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Interview: VON GREY Talks Classical Beginnings and New EP, “In Bloom” Available Now

Editor’s note: Audio transcription by Elizabeth Wiltshire of Savvage Media and Melodic Magazine

Despite their young age, (Kathryn 23, Annika 22, and Fiona 20), the classically trained sisters, are old souls when it comes to understanding how music works. Since entering the industry in 2011, the band has played +500 shows, The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits Music Festival. In just their early 20’s, they’re seasoned vets.

The depth of their music reflects their experience. The lyrics, which are intentionally barbed and deliberately serrated, position VON GREY flawlessly as the resilient and imperious women that they are. Laced over their signature intermingled and elegant vocals, that power projects their passionate narratives of (song meanings) energetically over infectiously poignant and melancholy cellos, mandolins, violins and piercing drums.

On Friday, VON GREY debuted their latest release, a six track acoustic EP, titled In Bloom that has been in the works for a while, before they released the new EP, we had a sit down with the Von Grey sisters to talk about their music and what’s next for the band.

Listen to VON GREY’s new EP In Bloom via the platform of your choice HERE

How would you describe your music if you were talking to someone who’s never heard it before?

Von Grey: Very based in like strings and acoustic instrumentation, but we also really like ethereal soundscapes and storytelling lyrics. So I would say like it’s kind of dark and cinematic still song based.

So where does that come from?

Von Grey: Well we’ve been playing music for so long and we started with classical music, all of us were about 5 when we started. So maybe it’s just that music has been in our lives for so long and we were home schooled, so most of our musical influences our parents introduced us to. We weren’t really surrounded by the youth. [laughs] We weren’t very cool kids, like we didn’t really know hip stuff but we listened to really iconic music so I think maybe that influenced some of the sounds. I don’t know that it’s not patting ourselves on the back too much. I’m not saying we emulate that, but the influences we have are definitely older.

I know you guys started in Atlanta and moved up to New York. So why’d you move up to New York, did you feel like there were better opportunities there?

Von Grey: So, Catherine is still in Atlanta, and the two of us [Anika + Fiona] live in Manhattan and we started school. We took many years off between high school and going to university. We were homeschooled like I said, so it’s our first time being in a real school environment. But we felt New York would be a good place to be because it’s really easy to do education and entertainment. There’s just so much opportunity, and so many amazing people there. We dig it.

Do you find it too oversaturated with bands at all?

Von Grey: I don’t, I love it, but Fiona doesn’t love it as much.

Von Grey [Fiona speaking]: I don’t mind living there, but I feel like with the music you kind of find your pocket, your people, with the places you go to and create. It doesn’t feel too heavy to be into music there.

So, I know you’re coming out with a new EP, I know three of the songs are new and three of them are re-recorded. What motivated you to re-record them acoustically?

Von Grey: I think that the songs that we specifically selected to re-do are the songs that we liked the most from “Trinity,” the EP. And there’s something nice about  reconnecting with songs especially when it’s more vocally stripped, where you focus on why you wrote the song and how you felt about it and how you want to approach it now emotionally. So it’s kind of like a selfish act of wanting to be able to live with those songs a little bit more and reacquaint ourselves with them in a new way, if that makes sense.

Yeah, I understand that! I’ve talked to a lot of bands who’ve been like, “You know I wish I could go back to my first album, what would I know now?”

Von Grey: Exactly. We’ve never never recorded something ourselves. We totally self-produced this EP that’s about to come out and  engineered the whole thing. Katherine did it in her bedroom in Atlanta and it was like, in our kitchen in the East Village. And so it’s very DIY and so I think, again, it was also nice to reacquaint ourselves with those songs in a way that was completely self-contained.

So, is that kind of harder with the classical music? I know in some of the music there’s a lot of instrumentation and to arrange that for a DIY recording must be difficult.

Von Grey: So with the classical instrumentation, I don’t know, it’s so much like our wheelhouse that it’s easier for us to come out with string parts than it is for other things. And we got so into soundscapes and learning how to do analog synths and all these cool, technological sounds which we all love so much. But it was a learning curve, were as doing this DIY thing is like reverting back to a comfort zone in a way. It’s been challenging and vulnerable, but also so natural-feeling because it’s doing the things that we’ve been doing the longest.

I recently talked to Ruby Rose Fox, and she recently recorded her record and she uses this thing, this microphone that’s kind of around and encompasses the sound. So you’re supposed to listen to it with headphones so you get like certain sounds on one side.

Von Grey: That’s super immersive, that’s really cool.

Yeah! And so can you guys walk me through “Plans” and what came about while writing the new EP?

Von Grey: Well, we started writing “Plans” right when we realized we were going to be moving away and it was going to be our first time with the three of us not living in the same space. And honestly, when I was writing the lyrics for it, I was also thinking about my partner a lot, all of us have partners and we don’t live close to them anymore. My partner lives in L.A. and I live in New York and I’m far away from my family and my friends and it was our first very catalytic kind of breakaway point as adults, to make this move. And Catherine stayed at home but she also is going back to school and has moved around a little bit within Atlanta, so it’s been a huge transition process with that, and “Plans” was kind of a reckoning with that. When you’re making a big decision it’s kind of easy to distort why you’re making those sort of decisions or hide behind reasons that maybe aren’t completely true, so writing that song was kind of an attempt to understand why we’re so eager to be disruptive in our own lives.

Did you do that to try to get new experiences, especially with growing up homeschooled, you really wanted to get out there?

Von Grey: It’s a pretty extreme breakaway in what I think is a pretty extreme environment with lots of stimulates. [laughs]

So, you’ve basically grown up doing this, what do you wish you knew now that you knew when you started?

Von Grey: So many things. [laughs] I think it’s easy to say this now since we’re doing something that’s so intuitive, but I wish we had known that it’s okay to just do the things that feel good. Especially when you’re creating, if you’re not creating every sound because it’s what you enjoy, because you’re a fan of your own music, then I feel as if there’s not as much of a point. I don’t wanna be writing songs for some imaginary person. And I think we’ve always had a personal connection, the fact that we were writing songs as twelve-year-olds…as a twelve- or thirteen-year-old, it’s kind of hard to write some dramatic, emotional song and actually connect to it. [laughs] We’re lucky, we were pretty sheltered from crisis and drama, so it’s probably easier now that we’re in our twenties and we’ve actually experienced some kind of emotional interiority that we actually have something to write about. But to answer your question, it would’ve been nice to know that it’s okay to only create for yourself. If people follow later, that’s great, but if not, you’re still getting something out of it because you’re doing something that you love.

Now, how do you go about putting on your live show? I saw you guys with Matt Corby, and I really remembered that show. So, what do you do to make your show more memorable?

Von Grey: Well, first of all, we try to not be so scared that we feel that we’re going to pee ourselves on stage. [laughs] But, I don’t know, it’s weird. We’re kind of manic, especially with our live show because it changes so much depending on the venue or our mood. So, we do some shows where there’s a full drum set or synths and a guitar and it’s very loud, but then you have the tour we’re on now and it’s super stripped, very tender and gentle. So, I think whatever mood we’re in, we just try to do it 110%, which hopefully translates in a way that makes some sort of impact. Even if we go from a big band to stripped down, we want to make the transition as completely as we can, so at least we feel committed to whatever vibe we want to portray.

Yeah, so it gives it a different mood every night. I’ve seen a lot of concerts and always get asked by people, “Who’s the best you’ve ever seen?” And anybody who’s different from show to show stands out to me, not people who are scripted.

Von Grey: Yeah! I mean, maybe I should start doing that, because sometimes I start talking and realize I’m on the same story after six minutes. [laughs] I was thinking about this time where Annika was talking on stage, and she’s really good at filler, but one time she was the one who had to tune, and I don’t know what to say. So I thought, “Let me dig into the deep recess of my mind and try to find a joke,” and I tried to pull one out and it failed miserably. I forgot the joke halfway through. [laughs]

On another note, what are some goals for the rest of this year?

Von Grey: Well, we’re really excited to get this music out. We haven’t been nervous about a release in a really long time, because you obviously care about what people think, but usually we’ve been sitting on songs before we release them for about nine months, and we’re just ready for someone else to hear it so I’m not the only one who’s heard it. Whereas these new songs like “Plans” got premiered a few days ago and we had only finished recording it two months before. It was really quick turnaround time, which is super nerve-wracking because you haven’t pulled it apart and imagined all the bullets people can shoot into it, because it’s still new to me too. And so I think one of the goals which we thankfully have some of the groundwork laid down on is to get the release out there and be okay with being afraid of it a little bit, because it’s exciting to feel that.

Yeah, and that’s not always a bad thing, because sometimes you can overthink it if something sounds great but then start thinking, “What about this? We can change this.” I do that a lot with my photos, but you just need to trust yourself and just do it and get it out there.

Von Grey: Yeah, totally! And often when we sit on something for too long, we improve it and improve it and then we hit a breaking point where everything we do after then does not improve it. It makes it worse because we’re just finding things to pull apart, and so I think being okay with imperfection is always a goal for us, because things are boring if they’re too thought out. And we’re super neurotic people. [laughs] So that’s a lofty goal, even if it sounds like it’s pretty tame, but I think it would probably be good for us.

Would you ever want to play with an orchestra in a big, elaborate kind of arrangement?

Von Grey: Yeah! Oh, God, yeah. That would be so incredible. And we love drama so much, so having an orchestra behind us playing… We actually had sort of a partnership with a small university in Georgia a couple years ago, and they got our music scored for an orchestra. It was really cool. And we played one show with them and we have the scores in the attic somewhere, and it’d be cool to do that with our newer music.

Yeah, I’ve seen some of those, like the one Aerosmith did a long time ago. A lot of people will come through here and work with the Boston Pops or Tanglewood.

Von Grey: Yeah, that’s amazing, we’d love to do that some day. Definitely a goal. And also, we haven’t really done a lot of collaboration work with other artists. With producers, obviously, and we’ve written with other people. But I think there’s something cool about two creative worlds coming together. And so right now we’re kind of doing the opposite and being really insular and recording ourselves and taking our own photos and not really letting anybody touch it. But I feel like after we break out of this little period- which will be really healthy for us- we’ll try that. It’d be cool to start to really do some more collaborations.

Who would you like to work with, if you could choose?

Von Grey: It’s sad, because for so long, and I know it’s absurd, but working with Prince. I cried so hard when he died, he’s such a magical human, someone who’s a genius. Working with Britney [Spears] would be crazy, but cool.

Like a classical version of “Toxic?”

Von Grey: Yes! [laughs] It could work! I feel like I’d definitely choose someone in the urban music sphere, I’ve always been like such a big urban music fan. Like, I used to love Miguel.

Yeah! You guys know Janelle Monáe?

Von Grey: Yes! She’s amazing, what a queen. Her new work is just amazing. What a badass, I’m envious.

So, finally, I wanted to ask you if you have a second full-length album in the works?

Von Grey: Yeah, we always have so many songs because we’re very emotional people, so we write a lot of songs. [laughs] But yeah, we’re going to get this one out and hopefully do some more live show stuff. This past year has been such a development year that we haven’t really been playing in front of people a lot, but that’s such an important thing. It’s one thing to be able to make music in your bedroom and it’s another totally different thing to get out there. The people who receive the music are as much a part of the creative process as the people who make the music. It’s a really, really, validating thing to be able to communicate with people through music, so we want to play more shows, and then yes, we’ll be releasing something with more songs on it. [laughs] We’re chronically EP-centric. There’s something nice about being able to focus intently on six or seven songs and then be done with it and be able to start writing again instead of working on getting fifteen songs recorded. And then you have an entire year of promoting that because there’s just so much content, and then you start creating again. We’re so spoiled with being used to just doing things quickly, but one day we’ll have to be committed to something so long. Maybe it’ll be the next thing.

About John Hutchings

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