Mumford and Daughters: An Interview with von Grey
Von Grey returned to SXSW this year for a three-show lineup on Saturday, March 15. Dubbed the “Mumford and Daughters” by Conan, the Atlanta-based alt-folk quartet is composed of sisters Annika, Fiona, Kathryn, and Petra. All are self-taught multi-instrumentalists, and Annika and Fiona write all their songs. Von Grey has made appearances on “Conan” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and opened for acts like Sarah McLachlan and Lindsey Stirling. They are currently on tour with Ron Pope in promotion of their new EP, Awakening.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with these lovely ladies to talk about their musical journey, the challenges of being young women in the industry, and where they see their music taking them.
Me (Lara Ingram): How did you gals get your start playing music?
Annika von Grey: We started playing classical music when we were about five. We did weddings and stuff. And then about four years ago, we started picking up instruments like guitar, instead of just violin and cello, and experimenting. We did a bunch of genre shifts, trying to find what our sound was. It’s been a slow progression, but we’ve met a lot of great people along the way who’ve been really supportive.
LI: What are your influences musically?
AVG: We have a lot of influences. Recently, we’ve been listening to a lot of James Blake and Active Child, people who are experimental with electronic music but still song-based as artists. But we grew up listening to people like the Talking Heads, Stevie Wonder, and just people who are amazing at playing instruments and writing songs. We all have different tastes. Fiona listens to a lot of R&B, Petra is really into electronic music, and Kathryn listens to everything.
LI: Does anyone else in your family play music?
AVG: No one in our immediate family plays instruments or sings, so I think our music was more based on circumstance than innate ability. We all just kind of worked at it, rather than being born singing and dancing. Just through lots of time and practice and wanting to do it, forcing ourselves to pick up instruments and master them. We didn’t go to brick and mortar schools either; we learn everything on the computer.
LI: What is it like working with family?
AVG: For us, it’s been really good. People always say don’t hire family members and stuff because it creates weird dynamics, but we’re really lucky because we all have a central goal we are working toward. It’s really democratic, equal 25 percents working together.
LI: What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a band?
AVG: We’ve been really lucky; people have been really open-minded about just listening to the music and not being distracted by the sister thing or the young thing. But we are four fairly young females, so it is weird walking into a venue by yourself and setting up your equipment, and having people not take you seriously until they’ve heard you. Sometimes people think we’re going to be a very niche-y, little kid thing, when we actually take this very seriously and try to be professional. But in the end, I think it’s been positive, because it’s forced us to work a bit harder.
LI: Beautiful. What would you say are your greatest victories?
AVG: We’ve gotten to do really fun things and meet really incredible people who are huge in the industry. It’s great to meet people like that and see what they’ve done and how far we have to go, and evolve as writers and musicians and performers.
LI: Where do you hope to take your career in the next five years?
AVG: The main goal for us to continue writing music that feels like an open expression of ourselves and to continue to learn new instruments and techniques and better ourselves as musicians and writers. And then hopefully get that music out to people and see if they like it as well. ‘Cause it’s fun to play in our basement but we also like playing for people [laughs].
LI: What lessons have you picked up along this journey?
AVG: A big thing for us is the fact that we’ve traveled a lot now and have met a lot of people. We’ve been exposed to a lot of different lifestyles and opinions, and met so many kind and wonderful people outside our immediate social group. It’s great meeting so many people, because it forces you to be more open and accepting. We try to go everywhere with an open mind.
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