What were you doing with your life when you were 16?
In the case of Annika von Grey, one of the main singer/songwriters for alternative folk act von Grey, she can already check opening for Sarah McLachlan, performing on David Letterman and Conan, and touring the country off her bucket list.
But how did a quartet of home-schooled sisters (which also includes 17-year-old Kathryn on cello and mandolin, 15-year-old singer/songwriter Fiona on guitar and violin, and 12-year-old Petra on keyboards and lap steel) get from suburban Johns Creek to two of the biggest shows in late night TV? Apparently, as the old mantra goes: practice, practice, practice!
“Each of us studied classical music from the time we were five years old,” Annika explains, “and music was a huge part of our upbringing.” How huge? Up to five hours of rehearsal a day. “About six years ago we decided to play music together because we had a built-in string quartet. We went to India four years ago and met some musicians that played with Eric Clapton, which introduced us to the idea of playing more contemporary styles. When we came back, we decided to start a band. We experimented with lots of different genres, but it’s been kind of a natural evolution.”
That evolution led to a remarkably promising self-titled debut EP, produced by Nick DiDia (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Train). Released in 2012, von Grey saw the band blending influences ranging from country and bluegrass to rock and pop. Perhaps most impressively, there’s a dynamic seriousness to the sisters’ compositions that belies their tender ages.
“The best part of being in a band with siblings is that we’re very comfortable around each other. When you’re doing something creative, you’re willing to put yourself in a vulnerable space that you might not feel comfortable with in front of musicians that you don’t know quite as well. I think that has really helped Fiona and I progress with our songwriting,” Annika explains, “because we haven’t had any emotional barriers put up.”
So, what’s the worst part of being in a band with siblings? “We’re all teenagers, and we’re all sisters. We ride together and get one hotel room when we’re on tour, so we fight about bathroom time and have clothing arguments. It’s a double-edged sword,” she confesses, “because you feel comfortable enough to fight with each other. We get over it pretty quickly, though.”
Asked about her songwriting influences, the 16-year-old mentions icons like Prince and Cat Stevens, as well as Ben Harper, Terrence Trent D’Arby and Cyndi Lauper. Annika also describes the sisters as “huge” Nickel Creek fans who were inspired by the group’s final performance at the Fox before it went on hiatus. So it’s no coincidence that von Grey has earned comparisons to Nickel Creek for its instrumental prowess, intricate vocal harmonies and sibling members.
Although they’ve yet to release a full-length album, von Grey’s buzz has been building, culminating in the aforementioned Letterman appearance in February. “It was amazing!” Annika gushes. “It was our first time on national television, so it was super exciting. But we don’t really get nervous. I don’t think it kicked in that there were so many people watching us until after we played … which was probably a good thing, so we weren’t shaking in our shoes up there!”
The girls of von Grey have continued to test their shoe-shaking mettle: After playing four shows at the SXSW music conference in March, they appeared on national television again in April, performing on Conan when the show taped at The Tabernacle. At the invitation of the organization’s president, they will perform during the opening session of the National Association of Recording Merchandising’s Music Biz 2103 conference in Jim Donio (president of NARM) to perform during the Opening Session at NARM’s Music Biz 2013 conference on May 8 in Los Angeles.
After that, the band plans to release another studio recording. “We’ve already recorded two songs,” Annika says, “and we have a bunch more written. I think we’re going to try for a full-length album or a more extended EP, depending on how much material we write. We’re hoping to release something by early summertime, if we can pull it off.”
It’s an ambitious game plan for a band whose members still aren’t old enough to vote. But despite their youth, these teenage sisters seem to have remarkably good heads on their shoulders. Perhaps it’s because—after being home-schooled together all their lives—they’ve had time to hash out all the interpersonal issues that seem to plague other sibling bands (see: The Black Crowes, Oasis). Perhaps it’s because, as Annika says, they have solid role definition within the band and are united around a strong creative vision. Or maybe it’s just because they were raised right.
Regardless of the reasons, the foursome’s future seems incredibly bright. “We’re going with the flow for right now,” Annika says. “The music and the art is always our top priority. We’d eventually like to go on our own headlining tours and have people come out to our shows, but we don’t have benchmarks as far as where the band is headed. I think we’re so happy that people are being so positive, and that we get to do what we love on a regular basis. I’m not sure what will happen in the future, but I think it will be alright.”