Category Archives: Philosophy

The Genre Obsession

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?”

“No.”

“Regina Spektor?”

“Nope.”

“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.

Val LaCerra

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Staten Island: Art and Challenge

The annual Staten Island cross-dressing party was held in Queens at the Mandragoras studio performance space this year. It was our first experience with this seemingly esoteric event, and my first live exposure to Blurple frontwoman Phoebe Blue’s anti-folk trio Phoebe Blue and the Make Baleaves–and most notably, their song The Fox–a performance that hearkened back to some of my earliest and crucial listening days, which featured (still choice) female-fronted bands like Frente! and Mazzy Star.

This was our second experience with the community from Staten Island. The first was at Deep Tank Studios, a small basement atelier/performance space in SI where we witnessed D.B. Lampman’s empowering installation “Brain Furniture” and where Deep Tanks owners Kristopher and Florence generously put our crew up for the night. We frequented the intentional-community-powered Everything Goes Bookstore for coffee, literature and conversation, and I was given the impression of a tight, supportive community of artists and free thinkers striving for something bigger on New York’s often forgotten (and also relatively arcane) Island, in much the same way Williamsport artists do–or, more often did, before ephemerally-lucrative natural gas discovered under it picked commerce up to a less-deplorable level.

In my experience, challenge inspires more creativity than comfort. Without some level of challenge, I have no reason to create. I am unmoved. Personally, that challenge for me often lies in a social issue and my move is in most cases realization, acceptance, education or a call to action. My material comes from my environment, my community or lack of one. Crisis, disorder, institutional race-, class-, look-, and sexism, looking out the window and seeing something ugly: these things challenge me to do more with myself and my art. Perhaps that is why I chose the Human Services field.

An old roommate alluded to my tendency to surround myself with unhealthy challenge while apartment-shopping. “Why do you want a shitty apartment?” He asked, ducking beneath a yellow-stained drop ceiling in the kitchen, in the middle of a darkened carpet-spot the size of a baby pool, which I imagined was the source of the cat-piss smell. Realizing then that my long-running attraction to sloped cat-piss apartments was not normal, I opted for a restored Victorian one and painted the rooms orange, yellow, and hot pink. My roommate was happy, and I still wrote songs. I have a tendency to do things in the extreme, which is what makes me a poor candidate for dieting, drinking alcohol, and apparently, challenging myself.

The day after the show at Mandragoras, the four of us sat down to lunch in Brooklyn with Amber and Haley from the Dirty Projectors. Amber stressed the importance of embracing opportunity as an artist, insisting NYC was practically the only place to do it. I shrunk in my seat while my immaterial plans of homesteading while reaching out to a surely up-and-coming music community like Asheville turned dark. Was I just trying to creating a unhealthy challenge for myself as a musician, or was I trying to be too comfortable? Was the real challenge in the stressful city, or was that the comfort, with the opportunities?

As I grow as an artist and a woman, I am asking myself how I can still challenge myself in a healthy way, yet open myself up to the opportunities Key of V deserves. I know one thing, if I did move to NYC, I’d be a Staten Islander.

Like My Music: Entertaining the Entertainment Industry

In Winter of 2008, not even a year into playing out, we were booked to play Kimball’s Pub in Williamsport with dream-popish Austin indie band A.M. Syndicate, and a dancey rock band called something-box. We listened to both bands on Myspace and especially liked A.M.’s sound so we contacted them—they were likewise excited to play with us. Unfortunately, a few days before the show, we were sent an email by Eric, our booking contact at Kimballs, stating that A.M Sydicate and Key of V were removed from the bill, as the something-box dance music band wanted the three-hour show to themselves. Omar and Golfball of A.M. messaged us and asked if we could get a show anywhere else, as Williamsport was already etched out on their tour schedule. We ended up landing a gig at Kelly’s Grill, with fans outnumbering cockroaches at least 2 to 1. Since then we’ve played with A.M. in Williamsport one other time at the Valley Inn, and Omar and Golfball opened their home to us in Austin when we traveled cross-country two summers ago.Four years after the canceled Kimball’s show I can’t say much has changed in regard to booking shows. Certainly our music and local fan base has evolved, but I suspect we could lose a stable, local show to a crowd pleaser any night because the venues we book operate on a certain formula that has little to do with art.Last weekend, I was getting ready to bed down early, preparing to pack our tour bus with fans and local sister act Clawfoot Slumber, to play the Barbury in Philly with another traveling band, Tennessee Two Piece. I was excited to see some Philly friends and fans, and to play with a new band. At around 10:00pm I received a text from Erin stating that our booking contact at the Barbury called off the show—the woman apparently went on vacation after setting it up, made no plans to staff the bar, and ultimately forgot about the entire thing until Erin emailed her asking where to buy tickets online. Erin and one of the members of Tennessee Two Piece expressed their dilemmas as far as having invested in the event, and pleaded for even a free show, but the Barbury declined.Obviously paying a booking person and signing contracts with venues can prevent these things from happening. But as a businessperson, would you sign a contract to host (let alone pay) a band that can only guarantee to bring you 50 patrons–and you’re thinking more like 25–barring yourself from a more lucrative option should one present itself? Probably not. I mightn’t. But anyway, my belief is that we can’t curb a system that disrespects the unsigned musician simply by finding a way to better fit into it: by getting on a reputable label, by hiring a lawyer to secure paying shows, by getting more Facebook likes or a snazzy Sonicbids presskit. Not that I haven’t done or thought about doing all of these things.Every time I visited in Olympia, WA, I donated a few bucks to sit a barren room somewhere and watch a band play. I saw Kimya Dawson this way, was introduced to the heart-throb act tUne-YarDs, and stumbled upon Julian Koster’s experimental pop project, The Music Tapes.I realize we live in central Pennsylvania and I don’t expect Kimya Dawson to play in Cornball’s basement–Olympia has been the heart of the underground music scene since the late 80’s. But we have the potential, as creative people, to bring something empowering to musicians and listeners here in central PA. King Street Coffee House has been providing a Northumberland-based listening room that runs Fall through Winter for 16 years in the Susquehanna Valley. The folks at King Street sincerely appreciate the musical arts and succeed at showcasing it. They charge a cover and fund raise; all the money goes to the bands and the expense of renting their space. Their listeners are faithful, their musicians are grateful, and they love doing it.And so do we. Those of us who hosted the Absorb Music Festival learned that creating a cool space to reward musicians rather than use them to supplement a commodity is pure love. The only problem was that most of us suffered burn out jumping through the hoops of the city and begging local businesses to sponsor us so we could afford to run a festival-worthy sound system. If the space is too cool, it doesn’t pay the musicians. But we could solve this problem by finding a free space and scaling down the show: a house show or a listening room with the same principles of liberating the arts and less hype or flare. The steps are simple: someone agrees to host the band or bands for a certain number of hours, and we all tell our friends there’s a house show at so-and-so’s December 2nd at 7 for a 10 dollar suggested donation (sliding scale). Details can vary, but the important thing is that there’s no venue owner giving our show to some dance rock motherfuckers or forgetting about our little band when we already put our tour bus on the insurance to haul a party to Philadelphia!Pondering this, I decided to rant with music behind me and record it. So enjoy this song, which illustrates the satire in my queer relationship with the “industry” or the “scene” or whatever it may be at the time.

lyrics
You can read my email
And never get back to me
Read my email
And never get back to me
Delete my email
And never have to deal with me
Cause I’m not bringin hipsters out there
spendin all their money on you yeah.You can play my CD
And never get back to me
Play my CD
And never get back to me
Delete my CD
And never have to deal with me
Cause venues operate
According to booze and moneyYou can lose our CD
And never get back to us
Lose our CD
And never get back to us
Like our fuckin music
And yet never respect us much
Cause I’ll never play my penis through
the mic the way that kid does yeah.Wooh.
Alright.
Glass ceiling?
Huh.Play our CD
And never get back to us
Play our CD
And never get back to us
Like our fuckin music
And yet never respect us much
And I might go crazy like Steve
Buscemi in Air Heads does yeah.
credits
released 05 December 2011
King Street Coffehouse:
www.kingstreetcoffeehouse.comOlympia International Pop Underground:
www.judithbaumann.com/play/category/house-shows/
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