V.V. Brown interview
February 2, 2010 by Bill Palmer
It’s nearly midnight in London, but the UK’s hottest new export is still wide awake and talking to a journalist from across the ocean because she’s just that busy. If everyone wants a piece of V.V. Brown right now (and everyone does; she’s the iTunes single of the week right now and iProng’s artist of the month for February 2010), it’s with good reason – her intensely fiery throwback album is not quite like any combination of styles that I’ve ever previously heard. She lists inspirations ranging from GaGa to Da Vinci, she writes songs with a one-string guitar, and she turned down the chance to attend Oxford. Presenting iProng’s interview with the artist who has maybe the best fashion sense ever for a self-proclaimed “total geek”…
You’re in the UK and it’s eleven o’clock at night right now. Are you just a night owl, or have you got that much going on that you’re still doing interviews this far into the night?
Yeah, this is pretty normal. But it’s cool. I’ve just left a restaurant for dinner, so I’m still up and I haven’t got my slippers on yet, so I’m fine.
Your name is Vanessa, so where did the “V.V.” come from? Is that a childhood nickname?
Yeah it was a nickname. I used to do hip hop battles in the playground, and it was kind of like a hip hop name that sort of stuck.
When I listen to Travelling Like the Light, there’s two things that immediately jump out at me. One is that it’s got this old school, throwback feel. What inspired that in you?
For a long time I was repressing the music that I really loved, cause when I was a kid I was a very deep kid, I was into classical and jazz music, and it wasn’t very cool. So from the age of thirteen to like nineteen, I kind of suppressed the love of it and was trying to be cool and listened to not songs that I loved. And then I went to LA and I was signed to a record deal which was different from this one, and they were trying to make me into an R&B diva, and I was still suppressing all of the music that I really liked, but I never said anything about it.
When I came back to London I didn’t want to suppress it anymore. I wanted to be true to what I wanted to do. So I went to a record store and I bought loads of vinyl and started to listen to old music again, like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and mixed the two, my love of pop music and then my love of old school music, and try to create a fusion of both.
The other thing that strikes me is that we’re talking now and you seem pretty reserved, and yet this record just knocks me to the floor with its energy. Where does that intensity come from? It seems to be kind of a contrast to your personality.
No, my personality is like the music (laughs). I think the more America gets to know me, I think the more they’ll understand that. I’m very new to the States right now. But I think like the UK, they’ll probably be able to, after time, see that it does marry well.
But also as well I think I had very much things that I wanted to say and so many things I was feeling. When you’ve been suppressed for a long time, I was like a kid rebelling. There were a lot of things bubbling up and just wanting to come out, like a revolution in me or something. I think the energy came from that rebellious feeling of not wanting to compromise anymore.
The very first vocal note of Quick Fix, the opening track, is almost like a guttural scream. Were you trying to make a statement, or was that just a spontaneous thing?
It was really spontaneous. I think it would be really contrived if it were something I was trying to do. I think I was in the vocal booth and it just came out. In fact all the vocals on the record are the demos, if I recall. A lot of them are. And they’re spontaneous vocals that came out straight away. So I think that’s probably another reason why it feels like an honest record, because it wasn’t overthought. I don’t like being in the studio and doing twenty million vocal takes. I like to do one and treat it like a live performance.
I’ve heard the story of how you wrote Crying Blood on a guitar that only had one. I’m trying to imagine how that works physically, because you can’t do chords or anything. How does that even work?
It’s very much like a bass guitar. You generally just use the frets to change the key, and you just use the notes within that scale. It’s very bluesy, and you just basically sing a melody over the bass line of the song. But it’s so cool because it strips everything back to such a simple state that you can really focus on the melody in the song rather than beats. But even chords, chords are good, but even just having one bass it becomes so naked it makes the strength of the song even more better because if you can have a strong melody over a bass note, then you’re onto a winner.
Can you see yourself continuing to go back to the one string model in the future for writing?
Yeah I still do to this day, but these days I’m not as broke as I used to be, so I just invested in a home studio, and so I don’t have to use it as much. But I think it’s important when you’re an artist, even if you’re situation changes, you always should go back to the beginning because that’s where the fire came from. You have to remember your roots. I think a lot of second albums are always diluted because people forget their roots.
Travelling Like The Light is one of the quietest, gentlest songs on the album. Why did you choose that one for the album title?
I love light and I believe that light travels, and I believe that light is one of the most beautiful things. It’s very interesting. Energy cannot be destroyed, it only can be converted into other forms of energy. So light for instance, you can’t destroy light, it’ll be turned into something else whether it be kinetic energy or something else. So that’s why I called the album Travelling Like The Light, because I see my career like light, it infinitely continues, it cannot be destroyed, and if it is changed, it converts into something else.
You were accepted Oxford and some other prestigious schools, and your songwriting name is “geeki” – do you consider yourself to be a geek?
Total, total, total one. Yeah, I’m not a diva in any way. I mean I can be a bit stubborn sometimes and stuff, but generally I’m a geek. I collect old keyboards and enjoy weird things, like I’m doing a comic book, and reading and things like that. I don’t know if that’s what a geek is, but it’s I guess the stereotype of a geek. I like the simple life, you know? And I’m interested in intelligence and I’m curious about the world. So if that’s a geek, I guess I’m a geek. I’m not really meant for the fame game. I just stumbled into it because I love music.
You do have a strong sense of fashion though. Some musicians could care less about fashion, but in your mind, how are music and fashion intertwined?
I’ve always said to myself that I’m not a musician, I’m a creative person. And I’ve always looked up to artists like Leonardo da Vinci who were not just one thing, they were many things. And so for me, that’s what my aim is, to be a creative person like how it was in the Renaissance.
For me it’s like I just want to express myself creatively in all forms, so fashion is just another part of my personality and another form of me being an artist and expressing myself. And I think that’s become a lot more apparent in our industry at the moment. There’s kind of been an influx of artists who are being very Renaissance. It almost feels like the Renaissance again, a little bit. We had it in the eighties with David Bowie and Grace Jones and artists like that who wanted to express everything through fashion, music, film. It’s happening again and I feel quite excited to be a part of that kind of new Renaissance. Now we have Lady GaGa and loads of artists that are expressing themselves in more ways than one. And that’s what I’m doing.