V V Brown's debut album topped the charts in France -- and came close in her native England -- but, as she recently intimated to Out, her approach to the U.S. is going to be optimistically patient. Our intuition says patience is a virtue that Brown wont have to rely upon for too long. Earlier this month, the singer-songwriter, graphic novelist, and model released her freshman effort Travelling Like the Light electronically in the States, supported by a live radio tour and performances in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Out caught up with the 26-year old artist -- who turned down entry to Oxford University and the London School of Economics to pursue her passion for music -- to chat about her sound, her roots, her role as an instructor in the largest music class in the world, and her ultimate (and admittedly lofty) goal of bringing back the Renaissance.
Out: So, youre on the West Coast right now?
V V Brown: Yeah, were traveling through all these small towns and they all look the same. [Laughs.]
What are you up to out there?
At the moment, were just literally beginning a radio tour, so were just going to loads and loads and loads of radio stations in the West. Were going to San Francisco and basically Im playing live for radio stations and just starting the whole radio push.
Hows the response been in the U.S. so far?
Really good. Weve been playing a bit on quite a few radio stations already and were just trying, bit by bit, to get on more radio stations, really. Its been a really positive reception. Its definitely a process -- an evolution.
I wanted to talk a little bit about your background, and growing up in the U.K. and where your musical influences came from. Youre the eldest of six siblings, right?
Yep. I have three brothers and two sisters.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
It was an artistic family. My mum was a teacher. She owned a school and she kind of believed in artistic intelligence and she was very much about trying to find innovative ways of teaching children and so the school was based upon on a normal national curriculum but it was quite abstract. Like, it was compulsory for children to learn an instrument. My mum played the guitar -- it was a very open-minded household.
So you had the freedom to explore what you wanted to in terms of music and art?
Yeah. Like I think there wasnt one thing that I wanted to do that I couldnt do. I did violin lessons, cello lessons, painting classes -- badminton -- everything. I just remember that we tried everything we wanted. We would try it once and then if we didnt like it we would ditch it. But I started classical piano when I was about five years old and kind of stuck at that and I played the trumpet from 12 in brass band, so, it was really cool.
Who or what were your musical influences?
I think the biggest influence was that I went to a gospel church. So while I was learning classical piano and the sort of classical arts, on Sundays I was going to church where it was a very improvised form of music and music was very much a lifestyle rather than something that you learned technically. And then my parents were from the Caribbean -- they moved to the U.K. So they had the sort of roots of ska and reggae, which is something that was sort of in the household a lot but also because they were teenagers and in their 20s in the '80s they were into punk and my dad had a motorbike and thought he was a rock star and stuff like that. So my dad had a lot of those sorts of records in the house, too.
That all comes through on the album -- I can tell that you draw upon a really wide range of musical influences and its interesting that it came from so many different places and at such an early age.
I was totally a product of my environment because my parents were just so eclectic, I guess. I always found my parents were really special when I was growing up because they just werent boxed. And they always taught us never to be a statistic and to think broadly and to love everything thats good rather than to just do one thing thats based upon your own culture. So we were always listening to so many different things and Im really grateful for them doing that because I think thats the beauty of art -- when you can understand the concept of fusion. Thats when you become innovative, I think. When you mix things together and experiment with different styles.
How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn't yet heard it?
Alternative pop music. This album is a pop cocktail of '50s influence with cool fusion. However, I don't want to be a slave to the '50s theme throughout my career. This was how I was feeling at the time, so alternative pop music makes people understand that whatever I do it will always have an edge with a pop front cover and a celebration of fusion.
The album is so catchy and upbeat, but there are two tracks that stand out in that they are a bit more subdued. One of those is the title track, Travelling Like the Light. Could you talk a bit about how that song came about?
Quantum physics. Light is a beautiful thing. It's energy -- and everything is made up of it. It converts to different forms and can never be destroyed.
Going back to the concept about not being boxed and not following the typical path, I read that you were accepted to Oxford University and the London School of Economics but that you decided instead to pursue your music career. Is that right?
Yeah. I was going to do law at Oxford but they make robots. I dont know. I think if I hadnt been so into music I would have gone. It was quite a huge decision because obviously its a big deal to get into a university like that, but Im so addicted to music and I knew -- Im one of these crazy people where Im kind of all or nothing. When I love something Im just one-hundred-and-fifty percent involved so Im basically a slave to my music. I just knew that I would be doing this. Even now that Im just at the beginning of my career, I just know that eventually its going to work for me.
Speaking of education, I read about a collaboration you did with Jamie Cullum -- the largest music class in the world? I was wondering if you could talk a bit about that.
Yeah, that was amazing. Basically, I got a phone call and they wanted to do an online music class and it was the biggest online music class in the world. Basically, Jamie Cullum and I did a lecture and there was a beat boxer called Killa Kela and it was all these kids online from all over England and Europe just watching us give this class and talk about music and play music and talk about the industry. It was just so collective and so powerful. It felt like we were part of the future. It was really innovative and the kids loved it. They were so inspired and, to me, thats the side of what I do that I love. I love to do things like that because I'm giving back. And Jamie Cullum is so talented.
In the U.S., theres been such a dearth of funding for the arts that this online approach that piques the interest of so many kids might be a path to explore in order to increase education surrounding the arts.
I think theyre looking into it. You know, nowadays, kids live on the Internet. They dont put the television on. They dont watch Sponge Bob on Nickelodeon. They go straight to MSN, MySpace, iTunes. You know, all those kinds of sites. If you can educate children through the Internet, I think its a very good way forward.
Switching gears a little bit, you seem to have a penchant for vintage clothing. Tell me how that came about.
Well, I got into vintage clothes because I had no money. I was living in L.A. for a while and when I got back to England I was so broke that I couldnt really afford the designer labels or the High Street labels so I used to go to thrift stores to get my clothes -- literally -- for practical reasons and I just got into it. I started to find out that it was really fun and it could be really creative on a low budget. And when I started to fall back in love with vinyl and music from the '60s and the '50s, thats when I started to realize, Wow, fashion can represent a period in somebodys life. And I started to dress up like a 1950s pin-up -- like it was completely '50s. And then I discovered designers like Viktor & Rolf and Balenciaga and Vivienne Westwood and Ashish and I started to mix vintage and contemporary fashion.
Any hot spots you like to go vintage shopping -- say in New York or London?
In America Im still discovering places to go -- Im not an expert yet. In London, I love Rellik, which is in Westbourne Park. Its a vintage shop thats really, really good. Kate Moss goes there. A lot people go there, its kind of high end. Then theres Absolutely Vintage in East London on Brick Lane.
The album reached number 1 on the French iTunes chart. Youve got to be excited with the album coming out in the U.S. now, too. Whats that like for you?
Its a big, big country. And since weve been driving on this radio tour Ive realized more and more how huge it is. And so, I think, with America, Im having patience. Im very patient -- but Im excited. Im really, really excited because I know that American people love music and its going to be fun going to different states and towns and playing shows. So, its an excited patience. Thats what I have for America.
You're also a model. How did you get started in the industry?
Its a weird story actually because I never -- Id been asked to do modeling when I was like 15, but I just thought it was stupid. I thought it was quite a vain industry and I was like, I want to be a rock star But I was on the plane on the way to New York and there was this lady sitting next to me on her BlackBerry and we ended up talking for hours and hours and she gave me her card and she said, You should be a model. And I was like, Oh, I dont know. She pulled out Vogue magazine and I knew my press guy had said to me You might be in Vogue this month as one of the artists to watch. And then she opened up the Vogue magazine and there I was. And so it was kind of fate. So I signed to Next Models with her. Thats it really. Now I guess Im doing modeling. Its a bit weird.
Well, it sounds like you have your hand in a lot of projects, but like your music is in a really great spot right now --
Well, my aim is to be a Renaissance woman. Thats what I want to be. I want to be like Leonardo da Vinci. Hes my hero.
Youre like the Leonardo da Vinci of the 21st century?
Yeah. V V Brown is trying to bring back the renaissance [laughs].
Travelling Like the Light is available now on iTunes and will be followed by a physical release in the U.S. in March. For more on Brown, visit her official website.