VV Brown’s slick re-invention of the classic tale

After famously abandoning her second album, Lollipops and Politics, in 2012, VV Brown took some time out to recalibrate as an artist in order to produce work more true to her. Transitioning from glossy pop to a deep electronic-synth mash-up, the 30-year-old singer discovered a sense of freedom in new sounds, and found herself channelling innovative art forms: film.


Here, we spoke with the re-invented artist, along with Samson & Delilah's co-director, Jessica Hughes, to find out the story behind the stunning short.



STUDIO: How did you find your new style?

VV Brown: I was listening to a lot of new kinds of music. I was engaging in new culture, going to exhibitions, and working with up-and-coming artists. I became extremely inspired by their work ethic.


I had grown up in the pop industry where everything was about record sales and chart positions – [it] was more business than art. When I started working with real artists, their work ethic blew me away. Everything was more about the art than being famous. Indulging in different kinds of culture and sounds, I just had to break away from the mainstream pop industry to make this record; to feel like I was fulfilling what I wanted to do as an artist. It was the most difficult decision to make in my whole life. A lot of artists get dropped, and I was walking away from what most artists are aspiring to. There were moments where I thought I was being nuts. I thought my career was over. It was really scary, but I'd rather have no money and make art that I'm proud of, than have all the money in the world and make something that I'm ashamed of.


STUDIO: What sort of artists did you work with that inspired you to take the plunge?

VV: A lot of it came from the root of my relationship with fashion designers. Just being surrounded by those types of personalities got me inspired – people like Mary Benson, Claire Burrows, and my boyfriend, who's an art director. I was being surrounded by a whole new environment, [so] instead of me going to photoshoots as this artist in the music business, I was interacting with the photographer on a day-to-day basis, learning about their ethos and professional life. Meeting Jessica is an example of having this need to want to work with people who are passionate about what they do. That's what led to us making this film.


STUDIO: So it was kind of a natural progression?

VV: There's a real passion when you work with true artists. They're not afraid of taking risks, and I'm not afraid of taking risks. When you put those two personalities together, under an umbrella of no rules or big executive bosses saying, "You can't do that because it's not going to sell a million records," we can be free to do what we want. I was really attracted to that relationship and what we could create from that.


STUDIO: Jessica, you were just graduating from the Met Film School. How did you both meet?

Jessica Hughes: VV's manager cut out an advert saying: 'Who wants to be part of the filmmaking process for VV Brown's latest music video'. Of course I was like, "That sounds amazing!" I applied and got to meet with VV. We met up in a coffee shop and discussed ideas. We hit it off straight away – it was a nice relationship from the start.






STUDIO: What were you working on at film school?

JH: I focused mainly on short films. I like the idea of doing really 'out there' stories, and experimenting with cinematography and colours, rather than actual narrative.


VV: That's one of the things I was attracted to. She had two videos that she sent over, and I immediately could tell that she had more of an abstract way of looking at film - the cinematography and lightening was absolutely stunning. I remember showing it to my boyfriend – we were actually in B&Q – and those two concepts were really important to me. That's what made me think that we were going to work well together, because we appreciate beauty [and] finding ways to be abstract. That's what Samson & Delilah's all about – it's a very beautiful, visual experience, with abstract concepts.


STUDIO: So it was a perfect partnership.

VV: We had our moments. You know how it is when you make a film. It's very stressful. But I thought it was [an] honest trans-evolutionary relationship of working, learning, listening, and changing. I learnt a lot from Jess and her crew – I'd never made a film before, so it was really nice to be in an environment of extremely talented artists.


STUDIO: What made you want to go in the direction of making a short film, as oppose to a music video?

VV: I love film; I'm very passionate about film. The main reason was that when we were recording the album in the studio, we had a projector on the wall. Every time we would make music, we would project images. Even before I met Jess, we were projecting images that would inspire Samson & Delilah ideas. I was a huge fan of Woodkid, so we would be projecting a lot of black and white videos, Biblical videos, abstract stuff like bacteria under microscopes. The record has come from a very visual point of view. So when the record was starting to come together, I thought that it would be a lot more interesting to release a film rather than a music video, because the whole album has been inspired by film.


We're in a generation now where, as artists, we have to find innovative ways to exploit media. It's very boring, I think, to do a music video. Being an independent label, it was important, from a creative and business point of view, that we would find an angle that wasn't your normal way. It was just a perfect transition into that next stage.


JH: And the story of Samson and Delilah – it's such an amazing story within itself, so it seemed the right thing to do by making it a short film, as well as having the full music video. It's like a link onto the next one. It's quite a nice way of portraying the story in our own modern way.


STUDIO: Why Samson and Delilah – what drew you to the story?

VV: I see Delilah as 'the corporation', and Samson as 'the artist'. Samson was a very strong man – the strength was in his hair. The moment is hair was cut he became weak. And he went through this process of weakness for years. His hair eventually grew back and he went and got his revenge and ripped down the pillars in the Philistine city, and got revenge on Delilah. For me, that was really powerful because I felt like I was the artist, and I had been almost been weakened by the industry. Through releasing this record independently, this is my hair growing back and me getting my revenge.






STUDIO: Jessica, the film is very striking and stylised – can you tell us about how you interpreted the story?

JH: We really liked the idea of it being black and white. VV's got her fashion background, so we wanted it to be quite stylistic. When I went back and spoke to my boyfriend (Edward St. Paul), who was the DoP on the shoot, I tried to come up with ideas to make it really stylised. We were watching lots of black and white films, trying to get ideas. [Then] I thought I'm just going to keep listening to the song over and over again. From listening to it, there are quite a lot of key moments. I was just writing, and wrote exactly what I thought should happen at every point of the song. Then, all of a sudden, I had this amazing idea [how] to storyboard it.


I kept it quite simple, so we did 'Part 1' of Samson & Delilah for the first music video. I didn't want to go too much to the average story; I wanted to take it my own way. VV had the idea of [Samson] sat on a chair, being really weak and malnourished, and Delilah as this witch-type person, who comes over and seduces him. I played around with it and tried to do it my own stylistic way to make it come across.


VV: One of the great things we had in common is our love for Asian culture. That was something that we immediately hit off [and] was something stylistically that we said from the beginning that we wanted. What's so beautiful is that later on we found out the word Geisha actually means art. So it was a wonderful discovery that our love for Japanese culture, and actually having a Geisha, was even more relevant.


STUDIO: There is an evident focus on fashion in the film. VV, was this influenced by your label VV Vintage?

VV: We collaborated a lot with the fashion.


JH: VV spoke about wanting high-end fashion. We had so much freedom with our wardrobe, so we wanted to make it really artistic. VV met up with the wardrobe lady who brought in some of the most amazing dresses I've ever seen. We all had a day round VV's house, and Melanie Bright (Delilah) and Julian Tung (Samson) came [to] try on the outfits. Every time Melanie put on a dress, we were just like, "Wow!"


STUDIO: They really stood out – Melanie looked particularly stunning!

VV: It was so important for us to be respected by the fashion community with this film. I've got a fashion background, so I wanted fashion people to look at it and be like, "That's Issey Miyake, that's Christian Dior." Because I adore fashion, it was important that [at] every single level, we respected the artwork. The respect for fashion needed to be celebrated, the cinematography, the grading. It wasn't just your normal black and white – there's an identity to the grading. Everything we tried to do needed to feel like it was extremely thought-through. The fashion was part of that. And it's always fun when you're doing your fittings!


STUDIO: The short was shortlisted at the Underwire Film Festival in the She Scores category, and VV, you were nominated for Best Composer. Congratulations! Can you tell me about the music behind it?

VV: This is a really interesting question because it's really important for people to understand that this is a very unique short film. If I wrote film music specifically for a short film, it would be very different. It would have a lot more space and a lot more minimalism. The music was written first, and then the short film was written to the music created. So this short film is unique in a sense that it literally is a collection of music videos, with a streamline narrative – the visuals were driven by the album. It's a very unique limbo space of music video-film.






STUDIO: So, what does the future hold for you both – will you be collaborating together again?

JH: I would like to. Making this film, we obviously had our moments! We did bump heads a few times, but I think looking at what we've come out with, it'd be a shame not to.


VV: I'm definitely open. I'm very passionate and I'm very into my work; very emotional. I think Jess is an incredibly talented filmmaker and it would be an honour to work with her again. It amazes me that she's just graduated, because I don't know what amazing things she's going to do as she grows and does more film in the future. I would love to be involved in whatever capacity – I'd love to do film music if she ever needs me to do anything else. That's the beauty of when you meet new people in the business that you respect and you make a piece of work that you're happy with – the relationship can continue.



Words by Louise Robina Happé.


Samson & Delilah screens as part of the Zealous X festival in London everyday between 11am - 6pm, Thursday 28th November to Sunday 1st December.

“This is my hair growing back and me getting my revenge.”

comments powered by Disqus
Follow Studio Magazine on TwitterFind Studio Magazine on Facebook