Top of the Hot List and one to watch for 2009, VV Brown hit the big time this year. We talk fame, fashion and festivals.
VV Brown has music in her blood. She counts piano, organ, drums, bass, melodica, recorder, trumpet and (one stringed) guitar among the instruments she can squeeze a tune out of, and, at the age of 15, she was touring Japan in a funk band.
It wasn’t long before VV found herself in LA, writing songs for the Pussycat Dolls and recording her debut album. Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t a good one. The big time producers polished all the originality out of her music and she found herself in a tempestuous relationship with a guy from LA. In the end, VV decided to come home.
Was there ever a point when she considering giving up on music altogether? “There were moments when I thought I’d never make it, and that I was crazy to chase a dream that kept me broke and sad all the time,” she says. “Deep down in my gut I knew it was what I wanted though, I always went back to music, I never felt complete without it.”
Her determination certainly paid off; she’s been on every hot list worth reading, and has a bunch of live dates and festivals lined up in front of her. I’d heard that she’s playing Glastonbury this year. “Yeah, it’s all confirmed, I’ll be on the main stage!” VV replies, obviously excited about the prospect.
She loves playing festivals, she tells me. “It’s a chance to get really crazy. It’s genuinely free and you can listen to good music. The crowds are up for a laugh and there’s lots of dancing. It’s a real musical community who are really free.” There’s an added bonus for VV this year too. “My mum’s coming with her caravan – so God help everyone!” She says, laughing.
Technically, this is VV’s second coming. The debut album she recorded in LA was never released, much to her relief, as she wasn’t happy with the way it turned out. Is she happy with Travelling Like The Light? “Absolutely happy. The album represents who I am, which is something I wanted from the beginning.” And you can really hear the pride in her voice as she enthuses about the record.
VV is at the forefront of a wave of female pop artists with electro-infected tunes, including Little Boots and La Roux. Could this be the year for solo female artists to take over the charts?
“The industry has been monopolised by female artists for a while,” she says. “Last year it was Duffy, Gabriella Cilmi, the year before we had Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Kate Nash and before that Corinne Bailey Ray. I don’t know why but for some reason girls tend to be solo artists and boys are in bands.”
I suggest it might be because it’s hard for a female musician to get her voice heard over some of the noisy male egos out there. She disagrees with this. “I think psychologically women are emotionally stronger, whereas men need groups. They gravitate towards groups in society and you see it in music too.” VV would still like to see bands with all girls back in music. “It’s a gap in the market,” she says. “It would be cool to have more girl groups, there are a lot of solo girls out there but not many groups, it would be great if there were more.”
The lack of all-female bands out there is a sorry state of affairs. There have been few strong girl groups since the Riot Grrrl of the early 90s, when bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney were part of a revolution grrrl style that, unfortunately, barely dented the charts.
VV is excited by the idea of starting her own group of kick-ass female musicians. “That’d be wicked; it could be a new project, an all girl group. No one would know who we are, we’d never do any gigs, or we’d do them in masks so no-one could recognise us!” Given her considerable musical abilities, it doesn’t sound like such a crazy idea. “Yeah, that’d be great, and we could be called ‘Mask’!”
It could be a project involving some of the amazing female solo artists around at the moment, often mentioned in the same breath by music journalists. Does being lumped together in the same group get on her nerves? “A tiny bit. Sometimes lazy journalists just compare us and think we’re all the same, when we’re not at all. It’s like they put you in this gladiator ring to see who’ll make it, who’ll be the biggest. It’s a bit frustrating.”
‘”What’s beautiful about it though is that because we’re lumped together we bump into each other all the time. I see Little Boots all the time and La Roux as well sometimes. We do gigs together. It’s nice cause you get to be more friendly.”
VV’s style is definitely all her own, however hard lazy journalists try to squeeze her into a convenient generic box. She describes her style as “musical mashed potatoes”, with elements of doo-wop Motown melodies, pop, 50s rock ‘n’ roll and electro all present. Travelling Like The Light is a pretty upbeat affair, with bouncing melodies and sparkling refrains. Most of the lyrical content is raw and full of lines about emotional damage inflicted by the guy from LA she had a difficult relationship with. Does she find it easier to tackle painful emotions in this way, combining them with ‘happy’ sounds?
“I don’t know. It’s not the way I write that helps me tackle my emotions. It’s just what comes out and I happened to have made up happy melodies. There’s not one way to tackle emotions. Letting it out, like vomiting, is my way of expression. I can’t control what comes out,” VV says. Her style of writing is pretty freestyle, with lyrics coming together quickly. Is this her writing technique? “For me it’s the way I write. I can’t stand it when someone’s writes a song and analyses one word, like the word ‘the’ for 3 hours. If it’s not working or clicking I don’t push it. Songs are given to you, you don’t take them, I believe the universe gives them to you.”
With all the recognition her music has been getting, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be long before VV becomes a star. Is fame a curse or a blessing? “That’s a really good question,” she pauses to give it some thought. “It’s a curse. Some artists sell millions of records but you wouldn’t deem them famous. I think the definition of famous is someone who’s constantly hounded by the press…But you need fame to sell lots of records, and have a good lifestyle, which is a blessing.” It seems like there’s no black or white answer to this one.
“It can’t be a curse or a blessing. It depends how far it goes. Like Chris Martin, he’s really famous, but I never see him in Heat. Then there’s Amy Winehouse, it’s not her fault she’s always in the newspapers,” she says. The idea of being snapped worse for wear and splashed all over the trash rags is obviously abhorrent to VV. But she’s still savvy enough to realise the importance of fame, especially when it comes to making sure her music is heard.
After such a fantastic start to the year, is there anything left for VV to achieve? “I’d love to have a headline tour, and play the O2 Shepherd’s Bush, and have a top 40 album. And play the main stage at Glastonbury,” she says, with a laugh. “Just consistency and credibility really. And I’d love to be on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, that would be amazing. And it’d be great to go on Jonathan Ross.” Given how much she’s done so far, before her first album has even been released, I suggest that it all sounds achievable.
“I hope so! I’d love to go on Jonathan Ross and sit in that chair. I’d be totally crazy, I’d sit on his lap and jump up on the table!” I hope Wossy is paying attention.
Travelling Like The Light is out now on Island. www.vvbrown.com