Need To Know: V V Brown

2.16.2010

By Joseph Hassan


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 won't 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, you're on the West Coast right now?
V V Brown: Yeah, we're traveling through all these small towns and' they all look the same. [Laughs.]

What are you up to out there?
At the moment, we're just literally beginning a radio tour, so we're just going to loads and loads and loads of radio stations in the West. We're going to San Francisco and basically I'm playing live for radio stations and just starting the whole radio push.

How's the response been in the U.S. so far?
Really good. We've been playing a bit on quite a few radio stations already and we're just trying, bit by bit, to get on more radio stations, really. It's been a really positive reception. It's 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. You're 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 wasn't one thing that I wanted to do that I couldn't 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 didn't 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 it's 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 weren't boxed. And they always taught us never to be a statistic and to think broadly and to love everything that's good rather than to just do one thing that's based upon your own culture. So we were always listening to so many different things and I'm really grateful for them doing that because I think that's the beauty of art -- when you can understand the concept of fusion. That's 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.

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