But this is weird:
But this is weird:
After our nearly one year hiatus, Key of V will rejoin briefly in April for two reunion shows. After this, Erin will return to her nest in Portland, OR, and I will hopefully be living out of a backpack somewhere warm. So be sure to catch us and our friends at these two great locations:
As always, I hope to see you there! -Val
“Usually any music that could be described as ‘quirky’ or even ‘kooky’ stops me dead in my tracks before I turn tail and head, running for the hills. However, there are some notable exceptions–I really like some of the soundtrack to the film Juno that is provided by Kimya Dawson. Whether this is really quirky might be open to discussion. Key of V could easily be described as having an element of quirk within their songs and in this case I am not in the process of heading for any mountainous region.
Key of V is a sisterly duo, Erin and Val La Cerra, self-described as ‘lo-fi, psychedelic punk’ and there certainly is a lo-fi quality to this recording, albeit one that is not muddied and lacking clarity for the listener. I wouldn’t really comment on the use of ‘psychedelic’ but there is a punk ethos on display in that the sisters really do have a social awareness that they like to put forward within their songs.
Across the seven (one is a ‘hidden’) tracks I’d say that the music has a big folk feel to it with the odd hint of melancholy, but there are also dashes of more poppy moments that provide some very catchy refrains, some of which I find myself singing first thing in the morning. Throw in an indie sensibility and this is an intriguing package that works quite well for me.
The use of a variety of stringed instruments to create the music is one of the reasons I like this and with distinctive vocals, Key of V succeed in keeping my attention from start to finish: always the first sign of a half decent release.
The lyrics help convey the social awareness of the band and they are used in an entertaining way as opposed to ramming ideas down the listeners throats. I also find it interesting that on ‘Bee’ the voice of Marlene Dietrich seems to have been channeled to make an appearance–that or the sisters are very good at doing an unintentional impression of the German actress/singer. The one other person that this recording gets me thinking of is Kate Bush: not very punk I grant you but there is a uniqueness to be found within Key of V that is also found in the British chanteuse.
Key of V is fresh-sounding, slightly off the wall and enjoyable: I’d imagine they’d be worth checking out live as well as on disc.”
Recently I found myself stumbling in another conversation, over the nuisance task of defining Key of V by genre. The reason I’ve opted to do this up until now is that I fear appearing to cop-out or seeming arrogant explaining how I don’t believe we really fit into a genre. I’ve read many-a-poorly-written band descriptions beginning with “transcending any genre” and ending with “you’ll just have to listen for yourself.” I always close the tab in a storm of protest: Hell no I will not listen to it! If it’s not worth describing (or commissioning someone else to describe), clearly and without presumption or pushiness, then it is probably not worth me quitting Photoshop so I can stream a sample of it.
So over the years I’ve taken to fine-tuning a nice little genre for us, which I use in varying forms: “Lo-fi / Experimental / Anti-folk.” Since Key of V has many elements, I can adjust it according to the context. If I’m trying to book a hookah lounge I change “Anti-folk” to “Psychedelic-folk.” If I’m trying to open for a punk band I change it to “Acoustic Punk” or “Punk-Folk.” If it’s a traditional coffee shop I shorten the whole thing to “Alternative Folk.” If it’s a fancy booking request form on the website of a longstanding micro-brewery, I choose “alternative” from the drop-down menu. Or if it doesn’t have that option, I choose “Folk.”
All this is fine, albeit soul-sucking, until one of two things happens. The first and most obvious is that I describe us as folk and then offend someone by yelling and pelting on power-chords. The second is that I say “Lo-fi / Experimental / Anti-folk” and charge the inquirer with a superfluous category that (ironically) implies much the same cockiness as saying “We transcend any genre; you’ll just have to listen for yourself.”
I describe us as folk and then offend someone by yelling and pelting on power-chords.
I know this because of a conversation I had two months ago over dinner with some other
musicians. One I have been friends with since before I played, and I look up to him. The other I had just met. He had never heard Key of V, so he asked me to describe our sound. With the calculated modesty required to blot out inherent pretentiousness, I replied, “Oh. It’s kinda psychedelic, lo-fi, anti-folkish stuff.” My new friend nodded his head between thumb and fore-finger sincerely for a moment, then asked, “What’s anti-folk?”
Oh no! I thought, feeling my Berkley-educated friend of 10 years also awaiting my answer as I chewed a piece of baby corn I meant to leave on the plate. Now I have to explain this obscure genre that I can only describe with a half-remembered Wikipedia definition; plus, I only really identify with it through the artists in it, and we don’t sound anything like them! But I didn’t have a chance to answer. My old friend interjected: “It’s just another name for folk, for people who feel they’re somehow better or different but really they’re just folk.” Ouch! Is that what we are? Regardless, I had to redeem myself!
I replied, "Oh. It's kinda psychedelic, lo-fi, anti-folkish stuff." My new friend nodded his head between thumb and fore-finger sincerely for a moment, then asked, "What's anti-folk?"
“That’s not true,” I said. “It’s a movement.” Uh oh. Rising above…. Folk. Save yourself: “Have you heard of Kimya Dawson?”
“Hmmm. Well I don’t really know how to describe it,” (obviously!), “it’s just… different from folk. But with Folk elements.”
That sustained me for the remainder of the conversation. But I knew it would come up again, and I didn’t have any solutions for easing my anxiety without what I felt an inadequate description (or, according to my friend, an arrogant denial of what my music really is). The time came this past weekend in Rochester, NY, when we met the guitarist for Bogs Visionary Orchestra, who asked what we were doing in Flower City. When I told him we played a show ourselves, he asked the inevitable question: “What Kind of music do you play?” Now notice here, he asked “What Kind.” Not “what do you do,” or “what does it sound like,” but “What Kind?” A glaring request for a genre. So I laid it out. “Lo-fi. Experimental. Anti-folk.”
“Oh, experimental. Cool! I dig noise bands.”
“But it’s coherent. Poppy even. We just like to experiment.”
“Oh, I see. But lo-fi. I dig lo-fi. I just recorded an album with a four-track.”
“Yeah, I used to too, but it’s…” become about preserving that quality without the 4-track? The anxiety’s setting in. I let my sister take over.
I breathe and try to stop ruminating. He’s a really nice guy. In fact, everyone in Rochester’s been really nice. And the music is great. I should just enjoy it. I relax. When I come back to the conversation, they’re talking about Anti-folk. “Yeah, you’ll like Seth’s band, then. He’s anti-folk!” Ah yes. It seems the anti-folk movement sprouted in NYC, with its descending communities cropping up in surrounding urban areas, such as Rochester. The aforementioned Seth, former front-man of the band Dufus, has worked with Regina Spektor and Kimya Dawson. So it seems we’re at home.
But when Seth Faergolzia & the 23 Psaegz creeps onto the stage with it’s parade of members blowing atonal horns and throwing toilet paper, and Seth begins rapping like a vocal acrobat who makes me feel I’m on drugs, I wonder if we qualify, and start obsessing again. Was my old friend right? Am I just denying our sound is ordinary because I’m afraid of being that in a field where making an impression is so important? And moreover, do I just like the genres I tag Key of V with? What the hell are we? And why the hell do I care?!?
Am I just denying our sound is ordinary because I’m afraid of being that in a field where making an impression is so important?
On the ride home the next morning I tell Erin that when I can, I will describe Key of V practically. “I play acoustic guitar, and she plays viola through effects pedals. I run my vocals through pedals too. Sometimes we bang on our instruments fast and hard, sometimes we pick them slow and weepy. Do you want to know who inspires us?” She says this sounds good. It doesn’t work for drop-down menus, but I think it can cure anxiety. Because we don’t fit into a genre. There. I said it. And we’re not folk. Because I said so, and it’s my fucking music.
Our first show…
…was at at Border’s Books in 2006. The set list: Forgiven2, Evil Eb, and a song that usually ended in me chanting “I’ll fucking kill you,” which I censored because we only knew these three songs. We performed during an awards ceremony for graphic design students at Penn College–now our alma mater–with two other student musicians. I didn’t have a guitar, so I borrowed one from Alex Boyce (Keystone Ska Exchange), who attended along with our parents, younger siblings, Sean Steward, and my best friend, Kara. Before that, the only “fan” we had was Erin Karpich, who supported us at Penn College’s sparsely-attended open mic nights, clapping and hooting from behind a round, Formica covered table with other students we didn’t know. It was nerve-wracking and encouraging–I could hardly feel my hands on the fret board let alone form a different chord. Alex Boyce said it was necessary, and I believed him, because he knew more about being a musician than anyone I knew. The things I knew came from Mtv, though I was sure I was deeper than that. Yet I wore sun-glasses on stage and gulped shots of whiskey before our sets. Because at least I was like the deep, misunderstood Mtv artists at the open mic night.
P.S. Erin Karpich bared through all of this, still comes to our shows, and doesn’t tell anyone I used to wear sunglasses on stage. Thank you for that, Erin. I really do appreciate that gesture.
In 2007, we somehow landed a show opening for the Uptown Music Collective‘s rendition of the Blues Brothers at the frigging Community Arts Center, though we had never been students at UMC and didn’t know a DI box from a monitor. I learned by listening to the sound techs there not to do a thing they called “sandbagging,” where you hold back during the sound check and then rock out during the performance–making everyone cringe and forcing the sound person to try and bring your level down gracefully so they don’t get bitched at. The only sense I can make of the metaphor is that it’s like damming a flood with sandbags: there’s no way to do it gracefully and you’re probably always getting yelled at for not doing a good job even though there’s a frigging flood and you’re trying to hold it back with goddern sandbags.
And lastly, here is a video of a song called “Ode 2 Teena,” from our first-ever very own show, at Williamsport’s former creative hub, The Coffee and Tea Room. I’ll save the lengthy caption and just mention that a.) yes, I was wearing white face paint, and b.) the ending shout-out to our fans still stands entirely relevant–increasingly so! Thanks to everyone who came out, comes out, reads the blog, etc. ‘Cause if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, I’m sometimes unsure whether it fell or not…