Tough Like Glue: An Interview with V.V. Brown

Fredara Mareva
Photo: Tom Platten-Higgins

She's a pianist, a singer, and a part-time punk bandleader who managed to garner interest from the likes of P. Diddy and more on her quest for true soulfulness. Sitting down with PopMatters, Brown tells us all about her journey towards getting here.

British singer V.V. Brown has gone through a lot to get to the release of her sophomore album, Lollipops and Politics. It’s the second offering of what she refers to as “odd pop”, which is a mighty declaration coming from a Northamptonshire girl who studied piano, violin, and classical voice training prior to joining punk bands creating a unique hybrid sound that has gained her worldwide attention. It was surprising to learn that one of the secret ingredients in her odd pop sound is her strong church-singing background and her affinity for gospel singers. This time around, V.V. is moving away from the retro sound and is exploring all that her voice and look can create, sitting down with PopMatters to tell us all about it ...

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How would you describe the sound of Lollipops and Politics?

I find it really difficult to describe my music. I’m just a real lover of things. I think my trademark sound is based on my consumption. It’s just the fusing of so many things. That’s why I call my music “odd pop” because I can’t quite explain the sound. Even though this album sounds quite a bit different from [debut album] Traveling Like the Light, the one consistent thing I have been saying is that it is quite an odd fusion. So that’s the one thing that I would say, this album remains to be odd pop.

Your voice even sounds bigger and richer on Lollipops and Politics, too.

When I started out I was afraid of fully using my voice. I thought it was uncool to really sing and let out my voice. So I wasn’t singing the way I had come up in church because I thought to be an artist you had to kind of underplay it. So when I went to the studio to record the first album, I would actually under-sing. Then people would come to the show and be shocked at the big sound of my voice. So I wanted to bring that to Lollipops and Politics. On this album I didn’t want to think too much. I just wanted to be what I am and just sing.

What is your favorite song from Lollipops and Politics?

My favorite song is “Like Fire”. It’s a ballad. I’m really proud of it because it is the first record that I produced 100% myself. I also had the opportunity to arrange the strings. I think this song is a window into the deepest part of me as an artist. It some ways it may seem self-indulgent because I sit on the same chords for five minutes, but I don’t care, I love it. Every time I hear it just feels so real to me. It’s a sexual song, but not sexy. I don’t like the word “sexy” because it sounds like a really tacky dress, but sexual sounds like a beautiful night making love.

The whole sound of Lollipops and Politics is very different from the retro sound of Traveling Like the Light. I know that you worked with R&B producer Chuck Harmony; what was that like?

Yes. I worked with Chuck Harmony, who has done production for Ne-Yo, Ledisi, and others. Chuck is wicked. He’s a really talented musician. We come from very similar backgrounds. We were both raised in the church, so when we were working together it was really nice to work with someone who has a church background and can bring that to the record. Every time he would play those church chords and the organ I totally related to it. It was really nice to be in the presence of someone with such a similar background. Even though I’m from the UK and Chuck is from the States, the black community on both sides is very similar.

Most people don’t think about the church when talking about pop music anymore. How do you think your experience in the church influences your sound?

Well, I guess that experience brings soul, musicality, realness, and spirituality. I mean all of the greats come from church. I mean, I’m not great, I’m just a little bumblebee in this garden. But all of the people I look up to: Kim Burrell, Yolanda Adams, Aretha Franklin, and Fred Hammond--all of these church gospel singers have influenced me.

I feel like church also prepares you for the larger world and for the stage because when you go to church you and you’re worshipping, you learn not to be shy in front of people, you learn to take control of the congregation in worship.

The astounding of success of British singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele has led some to say we’re in the middle of a soul music renaissance. Would you agree?

Yeah. I think the '80s is still the big sound here. Everybody is kind of into the electronic sound, but I definitely feel like there are some artists that are really honing in on that soulfulness. Take Adele, for instance; she’s the biggest performer in the world right now.

The thing about soulfulness is that it’s not even about the riffs, the long notes, and the screams. It’s about the feeling. It’s just something that you feel within you. I think soul is more than wailing. And I do think there’s a lot of soul going on at the moment in the UK.

I know that you’ve recently toured the US, but what can audiences expect from coming to see a V.V. Brown show?

People who may have heard my last record may not know that I’m a musician. I play a lot of instruments, so I get to play a lot more when I’m on the road. I think that’s really nice because I love playing instruments. I love playing the piano and I think that’s something people may not know about me when they see the videos and hear the songs.

I think I hone into my soulful side a lot more in my live performance. People get a better sense for me. I grew up in the gospel church. I like to feel the connection with people because shows are way more intimate and effective. I think when you get to see any live artist you get to know them more. It all becomes more real and that’s really important to me, which is why I try to use performance so much because it takes the studio--which is kind of a selfish process--and makes it a performance that you give other people.

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