Listen to V.V. Brown's debut album, Traveling Like the Light, and you may make comparisons to fellow Brit Amy Winehouse that couldn't be further from the reality of the situation. While they've both taken new approaches to a retro sound, Brown's gospel church background and musical family have driven her to do what she loves with ease. Just don't expect her to sit still.
"I think the word I always use is 'alternative-pop,'" she says by phone during a recent tour stop in Detroit. "I don't want to be a slave to retro. This album is how I was feeling two years ago, but with my second album I don't think it's going to be in the same direction, though it will always be alternative and pop."
While continually performing the same music for more than two years, Brown has learned to express herself through fashion, performance and other outlets — she's written a novel and is currently working on the third edition of her comic book. But she knows her music, while big in Europe, is only starting to catch on with fans in the U.S. "I can't be selfish," she says. "While these songs aren't fresh for me, they are fresh for the American audience.
"I think there's a sense of frustration when you're constantly promoting something that's part of your past that you have no connection to anymore because you've grown so much," Brown adds. "I think I'm getting to the point where I really, really, really want to start working on my next record because I'm more mature than I was before, I've learned a lot about music and become interested in a lot of different styles of music, and I'm in a really nice relationship where before I was in a dysfunctional one."
Brown also learned a lot from her first recording contract — she had just moved to L.A. from England, but wasn't quite sure who she was. When the label tried to mold her into an R&B diva, Brown says she at least learned what she didn't want to be. "It was one of the most important times in my life — I became very strong and knew exactly what I wanted," she says. "If I didn't have that experience, I think I'd be a bit timid. I'm obsessed with music and I don't think I could do anything else. Life is too short and you have to do what you love."
Her music is winning over fans as much as her performances. Brown's first appearance in Charlotte was at The Milestone, while opening for the electro-band Little Dragon. Brown's vocals shined as much as her energy — at one point pulling out a floor drum and hammering away during the set.
This time around, Brown will be opening for Maroon 5, in a larger venue. "There is a different approach when you're dealing with a bigger venue," she says. "You can't connect with people in the same way. It's much more structured — in a smaller club, it's more loose and more jammy."
Though she prefers the intimacy of smaller venues, she's fully aware that larger venues will expose more people to her music. Until she can get to work on her next album, Brown is a focused and determined creative soul that won't sit back and wait for things to happen, instead choosing to attack the industry and world in every way she can.
"They've never heard me before so I have to give them the songs the way I first heard the songs and keep the innocence of the record," she says. "I think once I've done my second album, I can start to rearrange the songs from the first album because we'll have a fan base that knows the songs. There are still people out there that have no clue who I am, so they need to hear the songs the way they were meant. In the meantime, you'll probably get a million new projects out of me to keep me sane."