VV Brown doesn't take anything lying down. The alternative pop songstress started her career in the music business when she was 18, but abruptly quit when she realized she wasn't getting things done her way. Cue two years later, and she's singing about heartbreaks and bad breakups with the same genuine enthusiasm she usually reserves for vintage fashion.
A model for Next Models and a Marks and Spencer girl on the side, it's no surprise that the statuesque Brown has a stellar sense of style. But what does take us aback is the sudden poise she has when directly mentioning exes -- a graciousness most singing-in-the-spotlight 20-somethings usually don't hold too close.
New Times caught up with Brown to talk about previous heartbreaks, her sudden love of everything black, and her brief stint rapping in a hotel room, before she opens for Maroon 5 tonight at the Bayfront Amphitheater.
New Times: It must be a big culture shock for you to go from London to the States.
VV Brown: Yeah. I think it's easier for us Brits to go to America because we were brought up on American culture. We watch Friends and Will and Grace, The Simpsons... we live on MTV... so we're used to American culture a lot more. It hasn't been hard for me. It's just the constant traveling. I haven't had a day off in nearly a year and a half and I don't think I've been in one city for longer than three days. I think I just kind of miss being at home every day, but that's just the way it goes when you're trying to break it, you know?
Yeah, of course. I read that you started your first song on the piano when you were only five. You started that young?
Yeah. I was really like obsessed with making compositions. So I used to go downstairs and just like make many songs on the piano when I was young. I remember writing this little song when I was about five -- and it wasn't anything complicated, it was only three minutes.
That's a long time for a five year old, though.
I don't know, yeah, I guess so. [Laughs]. It was really weird, because although I had a structure to the song and I knew when to play this bit and that bit, it was like I understood the structure of a chorus and a verse and the concept of repetition. I'll never forget that. I knew that was what I wanted to do. It was like an alien coming down or something or God came down and said, "You're going to do music for the rest of your life."
Where did you get that knowledge from so young?
I have no idea. I think some things just come naturally. Some people are great dancers naturally, like my sister. Yeah, so people just have natural abilities, and I think music was a natural ability of mine.
So then what cemented that love of music for you?
I think the idea of creating something from nothing, then you've just made something... like if you've created a tree. That's how real it is. To actually organize something together like you've made a tree. I just remember being obsessed with that feeling of being a creator, and I think that's what solidified it for me. And then obviously discovering lots of different albums that you fall in love with. I used to sit after school and learn all the songs and write down all the lyrics.
I read that you felt like you lost yourself completely after being in the music business for three years. How'd you find yourself again?
I found myself by being myself. I didn't really want people to tell me what to do anymore or what to be anymore. I wanted just to be what I wanted to be. I think the whole experience kind of turned me into a bit of a rottweiler because I refuse to lose. And my obsession with music made me feel like there's no way I'm going to let this win and take me. I'm going to do music the way that I want to do it. And I think between 2008 to 2010, they've been the two most influential years of my whole life. I think those two years will forever sort of be a testament to the future and to who I am as a woman.
Your current album Traveling Like the Light talks about heartbreak that you went through a long time ago. When will you show us what you're going through now?
I'm really excited on starting my new album, because that happened to me three and a half years ago, and three and a half years when you're 20-something seems like a long time because you're learning so much rapidly in your 20s. So I'm really looking forward to starting my new album, which I will be starting in a few months.
I saw that you'd already been writing songs for your new album, and that you had started tweeting about them. Is there anything that you'll be performing in your shows in the U.S.?
Yeah, we are, actually. I try and write songs all the time. I don't just like stop writing. If you get inspired, you just go on the piano or get your dictaphone out, or play one string guitar or whatever and just write. So there are some songs ready for the second album. There's one song in particular song that isn't on the second album, but will be the second single in America that isn't on this album. We're going to digitally put it on. It's called "Sleeping with the Enemy," and we will be playing that song on the Maroon 5 tour. So anyone that comes out to the Maroon 5 shows will hear that single for the very first time.
What was the inspiration behind that single, besides the obvious song title?
[Laughs]. The same thing. I just seem to keep meeting dysfunctional men. I finally met someone that is really, really lovely. But back then when I wrote this song, I was dating somebody that was so depressing and always moaning and it felt like I was carrying him on my back. We weren't together too long, we were just dating. But anyway, that relationship ended and a few days later I wrote "Sleeping with the Enemy." Another song about an idiot [laughs]. But I think the second album is going to be about love and joy and questions and philosophy because my life right now... I'm very happy at the moment.
It sounds really positive.
Yeah, very positive. Yeah.
Where would you say is the strangest place you've found your musical inspiration from lately?
Probably the sound of the train. Like when you're on a train and you hear a chucka-chucka-chucka... there's almost like a rhythm in it. I think I'd like heard the rhythm before, and I got off the train and was just like recording the rhythm on my voicemail so I wouldn't forget it. I just started playing a melody over it.
Your sound is decidedly vintage, but I heard that impromptu rap you came up with in your hotel room that you video taped, and you have a talent for that as well. Is hip hop a direction you'd consider going in?
I don't think I'll be a rapper [laughs]. I don't think that would be very authentic, 'cause I'm not really a rapper. But I do appreciate all kinds of music, whatever it is from rock to pop to rap to dance... When I was younger though, I remember my cousin gave me a white tape and it had loads of hip hop on it like De La Soul. I remember listening to it and becoming very interested in hip hop music. I do remember at school we used to do little hip hop battles. But I don't think that'll make me a rapper on my second album. I'll definitely do it on my live shows to show a little bit of diversity, but I don't think I'm going to be changing into hip hop. Maybe like a singing/rapping style. So yeah, I'll definitely incorporate singing quickly that rhymes well. But we'll see. I don't know. Don't ever say never. That's the beauty of being creative, you have the room to experiment with anything. Maybe my third album will be a whole hip hop album? [Laughs]. Who knows, but I doubt it [laughs].
I noticed that you're really into fashion, as well. What would you say is your strangest fashion inspiration? I noticed that you're influenced a lot by Grace Jones and vintage fashion.
I think buildings are really good inspiration because they're very structured. That's a good way of thinking of fashion. Especially with the way that fashion is going at the moment, it's quite structured. And then for me, I've started to really fall in love with black and simplicity. I think when I first started doing my music everything was colorful or retro. But black I think is the second album, and even on this tour, we'll all wear black. Black is the new thing [laughs].
Would you say that your fashion choices inspire your musical choices? Or vice versa?
I think my music inspires my fashion. I don't think fashion inspires my music. I just don't think fashion is deep enough to inspire my music. I think music is inspired by life and reality and love. And then I think my music pours in to what I wanna wear. I don't think I'd be able to get inspired by fashion enough. It's too superficial to just... you never know, you could write about a... "You know this jacket is amazing," no. Too blah for me.
In your rap you mention fashion a little bit, don't you?
Oh, yeah! That rap! That little rap I put on my Twitter? Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was fun. That was just for fun, you know. I was just bored in my hotel room. Yeah, that rap did talk about fashion, definitely, but that was just a bit of fun.
That was the rap that I had mentioned earlier.
Yeah. I don't know, I just love being creative. I'm going to listen to that now, actually. VV Brown, hotel room, bored... haaa-haaa. Sorry. Let's have a listen to it. Oh my God. That's the one, isn't it? Hahaha. Sorry, just had to reminisce. I think you're right. I'm not that bad.
See? That's why I was saying maybe you have a future in rapping as well.
[Laughs]. Maybe. I love rap more like Mos Def, Common, Jay Electronica... I'm more into that style. Yeah.
I actually found the link for that on your twitter. It seems like you've gotten more personal with your tweeting, whereas before you were just making announcements.
Yeah. It started off being very personal, but then I got this really, really, really weird person leaving me very aggressive messages about stabbing me with a blunt knife. So I got really scared and started to not put anything personal up because I was like... if you get too personal, you live a window open for people to be mean. But then as I started to slowly feel more comfortable again, I started to get more personal, talking about the things going on in my life. But I don't go on twitter as much. I used to be a bit of a Twitter-holic.
I saw that you tweeted recently that you're doing an MTV reality show. Can you tell us which one?
Yes. It's this thing called A day in the Life of Jenks. Jenks is this up-and-coming presenter that he's like... the show is going to kind of be like following my life, really. And it'll be airing around September - October. It's very exciting, and I've never done anything like that before where you have to constantly watch reactions and be careful what you say. Because even though you say something, it can be edited in a different way and make you sound like you've said something else. So you have to be quite clever.
Yeah, to make sure they don't edit you incorrectly. Will that be running on MTV US?
Yes. MTV US, then eventually MTV World.
Wow. Is it just going to be you in that program? Or will there be other artists, as well?
There's other people. There's a day in the life of lots of different people that do different things. So it's an actual series of many different things.
So where do they follow you to, exactly? On tour?
Yeah. They will follow me on tour, they've done stuff with me in the studio, while I was doing new material, shots of me on the piano... me going shopping in a vintage shop. So basically they're following my actual day and documenting what I would do almost if the cameras weren't there.
So how has the fan reception been for you in the States compared to your native UK?
It's been great. I've always said my career is a grower. I'm not just going to pop open and be like "Hello! I'm #1!" That's not the kind of album I've written. It has more of an alternative edge to it, so it's going to take time. I mean we've sold half a million singles with "Shark in the Water," and we're slowly getting known in the States. In France it's very well received. The album is #1.
You're getting noticed a lot more quickly than you'd think in the States, because a lot of shows are using your songs in their soundtracks.
Yeah. They've linked us heavily in the States, which is brilliant. I'm happy about that. I never thought my song would be in an advert for mayonnaise, though.
That's a strange musical choice for them to use for mayonnaise.
I guess they're trying to get people to love it, so they used my song called "Love" in it.
That makes sense. So where else would you say your sense of style is right now?
My sense of style is three things right now: Black, simple, and elegant. That is the future for me and my wardrobe will soon be just black, simple outfits. That is exactly where I'm going and that is where my second album will go. I want to create an associative, iconic brand of VV Brown that only wears black.
So is it going to be all black, all the time? Will you still include vintage?
Oh, no, of course. It will be designer, it will be vintage. It will be all different styles, but it will be black.
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So you'll still have your trademark hairstyle?
Yeah. I'll definitely still have the trademark hairstyle. But the colorfulness is going in the fire [laughs].