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Things From Our Past

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…

-Val

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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