Key of V
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Key of V

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Spike: Key of V, the wunderkind LaCerra Sisters, Val and Erin, keep cranking out gems. Some of their songs are really recorded ideas, short diary pages of mental sufferance, effective in their own lo-fi brilliance. Other songs sail through speakers the way pop classics should. Their “bullet” for me is still “Bess While 2.”

Goth Woman: I’ve heard people compare to them The McGarrigle Sisters and half a dozen upstart female urban psychedelic folkies, but Key of V is in their own irresistible universe. If all they had were rubber bands and a shoe box, they’d come up with something cool.

Spike: Absolutes stand out from Key of V’s mercurial-ity. First, they are excellent singers with outrageous technique. Second, when they decide to crystallize a pop song, they nail it. “You Love” is an example.

Goth Woman: It’s one of their less abstract works, very sweet, intimate. It’s classic urban folk in the Suzanne Vega mode, but totally Key of V.

Spike: This was on a freebie EP handed out last summer. It begs to get on the radio. The future is wide open for Key of V. They were selected as the 2009 Artist of the Year on the Billtown Bus Stop Radio Hour. - NorthcentralPA.com


In music, everybody wants to make it big. Most people want success to happen overnight, as if by coincidence or fate. Most of the time, it doesn't.

But, sometimes, with a little luck and a lot of work, a band can make their own fate.

Local band Key of V is trying to do just that, and their resolve - and a lot of e-mailing - has landed them a gig at 9 p.m. Sunday at The Annex, an established music venue located in the heart of lower Manhattan.

For band members and sisters Valerie and Erin LaCerra, the show at The Annex has been a long time coming. The sisters aren't strangers to the creative process, nor are they afraid of the work that goes into making their band a success.

They sat down last weekend to talk about what it takes for a band to go from playing on local streets to taking the stage in the Big Apple.

Their answers weren't surprising. You need confidence, they said. And dedication.

According to Val, there was no particular serendipity involved in landing the show at The Annex; it was no case of "I met this guy at a party and he knew this famous band, or the owner of the club ..."

"That'd be really rock star of me, but no," she said. "We work really hard."

That sheer do-it-yourself persistence is paying off, and not just at The Annex. The band has played across the country, from Pittsburgh to Seattle.

"We do a lot of footwork," Erin said.

It's almost an understatement. When searching for a venue, the LaCerras send press kits, links to Web sites and music, and short e-mails to potentials sites, and they keep contacting them until they can book a show. They also network through other bands to get location recommendations and even gigs as opening acts.

Once Key of V has booked a show, they scour the respective city, passing out flyers and even play in the street to promote the event.

It's not surprising then, that the LaCerra sisters have literally built Key of V from the ground up. They started their career as street musicians, playing for simple exposure until local downtown businesses - usually bars and coffee shops - invited them to perform inside.

Since then, the LaCerras have pounded many miles of pavement to bring themselves to the place they occupy today - and the stage they'll occupy on Sunday.

But Key of V isn't entirely new to New York: The show at The Annex will be their second in the city. Their first was at the club Goodbye Blue Monday, which Erin calls an "awesome little eclectic grunge venue." There, musicians who market themselves can set up their own gigs, and then play with whatever other band has likewise logged the date, regardless of compatible musical styles.

The Annex, however, is a whole new ballgame.

"This is probably the biggest show we've had," Val said. "They do review your music. You have to have something they like in order to be able to play there."

In that sense, simply landing the gig can be its own reward. But the compliment of opportunity also comes with its pressures, like getting a good turnout."

"It's not about money for us," Val said, of trying to bring Key of V farther into the public eye. "It's about establishing good relationships with owners and bands. It's all about networking. The venue will ask you back if you have enough people."

Getting a good crowd may sound like a simple task when it comes to playing in the city that never sleeps, so much so that it's easy to forget how keen the competition for attention is.

To solve that problem, Key of V is intent on bringing their fan base with them. They've also told friends in the city to spread the word about the show, and they're chartering a passenger van to shuttle interested people to New York for the day. The band is charging $10 for the ride, which includes the price of admission to the show. The van will leave Williamsport early enough for passengers to see the city sites, and will return late the same night. Anyone interested in going can email the band at keyofv@gmail.com.

For the LaCerras, the show will be the latest pinnacle in a lifetime of music-making. While Key of V has only existed since 2007, the sisters have been singing together since they were children, and recall harmonizing with each other even at the young age of seven.

Their music reflects that closeness, not necessarily in lyrics, but in sound. The LaCerras understand each other both musically and emotionally. If one is momentarily stumped during the creative process, the other can accommodate.

"I'll know what she's talking about, or she'll know what I'm asking for," Erin said. At the same time, she added "When we have a difference of opinion, it goes a lot deeper."

But the bond of shared blood keeps them together, even if they have creative differences. "It's not just a contract - we're sisters," Val said. "We more apt to express our emotions, and (collaboration) is a lot more passionate."

That passion comes through in their music, a eclectic combination of grunge and indie rock with old-school vocalist, psychedelic and even Celtic influences.

Those adjectives make for an imposing mix to wrap one's head around. Key of V is often asked who they sound like, but it's a tougher question than it perhaps appears. It doesn't help that, when people see their instruments - an acoustic guitar and a viola - they tend to think Key of V is a folk band.

The assumption is understandable, if laughable for those familiar with the band. Still, when asked to describe their sound, the LaCerras fell silent for a moment. But soon the answers bubbled out, hesitantly at first, then tumbling.

"I don't think we fit into a predetermined genre," Erin said slowly.

"It's definitely experimental," Val added. "I think it's got a little bit of some frank punkness to it."

"But it can also be really ambient too," Erin said. "None of our songs are similar."

Later, Erin admitted that the band's dream would be to open for the grunge cello trio Rasputina. Both bands make use of classical instruments in unexpected ways.

For Key of V, that also includes their voices.

"Vocal harmonies are the basis for our trippiness," Erin said. "We have this vision, or this sound, in our heads. We take what Val records in the studio, but we're still figuring out how to reproduce that sound live."

Bringing their sound to life can be complicated for a band with only two people. The LaCerras often play more than one instrument per song. Val will beat on the body of her guitar to add percussion to a melody, while Erin will tie a tambourine to her hip to be able to branch out beyond the viola.

That viola is plugged into delay and distortion guitar pedals to allow Erin to warp and expand upon melodies during live performances.

"It gives us that atmospheric and epic sound that we're going for," Erin said. "I like catching people off guard and surprising them. I think that's one of the things that hooks people."

The sisters hope that the show at The Annex will garner interest among New Yorkers and Williamsporters alike. At a glance, the venue seems a perfect fit for Key of V, which thrives on its own uniqueness.

"It's a place where people come (specifically) to hear music," Erin said, adding that Goodbye Blue Monday offered a similar experience.

"People were just there to hear what you have to say," said Val, who's ready for this weekend's show. "I'm excited to just be myself," she said. "It's gonna be fun in New York." - Williamsport Sun Gazette


Equipped with voices as complimentary as V and E's and the innate beauty of the violin/guitar combo, Key of V achieve pretty easily. But these artists aren't satisfied with just pretty. They fight their songs with Alanis-like rambling, bursts of energy that bring Patti Smith to mind, and transitions that would make David Bowie proud. One can never infer an ending from any of their beginnings and yet--somehow--none of the songs sound random or forced. In a strange way, it's all still organic, like assemblage is naturally embedded in their intuition (rather than being a result of aesthetic upgrade due to external stimulus).

One might think that Joanna Newsom's relatively recent claim on childish inflection would overwhelm any such attempt by another act in the near future but not in this case. Whereas Newsom's vocals seem like they come from a lonely elf in a cave on a mountain, Key of V's are more like lights chasing each other in the city. Got it? Good.

Many times when I hear local music, I spend my listening time evaluating the performers' decisions. However, while experiencing the Key of V, I forget that I'm in Williamsport, I forget that I'm in the Coffee and Tea room, and I exist solely in their music. Key of V, due to the atmosphere created by their deft compositions and sisterly chemistry, become place. Whatever plane their playing creates is where I am.

You may accuse me of being overtly positive in my review but I don't see how I could be otherwise. By routinely performing here, the Key of V enrich our culture. Their playing is an experience that I enjoy every time and think about for days after.

It's good art, so, why not encourage it? Why must one always be critical? If you want to hear a tirade about bad art just catch me after I view common crap at the multiplex. "Rich people gone wild" should be the description of Hollywood in its current state. With that in mind, any artists/entertainers who craft their own bubble and invite us in for an engaging, adventurous, challenging, and ultimately pleasurable experience should be nurtured, promoted, and discussed. The Key of V are two artists whom I soulfully endorse. - Williamsport Art Blog


Discography

Things We Drew From the Treacle Well [2011]
Frack is Whack! (EP) [2010]
E.D. (EP) [2009]
Songs in the Key of V [2007]

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Bio

Key of V is an Pennsylvania-based lo-fi experimental antifolk duo comprised of sisters Erin and Val LaCerra–who’ve been singing harmonies together since they were toddlers, but officially joined forces as Key of V in 2007. Inspired by an amalgamation of influences including The Beatles, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Bessie Smith, and equipped with acoustic instruments and mics run through several pedals, Key of V challenges traditional vocals and instrumentation–and the preconception that duos cannot make big sounds. Their 2011 album “Things We Drew From the Treacle Well” explores social and relational issues over a backdrop of signature Key of V experimental folk; the album was recorded over a three-year period in several spaces and formats. Its release sparked their debut tour with PA friends and folk-jazz quartet Clawfoot Slumber. Key of V is known for their DIY approach and community organizing, helping host and headline the 3-year running Absorb Williamsport Music Festival, and contributing their music to various humanitarian causes.