Introducing VV Brown ...
VV Brown is a singer, a songwriter, a performer, multi-instrumentalist and a producer. In this 24-year-old’s world, love sounds like the perfect melody. Both are difficult to define she says, but both pour out of the songs on her debut album. This is music which sounds like performance: dramatic, charismatic and, frequently, as mad as a box of frogs. This is high definition, high concept pop with scuffed edges and laddered tights. “It’s about letting out all these ideas I’ve had locked up in my mind,” Brown states. “It’s honest - it’s not about being festooned with £10m diamonds or having perfect hair.”
Leading the charge is ‘Crying Blood’, written on VV’s one-string guitar, but more of that later, which colourfully illustrates Brown’s penchant for mixing upbeat melodies with lyrics specialising in full-on despair. There are a few of these on her debut album, which is the story of VV’s life but also the story of one specific relationship with one specific arsehole. “He broke my heart just before I began writing the album,” VV says. “In a way writing ‘Crying Blood’, was liberating because I was letting everything out and it felt like there was some distance. But the fact that I was still writing songs about him meant that I wasn’t as liberated as I thought”. As VV now realises, writing these songs brought everything to a close. From the brutal imagery of the song’s title, through “falling like a comet from a broken sky” to the point where she arrives back on earth with a bump, ‘Crying Blood’ represents a cathartic process which also resulted in a pretty nifty pop tune.
“I can’t remember a time when music was not a part of me,” she says; “when I was five, I remember writing my first song on the piano. I played the same notes over and over again and from that moment I just knew that music would be a huge part of my life.” Evenings were spent in the attic with her five brothers and sisters playing at being in a band and dreaming about being on Top Of The Pops. At school, VV was almost unrecognisable – lunch-breaks would be spent sitting in the school field on her blazer wondering, as she says, “why the grass was green”. Feeling liberated rather than lonely, she immersed herself in her own thoughts. “I’ve always felt slightly on the edge of the circle,” she explains, and this double life, flitting from extrovert to introvert as the mood takes her, now runs through her album. Every Sunday she’d go to church and sing in the gospel choir; at home her mum and dad would listen to Aretha, The Rolling Stones, Ruth Brown, Elvis Presley, Queen and the music from Super Marioland. Anything with a tune was fair game.
It’s easy to see how VV inherited her theatrical, charismatic personality. It’s an excitingly eclectic mix, but VV has another phrase for it: “musical mashed potatoes”.
If VV’s music is mashed potatoes her songs must, therefore, be Smash hits, but there’s nothing instant or synthetic about these pop tunes. ‘Crazy Amazing’, for example, incorporates piano lesson anthem ‘Chopsticks’ into a breezy pop song, and while it may conjure images of Nina Simone joining Tom Hanks for a dance-off on a 30ft piano keyboard, its sentiment is about being wounded by one relationship then, just when you least expect it, finding crazy, amazing happiness with another. “I felt I’d been left on the shelf and then suddenly… BANG! …a new guy came along and made me feel like a princess.”
‘Crazy Amazing’ came like an explosion of joy for VV, but flashback just a couple of years and things weren’t so peachy. She’d skipped university to pursue music and, when she signed to a major label at the age of 19, things looked like they were fitting into place. She found herself in LA, working with big producers and accidentally ending up providing backing vocals for the Pussycat Dolls’ debut album. But something wasn’t quite right. “I lost myself completely,” she remembers. “I lost my identity. My voice. Everything.” The music wasn’t right and VV parted company with the label: three years down the drain. “Artists I love, from Alicia Keys through to Amy Winehouse, connect with people because they do not compromise,” she now realises. “They make music which reflects who they are and when you’re honest on all levels people will connect with that. People can tell. The way you walk, talk, wear you hair and breathe. It took everything that happened with that first deal for me to say: I SHALL NOT COMPROMISE.” A noble sentiment, but at 22 she was out on her ear.
“I was broke!” she howls, so broke in fact that she had to sell her keyboard to pay for her flight home from LA, “but I wasn’t sitting around watching Cash In The Attic – every day was spent making music. Every hour, every day from nine in the morning until two the next morning.” Money was so tight that VV bought a one-string guitar in a charity shop, marked the frets out with her red nail varnish and wrote “Crying Blood” the very next day. “I’ll wake up in the morning and have no idea what I’m going to write”. It was these sessions threw up the extraordinary songs which scored VV her new deal with Island. Her songs are now instantly addictive and unmistakably honest, with lyrics asking what the bloody point is answered by melodies full of life and reasons to be cheerful. The contradiction works, throwing the listener from happy to sad and back again in the space of three minutes.
“Everything that’s happened in the last few years has taught me to value the idea of knowing yourself and being your-self,” VV says. “And, my God, it took me a long time to get here.” True to this, and as she prepares to unleash the album on the world, VV’s binned off the LA lifestyle, choosing instead to live in London in her auntie’s house with her sisters. “I can’t see myself moving any time soon,” VV says. “Why should I change? I just want a simple life, with extraordinary music in it.”