von Grey is the anything but stereotypical sister quartet. All under 21, the Atlanta-based siblings (in birth order: Kathryn, Annika, Fiona and Petra) are accomplished classical musicians carving their way into the contemporary music landscape. Helping to solidify their place is recently released single “Katie,” a haunting autobiographical tale of relationship imbalance. The song is accompanied by an equally haunting video that highlights the often overlooked world of domestic violence, emotional and otherwise, in queer relationships.
I caught up with Annika, eloquent lyricist and middle sister, about their dynamics, the impetus behind the powerful single and what it’s like to hit the road with your sisters in tow.
image by Mary Caroline Mann
AfterEllen.com: How did you all start playing music, and when did you decide to become a band?
Annika von Grey: We are all sisters and our parents started us in music very young. We started with classical music—all of us at five years old. It’s been a huge part of our family dynamic for a very long time and we formed a band about four and a half years ago. Partially just because we’d been playing music together for so long and we loved classical music, but we thought it was time and it would be interesting to start playing music that was a little bit closer to what we listened to. We started writing songs and playing them together, really just experimenting for a while and realized that we loved it. So we stuck with it.
AE: What were some of your early inspirations and influences?
AvG: We grew up listening to a lot of music that was not strictly classical. Honestly it was a very random variety. We listened to a lot of early prog-rock music, like early Genesis and Yes. We listened to a lot of Terence Trent D’arby and Prince and Phish. It was all over place and there was a big spectrum of influence.
AE: How does a song come to be from concept to completion with four of you?
AvG: There’s two of us in the band—Fiona and myself, we’re the two middle sisters—and we do all of the songwriting right now as well as most of the arranging. The writing process is something that changes and evolves with every individual song. We usually start by writing music, because we’ve been doing it for so long, and then add the lyrics last. It’s a democratic process within the band. Ideas are shared very early on and people can give feedback. It’s nice to have different people that have different opinions to be able to add their own little twist to whatever idea one of us has in their head.
AE: What’s it like touring with your sisters: family vacation or work trip?
AvG: I wouldn’t call it a vacation, but it’s a lot of time in a small space, so you have time to hash out issues. But we were home schooled and we’ve been spending a lot of time together for a very long time, so it’s easy for us to know our boundaries. Know when you should talk to somebody and when they need a little bit of space and breathing room. Being able to see different cities and play in front of different audiences and experience the different energies and people in each city is probably our favorite thing to do. So we found a way to be able to do that without it being too personally taxing. Not everybody can do that. We’ve been lucky.
image by Mary Caroline Mann
AE: Favorite city or festival to play so far?
AvG: We played Bonnaroo and we’ve gone to that festival a bunch. We love playing festivals and that one is just so easy, and it’s massive and energetic and also full of really kind, excited people. So that was a lot of fun for us. As far as cities go we love Vancouver and Philadelphia. They are two of the cities that have given us a lot of love.
AE: What was the inspiration for “Katie”?
AvG: It’s interesting because the release we are about to put out in August, “Katie” is part of that and we’re a lot older now than we were when we released our first music. And it was an interesting writing process—especially for me as the lyric writer in the band, because “Katie” was one of the first songs that we’ve released that’s literal lyrically, it’s easy to understand that it’s about a relationship and it’s also one of the first songs that was not written by vicariously feeling through other people. It was written about an immediate personal relationship experience that was in my life. It’s one of the most deeply personal songs that we’ve released in our career thus far. It’s a song about a partnership that’s not 100% equal and has moments of angst and non-reciprocation and a lack of quiet tenderness. It’s kind of your stereotypical angsty romance song, but it’s one that was super personal to me when I wrote it. We’re really excited to have it out there for people to hear.
AE: Do you think that musicians and artists have a responsibility to their audiences in presenting a message?
AvG: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a responsibility. I think that as an artist, the main responsibility or the main goal is to find the stuff that’s a personal release. Writing music can be really cathartic and therapeutic. So I think for me, my main priority is fulfilling that sense of release rather than presenting something to other people. But I think that if you do feel strongly about something and you’re able to use your platform as a way to speak up about stuff, then it’s definitely a strong and powerful thing to do, to make that decision to speak up. For us, I wouldn’t say that we feel it’s our responsibility, that it’s something we need to do, but it is something that we want to do.
AE: How’s the music scene in Atlanta?
AvG: Atlanta is really interesting because as a music city I think it’s a little bit underrated, but it’s also still definitely relevant. It’s obviously a mecca for hip hop music, there is so much incredible hip hop that comes out of this city. And it’s the South, so there’s a lot of country music. I think the slightly more alternative scene is what’s underrated, because it’s definitely newer, at least as far as having exposure nationally or globally. It’s exciting to be a part of a city that is rapidly experiencing growth, and because of that the sense of community among artists is really strong. There’s a lot of people who are in different projects. For us it’s been a really warm, welcoming space. Especially as a band who are a female group and young, for some of the places that we’ve gone there’s been a bit of a backlash from people who for some reason view those two factors as a way to have really low expectations. Which is irritating and it’s nice to have a home base where that’s not a preconceived notion that we’re having to fight against.
AE: What’s your current jam?
AvG: Honestly, I’ve gone back to listening to a lot of Prince. I’m such a big fan. But as a band we listen to a ton of St. Vincent. Annie Clark is a huge inspiration to us. We listen to a lot of alt-J and soundscape-y stuff, and also this “art of noise” old experimental electronic music. We didn’t play electronic music for a long time. We started as more a quasi-folk band, and I wouldn’t say that we are an electronic project now, but we’re definitely influenced by those textures and definitely are moving into a slightly more edgy, alternative realm. Finding people that are just kind of weird and Brian Eno-esque has been a huge step for us.
AE: What comes next for the band?
AvG: We’re releasing a bunch of new music and we have a lot visual content that we are really excited about. We don’t really have a lot of tours planned right now, only because we’ve been so heavily focused on getting the music ready, but touring is something that will happen in the near future. And we’re already planning on going back into the studio in a couple months just to document the growth that has happened in the last month or two. Just a bunch of stepping stones that are laid out in front of us right now.
AE: What’s one thing we wouldn’t be able to find out about you guys through an internet lurk?
AvG: Most of us don’t eat meat and we’re really big into hiking and taking time to go outside. A cause that’s important to us that we haven’t had a lot of opportunity yet to support in a super vocal way is environmental conscientiousness. Being able to make that part of the band would be really exciting for us.