VV good

VV Brown wants to do it all – and it looks like she just might. The queen of fu­sion tells Anna Carey about her mag­pie-like mu­si­cal ten­den­cies and why, if you ask her for her au­to­graph, she’ll ask for yours right back

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

ELEASING ONE of the most thrilling al­bums of the year would be enough for most peo­ple, but not VV Brown. In the mid­dle of tour­ing and pro­mot­ing her daz­zling de­but, the 25-year-old has also just co-pro­duced an in­de­pen­dent comic book about Marx­ist revo­lu­tion, called The City of Aba­cus, and launched her own on­line vin­tage cloth­ing store.

“I just love be­ing creative,” says Brown from Lon­don, where she’s about to head to the stu­dio. “I want to be a re­nais­sance woman.”

Brown, whose first name is Vanessa but has been known as VV since her teens, grew up in a mid­dle-class fam­ily in Northamp­ton, where her par­ents ran the pri­vate school she and her five younger sib­lings at­tended. “The school was very mu­si­cal,” she re­calls. “The cur­ricu­lum was very much about cre­at­ing things. I think if I had gone to an or­di­nary state school, per­haps I would have had to sac­ri­fice my stud­ies for mu­sic.”

In­stead, mu­sic was “just a nat­u­ral part of my life. I used to spend my break times in the mu­sic room writ­ing – I didn’t have a lot of friends in school. When I was 15 I com­muted to Lon­don ev­ery Wed­nes­day with my mum be­cause I was in a funk band, and I would do my home­work on the train. Then on Sun­day I’d go to church and sing there.”

Brown’s study­ing paid off (she earned four As in her A Lev­els), but she turned down places at Ox­ford, King’s Col­lege Lon­don, the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics and York to con­cen­trate on her mu­sic.

“I did my A lev­els at 17 rather than [the usual] 18. So I think my par­ents were comfortable know­ing that I had a year to play with, like a gap year. They know I’m quite a free spirit, so it would be dif­fi­cult for me to be bogged down learn­ing about law or lit­er­a­ture when, re­ally, I wanted to be play­ing in­stru­ments.”

One year af­ter leav­ing school, Brown was of­fered a ma­jor la­bel record deal and flew out to Los An­ge­les to work with ma­jor r’n’b pro­duc­ers. But she hated it. Her mu­sic was, she says, taken out of her hands, which is why

Rshe now likes to do ev­ery­thing her­self. “I’m a lit­tle bit of a con­trol freak be­cause I was so let down in the past. I felt I was mu­si­cally mo­lested, and I didn’t re­ally have a say. So when I got to do it again I was adamant that I’d make sure the mu­sic was all me. I didn’t want any­one else to get in­volved and mess up my sound, so I spent a lot of time alone in the stu­dio.”

The re­sult is Trav­el­ling Like the Light, an ir­re­sistible al­bum that mixes ev­ery­thing from rock­a­billy to soul, from The Shangri­Las to synth pop. But how to de­scribe her eclec­tic sound? “The first de­scrip­tion I came up with was ‘doowop in­die’. Af­ter I got re­ally bored of say­ing that, I came up with the sec­ond def­i­ni­tion, which was ‘1950s syn­the­sised mad­ness’.”

De­spite the in­flu­ence of rock’n’roll’s early years on both the mu­sic and Brown’s retro style, this is no hol­low pas­tiche; Duffy she ain’t.

“I’m a huge fan of fu­sion,” she says. “I never wanted to be a pas­tiche artist mak­ing records that sounded like they were from the past. Which is why I like to use more mod­ern, con­tem­po­rary sounds, like elec­tronic buzzes and sam­pling Nin­tendo games, and mix that in with older sounds.”

VV’s eclec­tic tastes can be seen on her new on­line shop (www.vvvin­tage.com), which sells cus­tomised and un­touched vin­tage garb.

“Even be­fore I had a record deal, peo­ple kept com­ing up to me on the street or tap­ping my shoul­der on the tube, ask­ing where did you get that? A lot of the time it was some­thing I’d made or cus­tomised, or it was vin­tage. So I thought, why not sell th­ese things?”

She tries to check out lo­cal vin­tage shops while tour­ing. “I head out af­ter the soundcheck. I’m al­ways looking for old in­stru­ments as well – I love mu­si­cal gad­gets.Right now I’ve got about nine old key­boards and lots of mara­cas and xy­lo­phones, and I’ve got nowhere to put them. I think I’ve got to get a shed.”

Brown has been known to cre­ate her own in­stru­ments, al­though her cel­e­brated on­estring gui­tar was born out of ne­ces­sity.

“I made the one-string gui­tar be­cause I was broke and couldn’t af­ford any in­stru­ments. I’d sold my key­board to get a plane ticket back from Los An­ge­les. But I later dis­cov­ered that hill­bil­lies in the 1920s would make their own gui­tars and basses. Even in African coun­tries they’ve made their own am­pli­fiers and stuff like that. It’s quite cool to be part of lit­tle move­ment of peo­ple not only mak­ing sounds but mak­ing in­stru­ments.”

VV also feels an affin­ity with other in­no­va­tive fe­male mu­si­cians. “I re­ally re­late to Florence [Welch, of Florence and the Ma­chine],” she says. “We’re very dif­fer­ent mu­si­cally, but there’s an en­ergy about her that I can re­late to. I think she’s in­cred­i­ble. If you were to cut open our hearts and our mu­si­cal souls, they would be very sim­i­lar.”

She wel­comes the new wave of young women who write and pro­duce as well as per­form their own ma­te­rial. “I call 2009 the year of the ec­cen­tric woman. Last year we had Duffy and Adele, who were quite straight and very easy to un­der­stand. Duffy was straight-up Mo­town and Dusty Spring­field, and Adele was straight-up soul. But this year it’s not so straight at all, it’s very much about fu­sion and fash­ion and ec­cen­tric­ity. It’s ex­cit­ing!”

As she be­gins work­ing on new songs, VV is well-aware of the dreaded sec­ond al­bum syn­drome. “You’ve got your whole life to write your first record and then every­one ex­pects you to write a bet­ter record in the space of eight months.”

What­ever hap­pens, fame isn’t go­ing to go to her head.

“I’ve got an idea that will hope­fully be­come an ex­hi­bi­tion. I re­ally be­lieve fame is delu­sional, and I think re­al­ity shows are teach­ing kids they can be­come fa­mous in a quick-fix way. So when­ever some­one asks me for an au­to­graph, I ask them for an au­to­graph back. And I’m putting to­gether a col­lec­tion of fan’s au­to­graphs as a way to say I’m no dif­fer­ent from you. I make mu­sic, you’re a banker, you’re a nurse, or a cleaner. But now you have my au­to­graph and I have yours.”

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