With their soulful four-part harmonies, poetic lyrics and indelible melodies, it’s easy to see why the Atlanta Journal Constitution would hail von Grey as “nothing short of stunning.”
They sound like they were born to play together – and, in fact, they were. The four sisters have been playing music nearly their entire lives. Classically trained from an early age, the Atlanta-based quartet – Kathryn (18), Annika (16), Fiona (15) and Petra (12) von Grey – have built on that foundation by performing upwards of 200 shows in the past two years, from recurring residency tours at intimate venues throughout the southeastern U.S. to supporting gigs with such artists as Sarah McLachlan, Company of Thieves and Lindsey Stirling. Annika, one of the lead singers along with Fiona, recently shared with us a little background about the band.
i[x] What inspired you all to become musicians?
vG The four of us started playing classical instruments when we were each 5 years old, and I would be lying if I said that it was our idea to jump into it at that age. Our parents were eager to get us into music, not only because they are lovers of the arts but also because classical music is extremely beneficial as far as brain development is concerned! Our dad introduced us to enough listening music that we fell in love with the art form, and after a few years of playing and getting past the squeaking, technical stage, we found ourselves eager to continue to explore music as performers.
i[x] What is the best and worst thing about being in a group with your sisters?
vG The best thing about working together is the fact that we know each other so well. Nobody has insecurities about trying things and experimenting. Reversely, I think that it can be one of the more difficult things about working together. The fact that we are so comfortable around each other has the potential to remove some of the air of professionalism. It is easy to have an off day and whine during an entire practice when you are with your sisters! But all in all, I think being in a group with your sisters is a great advantage for us. We bring unique views and creative ideas yet keep each other balanced and focused.
i[x] What instruments can you all play?
vG Collectively we have the ability to play guitar, bass, piano, keys, viola, violin, cello, banjo, mandolin and various synthesizers. I am also getting pretty good at playing the jaw harp, which is a skill I am particularly proud of. And there has been some serious talk about adding a didgerdoo.
i[x] How do you go about writing songs? Is it one or two of you or do you all collaborate?
vG Fiona and I, the two lead singers, are the primary song writers. We are always open to feedback from Kathryn and Petra, but we definitely have the strongest opinions out of the group. Once the framework of a song is written, the group collaborates on instrumentals.
i[x] As Georgia natives, are any parts of your music/songs influenced by Georgia?
vG We played bluegrass music when we were initially breaking out of classical, which was definitely thanks to our Southern upbringing! Aside from that, I think we have been influenced by Georgia more as people than as musicians. We are fortunate to come from a state and city that breeds a diverse musical culture.
i[x] When you’re on the road, is there any specific thing that you miss about Georgia?
vG Occasionally, like when we are playing Boston in January, we miss the weather. We also miss our cat who stays behind in GA. But generally, we love traveling and experiencing new cities and places.
i[x] What is one of your favorite Georgia restaurants?
vG There is a place called Café Istanbul that has amazing spicy ezme and very friendly belly dancers! Nikolai’s Roof is obviously great. There’s also loads of amazing tucked-away Korean restaurants in Atlanta, and if there is one thing that we love, it is Korean food.
i[x] What motivates you to write songs and perform on stage?
vG I think our main motivation comes down to a selfish desire to indulge ourselves creatively! As far as thematic content goes, song writing is a great outlet for emotion and general expression. I love the art of writing lyrics, but we tend to put equal or more importance on what is happening sonically than what is happening lyrically, at least in the initial compositional stages. Our main goal when writing is to create unique sounds and vibes that we find pleasing. It is impossible to write a good song (or give a good performance) when you are constantly worrying about how other people will respond to it. Make music for yourself first, and then allow people to share in that experience as an audience if they dig it!!
i[x] What musician or group do you draw influence from?
vG It’s hard to think of just a few to mention, because our playlists are vast and somewhat unique to each sister, and constantly changing. Prog-rock bands like Yes, Genesis, Dixie Dregs, etc. have been a big influence to us because the music is so instrumentally and compositionally interesting. We also love bands like the Knife who are totally electronic and experimental and so innovative. Yet, due to our instrumental backgrounds, acoustic and authentic instrumentation is also important. I think and hope that our music shows elements across all genres, sympathetic to what we’ve listened to our whole (young) lives.
i[x] What is your favorite venue at which you’ve performed and is there one dream venue that you hope to perform at one day?
vG There is a tiny intimate venue in Dahlonega called the Crimson Moon Café that was one of the first venues we played, and we have played there many times and love it every time! The food is amazing, the staff is great, and the audience is always there for the music! There is something so intimate and personal about sharing your music with an audience that is within reach. But larger venues have their charm too. The adrenaline and energy that comes from an engaged audience in a crowded room is incredible. As far as dream venues go, we basically love playing any club that has a sound system that involves lots of bass!
i[x] What does it feel like when you take the stage in front of a large audience? Do you get nervous?
vG We never really get nervous for shows – excited, yes, but not really nervous. Perhaps this is because we have been performing in recitals and classical performances from such a young age or maybe because we are out there together – for whatever reason, it just feels like a comfortable place to be. I don’t think we ever get caught up with the concern, “what if something goes wrong or we mess up.” We just figure we’ll deal with it, learn from it, and move on. The size of the crowd is less important than the energy of the crowd, and if the sound system sounds good and the people are digging it, it is not hard to be energetic and excited! I think that the energy between a performer and the audience is cyclical, so if one party is having fun everybody will enjoy the experience.
i[x] You all are so young, so has it been challenging to get people to take you seriously?
vG At times, yes, it has been. That has been one of the reasons why we take so much care to have a good live show and to know how to navigate our instruments. We have been extremely lucky to receive positive feedback and encouragement from people who get what we are doing every step of the way. In the end, there will always be people who can’t appreciate what you do, and that’s fine. We are just extremely appreciative for the people that support us and enjoy what we do.
i[x] What do you wish to accomplish in your music career?
vG Our goal is pretty simple: we just want to write and play good music and share it with people! That’s magic.
i[x] Outside of music, what do you all enjoy doing?
vG These days, we really enjoy just chilling out. Going to movies and finding new restaurants is a favorite past time, especially now that three of the four of us can drive. Finding new or returning to unique, eclectic shopping destinations is a favorite. Breaking off from the family unit for an afternoon is a nice way to clear some head space! As you can imagine, we are together pretty much 24/7. That is a good thing, but we all need our individual outlets too.
i[x] i[x] is a program all about teaching our readers to be smart with their money. Now that you are selling albums and touring, what piece of advice can you give our readers about responsibly managing your finances?
vG I think that today’s society has fallen into a dangerous spiral of materialism and a love of “things”, which can be dangerous! Keeping that in check is totally imperative, because it is too easy to spend money on things that you want but don’t need, and then realize that you haven’t put anything away into your long-term savings. Having a decent amount of savings money is a security blanket that is much more valuable than buying loads of items along the way! In most things, being moderate, balanced and sensible takes you a long way. While still enjoying the “moment,” we try to also keep our eyes on the long term.
i[x] Here at i[x], we also encourage readers to get involved in their local communities. Are there any charities or organizations that you work with?
vG We have worked off and on with multiple charities, lots of them dealing with issues that involve children, whether it is literacy, music in schools or health care. One of the things we feel most passionate about is the message of conscientious living. It is important to spread messages of acceptance and tolerance, and to treat the people and the environment around you with respect! We would eventually love to form long-term alliances with groups that promote social equality and environmental awareness /change. If our music can help in this support, that will be a bonus, but more importantly we want our involvement to be a giving one and not one that is necessarily established to inadvertently give something to us. Being a spokesperson for a great cause and/or promoting charities is always good, but there is a special respect we have when we find out a successful artist has given to a charity or cause in a meaningful way but not necessarily sought recognition for this. However, in saying that, giving back in any form to society and the environment is a social responsibility and important.
i[x] What advice do you have for aspiring singers or musicians?
vG I think the most important thing is to recognize that it is a competitive business and you need to make sure that you don’t take talent for granted! Practice and discipline are the only things that ensure excellence. Humility keeps you aware of the excellence that surrounds you. Passion for what you are doing and creating allows you to connect to your audience. And deliver to an audience of a few the same connection and energy you give to an audience of thousands. Take your path but not yourself too seriously – it must be fun, after all, we are all entertainers!