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VV Brown: A Songstress With Something to Say

01/08/2013 11:22 BST | Updated 30/09/2013 10:12 BST
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As I was led to my interview with pop sensation VV Brown, a waitress ushered me behind the counter and proceeded to open a fridge that led down to a flight of stairs. "Wrong door" she giggled. As it turns out, Hoxton hot spot 'The Breakfast Club' would be a type of allegory for mine and VV's interview. It was kooky, surreal and definitely eccentric; much like our conversation. From religion to risk-taking, hipsters and hardships,VV tells it like it is to Live Magazine on...well, everything!

Your new album Samson has definitely taken your music into very unfamiliar territory. What led to this change?

I released Travelling Like the Light in 2009 and we were touring it for four years. So sometimes when you're in the public eye, they take a snapshot of your life and they hold on to it. But I was changing so much whilst I was touring the record. The transition was very gradual but to the public, very drastic. The reason I decided to make this record was because my taste had changed; I was listening to artists like Fever Ray and Bjork and it was a big risk for me. I could conform to what I had done before, which I loved and am very proud of, but I had to be true to where I had gone to, how I had changed as a woman, to feel I was staying true to myself as an artist. And that's how it came about- I basically changed.

If you could describe your new sound to the masses, without comparing it to anybody else's, how would you do so?

Dark, moody, journey into my new brain, of electronic sounds and ambiguous lyrics. That sounds very pretentious doesn't it? [laughs]

Samson and Delilah is a particularly interesting and almost dark biblical tale; any reason behind you choosing it? What does the story mean to you?

I'm very influenced by the bible. When I read the story of Samson and Delilah it blew me away. I read it again recently and it blew me away even more. The story is about, to me, the balance between strength and weakness. And the moral of the story is overcoming your weakness and gaining your strength again. I think my whole career has been a pendulum of strength and weakness and constantly fighting ups and downs. This record is definitely a representation of me feeling weak; I moved away from a major label and set up my own label. I felt at times crippled, weak, scared; wondering whether or not if this was going to work. Still wondering whether this was going to work. But knowing that despite all those things, Sampson became strong again. This record is that; my strength, my truth, my change. Samson's hair grew again. It grew back but it grew differently. Its a very powerful story of transition and metaphor for me in my life and my music.

From turning down a place at Oxford, choosing to cancel Lollipops and Politics release and taking a completely different direction in your new music; you are quite clearly somebody who likes taking risks. How important do you feel these risks have been in forwarding you as an artist as well as a person?

I'm a risk junkie. I think its so important in business and art, otherwise it's safe and the same. I thrive off challenge and fear. It makes me feel alive and get in touch with something uncomfortable. It makes me create something different and new and allows me to get in touch with myself. When I feel safe, I don't feel inspired. When I feel afraid it makes me find strength. Risks are important for challenging yourself as a person; you need to fail to grow. Sometimes when you take a risk you'll fail but that's a good thing. I celebrate my failures. Sometimes I do go a bit too far with the risk-taking but I wouldn't be where I am now without it.

Would you advise others to do the same?

I would. To explore the unknown. But to take calculated risks and instinctive risks. I think there is wisdom in risk-tasking and foolishness in risk-taking. You can still be mathematical about it all. But I think it's important if you are a new musician or journalist or dancer or in anything you want to start. I think you've got to dive in at the deep end. You've got to throw yourself in, otherwise you'll just go round in circles on the same spot. You'll stay in the same job you don't really like. You'll do that song that you know will make you money but will it make you happy?

You're a singer, a model a songwriter and own a record label. Do you ever find it tiring simultaneously fulfilling all these roles?

Emotionally it can be tiring because you have to project manage everything and make sure everything is working. And it can be very lonely because everyone around you is part of this machine and is there for the machine. Everything I do is my work so having to make decisions all the time in that way can be a bit lonely. But at the end of the day, the reward is overwhelmingly fulfilling and the addiction to art and music and need to create...I wake up in the morning and I have to do this. It's not a question of I want to- I have to. I'm like a slave to it. So the reward so much outweighs the stress and the worry and the loneliness.

Is there any role in particular you enjoy the most?

I like being a creative director. I like to have control over the art and visuals. I love film and I'd love to direct. I'm an artist really. I mean, I do business but that process of making decisions in the end is something you've made. You've made a mini universe. That is so powerful! We were asking the question around dinner the other day of 'What is art?' and a guy said 'Art makes people feel like they can transcend to a higher level of consciousness'. It's like God or something. And that's why we're attracted to this idea that we can transcend because it makes us feel...different. I like the idea of creative direction because there is a real spiritual transaction going on between my mind and creation.

What drove you to start up your record label?

Creative control. The thirst for business. Watching the musical industry change. Knowing that I could do it. They are so many artists that I am inspired by that have done it. Robyn and Bjork have done it. And I just thought, 'Wait a minute. I could do this. I'm going to try.' And that's why really. But mainly because I hate 'made by committee'. When you have loads and loads of opinions analysing something, its never going to be as pure as if it has come from less people. So when you are in a label situation, sometimes it just feels like everything is being over-analysed. I realised all the music I love like Little Dragon and Bjork are so disconnected from that whole environment. They make what they make and they release it. I was like, I want to do that! I want to be part of that environment. And I need to set up this label to do it.

Songs such as Crying Blood draw heavily from your personal experiences. Is it ever painful opening yourself up to the masses in such a way?

I find it cathartic. It's really weird, it's a therapy. I am an emotional bomb. I cannot hold anything in. I don't know if its because of my Jamaican roots. We just say it how it is. When we feel, we just say. Even if we're being rude or sad. A Jamaican thief will steal in front of your face. He is not going to steal behind your back. That's my culture. So for me, to express my emotions is helpful. Its therapeutic. It soothes me. Because if I'm holding it inside I'm building up this negative energy. I've got to let it out. I'm not afraid of being vulnerable in front of people.

You decided to leave L.A due to not being happy there. Many people often find it hard to find the strength to leave situations they are unhappy in; what led you to do so? What advice would you give others facing the same dilemma?

Sometimes as an artist you have to analyse your product and analyse yourself as a human being. You have to think 'Is this the right environment for me right now?'. It wasn't the right environment for the record I wanted to make. Some artists are not supposed to be on big major labels. There are so many very successful artist that work and thrive and flourish in smaller environments. Some artists love the whole major label thing. If you're in a situation that you don't like and you can get out out of it- Get out of it. Don't be afraid. Fear is a horrible thing if it holds you back. Use that fear and turn it into something else. Don't be afraid of tomorrow. You're in control of your life and your destiny with God. I really do believe its all quantum physics. You literally affect the molecules around you. If you think and speak and feel that something can happen, then you can make it happen. If you're in a situation you don't like, change your molecules! Make it different. And that's what I've done all my life. Just change it. Jump in at the deep end, man. Do what you want to do. Life is too short, you're going to die one day, so live!

You come across as an extremely creative soul, has it been a struggle to keep your artistic integrity in tact whilst maintaining commercial success?

Its a constant pendulum; the see-saw affect of money and art. Money is attractive and you do get so many opportunities coming your way where you're like 'Damn, I really want to do that!'. But you have to live with yourself at the end of the day. It is hard sometimes. But I feel like I've got a good balance. I feel like every decision you make you've got to be proud of it when you look back on it. The thing about the internet is you leave a trail of your life. So you have to ask yourself, if you saw that on the internet would you frown? Would you be proud of it? That's the question. I think with every decision I've made I can look back and be like 'Yeah , I'm cool with that'. I've had the odd fashion faux pas. But they're just clothes aren't they.

Who would you cite as your fashion inspirations? And whilst we're on the topic, who are the artists that have inspired you to become to musician you are today?

At this moment? Love Bianca Jagqer and all things Asian. I'm obsessed with Geishas. I'm obsessed with Asian culture and specifically Japanese. I love structure and minimalism and monochromatic things and kimonos. I love the wooden flip flops with the socks and the black and white photography of Geishas.

In regard to music; Bjork. I saw her in Paris and she blew my mind. She is everything I would want to be as an artist. She is the queen of artists. She had a synthesiser that created its own lighting, so when she pressed a key on her keyboard it created real lighting to create the bass amp. She is...I mean, I could go on for days! She is the truth, man. She's truly unique, truly innovative, she knows how to connect people through music. But it isn't pretentious. You don't sit there and think 'This is cool'. You just sit there and think 'This is art!'. This is real shit. This isn't hipster shit. This is real shit. And it makes you feel like you want to be a better artist. And I want to be like that. That is pure. I've never seen anything that pure and I want to be that pure. She's the best, that's it.

You are quite clearly a nonconformist; do you believe there is more or less pressure on people to conform than there was in the past?

That's a really, really good question. I think the internet has provided a platform for people to express their individuality. So I think we're living in an age where people can express themselves and because of that they are less likely to conform than before because they are not controlled by the media in the same way. They can explore to discover themselves. But I think as long as we're human beings, we're in an environment where there will always be a subculture of groups. People will always conform to those groups to validate themselves. The question is, do we conform more. Such a good question! I don't think we conform as much as we did before just because there is a liberation of the self through all of these things. So that would be my answer. But I definitely do feel that this whole 'hipster culture' is not as authentic and unique as it claims to be. There is a contradiction in it.

You recently said you live in Peckham and have no interest in playing the fame game; what has helped keep you so grounded?

I'm so rubbish at the fame game. Maybe I'd be 'bigger' if I did it, but its bullshit. I hate it. My mother has kept me grounded. And my faith. No man is a God. No human being is a God. There is only one energy, one God. So I find the idea of worshipping another human being in that way a sickness of our society. I don't think there is anything wrong with admiring someone's work and being inspired by them but the whole celebrity culture has become new type of worship. It's almost as if we are living in a paganistic society and rather than worshipping things made of stone and gold, we're worshipping human beings on the front cover of magazines. And I think that's wrong. I think that's an imbalance. From an ego point of view, its not good for the person being worshipped. A human being doesn't know how to deal with that- its not what they're made for. They're made to create and made to give back, not to be worshipped. I'm very strong about that and that's why I find it difficult even when I go to gigs and some people are like 'VV! VV!'. I'm like I'm really grateful you love my music but...I shit, I vomit, I eat, I cry, I laugh the same as you! The Queen goes to the toilet. We're human beings and we should be inspired by each other and we should learn from each other and we should admire each other but we shouldn't worship each other. Its a little preachy, but that's what I believe and I hope that I will keep that philosophy in my life. I tell my mum to slap me down anyway if I ever get like that.

Samson is out now