V V Brown on Fame, Politics, & the Globalization of Music
V V Brown’s sophomore album, Lollipops & Politics is still a whole two months away from hitting US shelves, but the UK vocalist is hard at work promoting the record, whose first single, "Children," was released last September. According to Brown, who has performed on Letterman, Ellen, and who, at 5’11," has modeled professionally, says Politics is a stylistic leap from her debut record, Traveling Like the Light. Whereas that effort borrowed from ’60s girl-group sass, the new record is more synth-heavy, something Brown attributes partly to her new producer, Björn Yttling. We recently sat down with the 28 year old to discuss her new sound, her perception of fame, and getting the courage to sing.
What kind of direction did you take with this album?
I wanted to make a straight pop album. I think the first record had these references from retro themes, and I kind of wanted to let go of that side of me and experiment with new stuff, so I was listening to a lot more ‘80s sounds. I was listening to a lot of Cyndi Lauper and Blondie, and all of these empowering women. So it was much more of an album that didn’t have any reference to the ‘50s. I played around with synthesizers. I got really interested in more political themes, not just love. I always call my music odd pop, because it’s really hard to me to define exactly what I’m doing
Were you influenced by any of the political upheaval that’s been going on lately?
It’s really weird, because we wrote this record about 8 months before the London riots happened, and a lot of the themes I talked about happened yet. There wasn’t any crazy political unrest yet, but you could feel it was coming. You’d read newspapers, and watch CNN, and you feel that things were coming and brewing. So I think I was just picking up on what everyone was feeling and talking about. It’s just now that we’ve exploded into a place where everyone is protesting.
Is the song “Famous” a reaction to your own celebrity?
Andy Warhol said that everyone is going to be famous for 15 minutes, and I think with this YouTube generation, we’re certainly living in it. But I also wrote this song because I’m going through a process of which my whole perception of the fame game has changed. I’m really changing as a person. I’m questioning what it actually is, and what it really means. Why do we glorify other human beings? What is it about us that we feel we have to do that? I kind of feel uncomfortable with the concept of it all. And sometimes I feel kind of hypocritical because obviously, I’m in this industry, and the fame side comes along with it, but I personally feel like it’s getting out of hand. And our youth are aspiring to grow up and be famous rather than have actual skills and dreams anymore. I’m struggling with it at the moment. I’m going through a real transition, and I think that shows through in the song. I do think it’s really nice to meet fans and people that really enjoy your music. You can tell the difference between people who are in it because they really love the music. I’m no different, I’m a human. I’m like everybody else.
Musically, what did you do differently this time around?
I think the first thing I did differently was I collaborated a lot more. I worked with Jack Harmony, a producer that’s worked with Ne-Yo, and a lot of R&B artists. I had never worked with an R&B producer before. On the song “Climbing High,” there’s more urban flavor. “Children” has quite a hip-hop feel to it in the backend. Then I worked with Björn Yttling, from Peter Bjorn and John. From a production point of view, he brought a sound that was very different. There was a lot of experimenting with synthesizers than the first record, which was a bit more organic with a lot of drums, guitar, and doo-wop. This one was a lot more digital.
What is happening in the U.K. music scene that we over here stateside have no idea about?
I think the internet is making things so much smaller. Dub-step was really huge for us, but now that’s no longer a part of the underground, it’s come over here. I think there’s a whole thing happening with ambient music. The whole reason I actually came to America was because people started to discover me on the internet. Before any record company push, there was already an interest. So Americans and people all over the world, we’re all discovering things at the same time. There’s no sense that England has something that the States doesn’t, because it’s just a button away. I think what you’re hearing is what we’re hearing.
Your voice sounds a lot deeper than usual, not as airy as before. Are you trying to convey something?
Yeah. When I did the first album, I think I was afraid of my voice. I’ve grown up in church, and I had a soulful voice, a big voice. And one of the things people would say when they came to our live gigs is that they’d be surprised my voice was a lot stronger. I think I played down my voice on the first record, because I wanted to be cool and I thought to be alternative was not to be big and soulful. When we did the second album, I thought, You know, I think it’s just important that I sing. To sing the way I’ve always sung, even when I perform live. Just keep it real all the way through.
What can we look forward to from V V Brown?
I’m really excited about my online boutique store, called vvvintage.com. It’s going live in December, and we’re launching in January. I’m putting all my energy into that. It’s really exciting. We’re totally upgrading it.The first time I did it, it was a hobby, but now we’ve changed the whole format, it’s much more professional. We now have a design agency, in that we sign up young designers straight out of art school and we give a percentage of our profits to Oxfam. I can’t wait for people to see it. To go from a hobby, to looking like a Topshop or ASOS site, I think people will be impressed and the clothes are cool too.
Last question! What’s your favorite song on the album?
“Like Fire.” Basically on that song, every instrument I played, and I arranged all the strings, I scored them. It’s my baby. It’s a window into the kind of music I would like to be doing later on in life. A window into my brain.