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Soul rebel V V Brown: 'I’m a risk junkie'

PUSHING THE LIMITS: V V Brown

BRITISH INDIE singer V V (formally V V Brown) is all about change. Most obviously, she's chopped off her trademark retro fringe and changed her name.

There's also been a dramatic change in her musical direction. Chances are, most people are familiar with V V, because of her 2009 breakout hit Shark in the Water taken from her debut album Travelling Like the Light.

Two years later, V V was set to release her follow up, Lollipops & Politics, when she shelved the album at the last minute and decided to leave Capitol Records. After taking a little time off, the musician, who hails from Northampton, retreated to her newly outfitted home studio and created the highly surprising album, Samson & Delilah in 2013.

Gone were the breezy pop songs V V was known for and in their place were 11 dark, brooding tracks that together told a stunning story of love, loss, power politics and rebirth.

Fast forward another two years and in enters new album, Glitch – a set of songs that mix dark 80s electro with DIY techno opera and future electronica.

“Lyrically it's about rebellion and it's quite a powerful, aggressive record,” says V V.

“I kind of see it as an apocalyptic world. It's almost like when I did my first album I was wandering around in the wilderness. But now, I've sort of broken everything down, I've moved away from pop music completely. I have to start all over again. This new album is me looking out into the wilderness, rebuilding everything again.”

This is not the first time the self-proclaimed “risk junkie” has knocked down the proverbial bricks, in order to “rebuild” them.

From the age of 12, V V, real name, Vanessa Brown, began writing “little tinkery songs”, and exploring her singing.

“I had a soft voice, but it was punk that made me start shouting. I think I've always been a rebel. I've always enjoyed a challenge, pushing myself into something that I'm not comfortable in,” says the songwriter who started fending off record company interest aged just 15 and rebuffed attempts by Puff Daddy to sign her to Bad Boy.

Signed by Interscope at the age of 18, V V flew to LA. A year later, she flew back, having released no music and having been dropped already.

“It broke my heart really,” she admits.

Soon she had another record deal with Island.

“We sold a lot of records and we toured the world. We toured with my favourite band, Little Dragon. It was a surreal time. I can't really say anything but positive things. It was a different epoch, and I was still young, but it was a building block to where I am now.”

But musically, V V was still wrestling. She decided to mothball her second album, Lollipops & Politics, its sheer wrongheadedness typified for her by a $350,000, LA-shot video for the first single that was “s**t”.

She knew that if the video came out, it would have meant only one thing: “I'd sold my soul to the devil.”

By easy, mutual agreement, she left Island.

“If I had released the album, it would have been an easier transition and it probably would have had more mainstream success,” she says.

“But as an artist, I just didn't feel like I was doing what I wanted to do. I'd rather do something that I believe in, than do something that I don't. It wasn't the easiest road to take, but I do think it was the best one.”

She continues: “I think I'm a bit of a risk junkie and I'm addicted to challenge. I really like to be in a place that feels right. I'm driven by emotion, rather than my logic.”

So with a challenge addiction, does the songstress ever feel satisfied or is she always looking for something new to overcome? “I get bored very easily,” V V says. “I love the idea of pushing my own limits. I don't like to be complacent. As an artist, if you feel comfortable, I don't think that's a good place to be in. I think you should always be trying to put yourself out there.”

Recently, she adds, she's been drawing on her experiences as a guest lecturer on the popular music course at London's Goldsmiths.

It's a surreal experience for the 31-year-old who sacrificed her place at Oxford University to study law, so she could pursue music in LA.

“Being in a university environment, when I first started, I remember telling my partner that I love the teaching process, but you do learn a lot from the students as well. It was a really therapeutic process of learning and teaching at the same time.”

She continues: “I help with the student's manifestos where we talk and discuss what it means to be a musician and what they want to get from it: Your practice, how do you promote yourself, weaknesses, strengths. We do this to really get the students to recognise themselves an artist, and to find their identity.”

And has V V, herself, now found her own identity? “Yes, absolutely. I think a lot of people can be quite cynical about the fact that I did Shark in the Water and then now I've taken this completely new direction, and they're sort of like 'who are you as an artist, are you just switching from one thing to another?'

“But unfortunately I never went to university, I didn't go to study music, I didn't really find my identity. I knew I loved music, and I knew I was good at it. So what these students are doing now – experimenting with their sound – I was having to do that in front of everybody. I was finding out who I was as a musician, but I was also releasing music.

“But now I've found myself, and my music and my lane and what I want to do.”

Glitch is out September 25 through YOY Records. V V Brown will DJ at Proud Camden on October 10. For tickets, visit www.proudcamden.com

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