Most artists who venture into the vast machinery of the music industry do so with only one focus – the music. Occasionally an artist arrives with a much larger vision. And while the name that probably comes to mind these days is a certain over-the-top blonde with a penchant for theatrics, she’s about to get a run for her money from VV Brown.
The first thing that stands out when listening to Brown’s infectious debut, Travelling Like the Light, is that the 26-year-old British singer’s voice drips with a mix of sophistication and sassy attitude that calls to mind a 21st century Shirley Bassey. It turns out that quality was hard-earned.
The singer grew up in Northampton, England, surrounded by five siblings and a vast variety of music. In fact, when Pollstar inquired about influences she ticked off “Ella Fitzgerald and The Sex Pistols.”
Brown wrote her first tune at 5 and sang every Sunday in the church choir while dreaming of “Top of the Pops.” At 19, she opted for a contract with a major label instead of college and moved to Los Angeles, where she wrote music and sang backing vocals for other artists under pseudonyms.
Three years later, she was burned out, lost in a creative wilderness and so broke she had to sell her keyboard for airfare back to the U.K., where she spent “every day from nine in the morning until two the next morning” making music with her aunt and sisters. She also found guidance from a new manager, Crown Management’s Chloe Griffiths.
“She was advised by our company to find a British sound, to find her sound,” Griffiths told Pollstar. “She’d worked with a lot of other people and we had a lot of faith that she could do it all herself.”
By 2008, Brown had regained her bearings and was determined to build an empire that includes not only music, but a clothing line – VV Vintage – and a graphic novel. Her new confidence earned her a deal with Island Records and her distinctive sense of style caught the attention of the Select Agency, which promptly signed her to a modeling contract.
Attention from the British press followed, with the public not far behind. The singer’s reputation as a live act soon put her in demand on the European festival circuit, including Glastonbury, where she was the only new artist to play the main stage last summer.
Such an ambitious career path seems like it would be distracting, not to mention exhausting. Asked how she manages it all, Brown offered an honest answer that reveals some unexpected influences.
“I have no idea,” she said. “I’m really spontaneous. Naturally I’m a really free spirit. That can be a good thing and that can be a really bad thing, because I can be irrational. I tend to live my life in the moment. It’s all about grabbing the moment and finding the spaces when you feel it’s the right time. Plus I’m an insomniac. I’ll sleep when I die.
“I’ve always said that I want to be like Leonardo da Vinci. I was really inspired by the Renaissance, when artists were real artists. They were creative people. They weren’t just labeled as musicians or engineers or painters. They did everything. So I kind of look at them as a beam of light for how I would like to be – because I have so many ideas.”
Brown’s burgeoning schedule doesn’t seem to make Griffiths’ task of keeping her focused on promoting her music any harder either.
“Her music is in her blood. It’s her passion,” Griffiths explained. “I have never known an artist – and I’m not just saying this for this interview – I’ve honestly never known an artist to work so hard. She can do a hundred interviews and I’ll say, ‘V, do you mind just one more?’ And her answer is always, ‘Yeah, fine.’”
With Europe and the U.K. under her belt, the singer now has her sights on North America and is about to embark on a touring campaign here. To make sure she doesn’t lose her momentum, a mistake made by scores of foreign acts, Brown is taking an additional step that makes the job of The Windish Agency’s Tom Windish – who calls her a “total pro” with a “really good heart” – much, much easier.
“I’ve been booking artists from other countries for a really long time,” Windish told Pollstar. “So I’m used to having to pick around other things that are going on.
“She’s willing to work the territory. She’s living here for an extended period of time. Most of my foreign clients don’t do that. I think she’s really committed to making the U.S. break for her.”
Brown’s music is already becoming a fixture in the States, with several songs from Travelling finding their way into television shows and commercials, but she believes it’s her live show that will put her over the top.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in New York and L.A. and D.C. and San Francisco, because I take the live side really seriously,” the singer explained. “I love live music and I can’t wait for people to come and see the shows.
“I feel bad saying it because it might be deemed egotistical, but I do think our live shows definitely connect all the dots. I think that’s what music’s about – the connection between you and somebody else, translating emotions. And that happens so beautifully in a room filled with people and live music.
“I’m really grateful and flattered that we’re getting such a good reception in America organically. It’s not something that’s happening with a big media push. It seems like people are discovering the record and enjoying it in a very truthful way. That’s so important to me because I want to be around for a long time and I think that’s one of the best ways that you can have longevity.”