focus into the gay community is something Smiley says she's proud to do.
“A big part of what we've wanted to see change and shift is a spirituality within the gay community, because that was stolen from us,” she says. “We were told we were unholy, that we can't have a spiritual life. So it's really beautiful to see that shifting as well for gay people, not just equality and equal rights in government but also full engagement of their own purity and spirituality.”
While the Troubadours only come through Indianapolis and the surrounding suburbs three or four times a year, they've had their share of memorable experiences. Ananda tells of the time they were enjoying post-show drinks at one of the Fountain Square rooftop bars, when they were invited to an underground art installation by a trio of young men.
“They found out we were musicians so they asked if we could do a song,” she says. “So we started singing an a cappella song that we do called “Standing in the Stairwell”, and suddenly we were having a Stomp moment, these guys are playing the railings and buckets. One of them, it turns out, was Jim Poyser [former NUVO managing editor], so that was kind of surreal. That was more than 10 years ago, and it still stands out as our most fun night in Indy.”
They will return this week to officially launch their new album As You Wish at Grove Haus, an album they say could only have happened at this point in their career.
“As these songs were surfacing, we knew they could only happen because we'd been able to make a special trip down to New Orleans and we were reinvigorated with the music down there,” says Ananda. “Our travels and experiences added to this collection of music. This particular album and the one just prior to it are the first albums we've ever kept more to a single genre. Typically we'd blended all the different styles together, and that's fun to do and powerful in its own way but there's that situation where you've got enough momentum going with a message, and it gets into people.”
Whatever your particular bliss, if you do come to hear the Trouadours live, they just want you to be yourself.
“The reason we chose the name Troubadours of Divine Bliss is that our greatest inspiration comes from the deepest joy, the great mystery, that the spirit brings,” says Smiley. “But we don't seek to define what that is for anyone other than to encourage them to seek and find their own divine bliss, their own happiness, by living out their purpose and finding what they're here to do.”