Young artists have always shaken up Atlanta's music scene. From TLC to OutKast to the Black Lips, Atlanta acts that started in their teens have brought fresh energy, ideas, and sounds to local stages. One of the most noteworthy acts to make an impression over the last two years is von Grey, a four-piece folk/bluegrass family act from Johns Creek. Homeschooled sisters Kathryn, Annika, Fiona, and Petra von Grey, who range in age from 12 to 18, all play multiple instruments and weave together seriously sweet four-part vocal harmonies.
The sisters' parents made music a focus, starting each girl on an instrument at 5 years old.
"I think [becoming a band] was kind of a natural thing for us," says Annika.
A trip to India, where their father's medical data company owns production facilities, prompted the girls to start writing songs after being inspired by musicians there.
In 2007, the sisters combined their names to form the chamber music group Kannafitra. A year later they expanded their repertoire to include Celtic, folk, and bluegrass sounds. The group changed its name to von Grey in 2009 and released the debut recording, Make Some Noise, in 2011 and followed with a self-titled EP a year later.
Ed Roland (Collective Soul, the Sweet Tea Project) and Macon band Saint Francis were early supporters of the young group, providing advice and introducing them to venue owners, producers, and other industry insiders. This spring, Criminal Records released the 12-track Live at Criminal Records 01.01.13 as part of a Record Store Day special issue. Von Grey quickly jumped on the festival circuit — the band played Bonnaroo this year — and landed some high-profile TV appearances, including the "Late Show with David Letterman." The band also performed on "Conan" when the show recorded episodes at the Tabernacle in April.
Von Grey's blend of bluegrass, folk, country, and classical brings to mind a budding Nickel Creek or the Civil Wars, with a little of Taylor Swift's accessible acoustic sound. Older siblings Kathryn and Annika are the band's primary songwriters, though all four sisters are collaborating more and more on everything from lyrics to production decisions.
Navigating the industry "has been a big learning curve," Annika says. "If you meet someone who's kind of a roadie or a soundman and they can tell you anything about the industry, that's always really helpful."
Ongoing sessions with producer Rick Beato, whose Black Dog Sound studio has turned out Shinedown, Needtobreathe, and Trey Anastasio recordings, will likely help von Grey's version of Americana grow and mature.
"We will always have a passion for acoustic stuff since that's how we grew up," Annika says. "Now it's a little more melodic, with some synths, and we're adding a more complex structure, not just through songwriting but also through production. We're really into the technological side of things, experimenting with all the different sounds you can make in a studio now."
Von Grey's plans for the summer include recording and touring. The band will play July 4 at Centennial Olympic Park, then head out for several East Coast festivals before opening for the Indigo Girls at some of their upcoming Colorado shows. As the sisters grow, tastes evolve, and things like college beckon, their mutual desire to perform together may change, says Annika. But for now, she and her sisters are enjoying the experience and carving out their own niche in the Atlanta music scene and beyond.