INTERVIEW: V Blackburn

Pic by Libby Danforth

Hi V, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hey! I am so excited to be here, thank you for having me! I’ve been great- exhausted but exhilarated and SO READY to spill everything on my new single and the EP it’s attached to.

Can you talk to us more about your single “A$AP Rocky”?

Yes, of course! I’m really proud of this one- it’s definitely 1 of my 5 favorites off the EP (hehe). I’m a big fan of A$AP Rocky’s music, as well as his artistry as a whole…like, that video for L$D is absolutely stunning and his lyrics and arrangements are so clever and cutting. He’s also super hot. I’ve seen Dope upwards of a million times and have a feud with Kendall Jenner (she doesn’t know) simply for that fact. And that is what the song is about! Just how attractive I think A$AP Rocky is. I really wanted to capture that feeling of a crush that you’d have in middle school. The kind of crush that makes you wanna draw hearts in your math textbook and pray for a game of spin the bottle at the next birthday party. And I think this song does that, all the while weaving in some references and lyrics from A$AP Rocky’s songs and some decidedly not-safe-for-middle-school innuendo.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

When I was writing for this EP I asked my friends to each assign me a handful of famous people to write about. I’d just come off of probably a month where I would not stop talking about A$AP Rocky and making all of my friends watch Dope (mainly because it’s an awesome movie), so one of my friends assigned A$AP Rocky, and this was the result!

Any plans to release a video for the single?

I have a lyric video up my sleeve, but no plans for any official music video. Unless you have any ideas… and a production budget haha.

The single comes off your new album Public Figure – how did you come up with the idea for a conceptual record of sorts?

Honestly, it came from a really bad bout of writer’s block. I released an EP, 50 Shades of Crazy, in 2015 that I affectionately refer to as my “senior thesis”. I made it at the end of college, and while I think it is a strong body of work, I realize now that when I created it, I was focused more on how I wanted other people to feel about it (and about me), than truly expressing myself. I had, and still struggle with, such imposter syndrome surrounding labeling myself as an “artist” and I really allowed that to censor me. So, when that EP didn’t bring home an armful of Grammys and a record deal, I was totally deflated. I barely wrote. I was embarrassed and struggled to make sense of my artistic voice and the breadth of my writing style…especially when nothing I wrote seemed to match the sexy-blusey-goth chick pigeonhole I’d decided V Blackburn had to be in. I tore up and threw out a lot of half-started songs that year. Good news / bad news I was gigging a lot and really needed new material. I tried on a bunch of writing exercises to dig myself out of my hole and gave myself permission to write whatever came out, even if thought it was bad. It worked one afternoon on my bathroom floor where I wrote “Jon Hamm”, the first single off the EP. It was purely written as a catharsis and to figure out why I was stuck on a guy from my past (even though I was in a relationship with someone else at the time) and never expected to share it with anyone. But, I needed to pad a long set, so I sheepishly shared it with my band and, surprisingly for me, they loved it. My set at the time contained a cover of “Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow, so I tacked Jon Hamm on after it and jokingly deemed that portion “The Celebrity Series”.

In the Fall of 2016 I moved to Nashville, broke up with my boyfriend, was jobless and questioning, in short, all of my life choices. All this while the presidential election was unfolding in all of its infuriating absurdity. I had a wealth of material yet couldn’t seem to write about it honestly. Once again, I was totally overwhelmed by needing and wanting to express myself, but being desperately terrified of how I would be perceived. So, pulling from my success writing “Jon Hamm”, I gave myself an assignment to write a whole bunch of songs using celebrities as prompts. I tasked my friends with assigning me random famous people and some due dates, and I was off to the races. Once I put myself in a box, I was able to let the rabid creator in me out, free to run wild and wreak havoc. This EP, Public Figure, is the result, and I am so stoked about it.

Was that always the intention or it rather evolve into it?

Initially, no. I knew I wanted and needed to put out another project, but the original idea was hardly as intricate and meaningful. I met up with a friend and fellow songwriter, Katherine Ross, for coffee one of the first weeks I was in town. She had been living in Nashville for a bit and getting her Masters in Marketing, so we were talking about my next steps. I told her about “Jon Hamm” and another song I was writing then (“Shel Silverstein” – it didn’t make the cut) and how I had been covering “Genghis Khan” and “Susy Q”. My idea had been to record those and a few other celebrity-themed cover songs and call it The Celebrity Series. She axed that really quickly and convinced me that if I was going to do it I should go big and write them all myself, or go home. Once I started digging in and writing and committing to the challenge and the idea of the project, I realized that there was a through-line in what I was coming out with; a story I was telling subconsciously. Looking back on all of it, it was a really beautiful and natural progression. I’m so glad I took her advice!

What’s the story behind the title?

The title for Public Figure came after I had been chewing on the idea for a bit. As the songs started coming together, I recognized there was something I was trying to say within it all, but I couldn’t articulate it yet. At first, I was calling it “The Celebrity Series”, then I considered “Pop Culture” but neither of those felt right. Those titles made it feel like these songs had nothing to do with me and were a banal attempt at a commentary on the uber famous- which is the antithesis of the project. In one way or another, each of these songs is very much about me. Each one captures an aspect of my personality and feelings, my musical influences and my voice. You can tell a lot about yourself by what you see in other people, and that is what happened with this project. I didn’t share music or own my identity for so long because I didn’t want people to judge me or think they knew me, especially because I didn’t even know me. As trite and tired as this observation might seem, I think for a lot of us social media has astronomically increased our hypersensitivity to our public perception. It certainly has its undeniable benefits, but now the everyday person is able to effectively open a comment section on their life, and it can be brutal. I was fixated on trying to control a narrative when the truth is that you cannot control how someone will want to feel about you. You can only control how you feel about yourself.

How was the recording and writing process?

Once I decided this would be my next project I talked to a few of my friends/collaborators and shopped around for a producer to help me out. I ended up going with my friend and bass player, Steve Haan. He is such a wild genius and has really broad musical interests and appreciation. He was in my band when I first brought “Jon Hamm” out and right out of the gate helped me make some helpful tweaks, so it felt like a no-brainer to work with him. Then we brought on another friend and incredible musical mastermind, Ben Kling. Ben is somehow a Jack of all Trades and Master of All. It’s inane. Ben is really disciplined and we’ve known each other for a while so I knew I could count on him to keep me in line and always be honest with me. We started working on the EP in November of 2016, piecing together gaps in our work and rehearsal schedules to record in Steve’s spare bedroom in East Nashville. Over the next few months I worked through my list of prompts, and brought in the winners to begin working on. The tracklist for the EP actually happens to be in the order I wrote them, which I think tells a story in itself. The last song is the only somewhat anomaly. When I realized the message of the EP and what I would be calling it, I knew who I wanted the last song to be. I wrote down the first line and last lines of the song around the same time I finished A$AP Rocky in Winter ‘17, but I didn’t finish writing the last song on the EP until Summer ‘18.

What made you want to name the songs after famous people?

It honestly never occurred to me to go back and change the titles after writing the songs. But I don’t think I would have anyway. I like that it’s not a secret how I got to these songs- I’m not hiding anything, it’s all out there. Like, “this is where my mind went when I read this name, and I don’t care if you get it or not.” I guess I’m really forcing myself to throw people’s opinions to the wind!

What role does Nashville play in your music?

Nashville is a songwriting town. Not to say that other towns and cities don’t have many incredible songwriters as well, but the density of songwriters here is wild. On any given night you can go see a writer’s round, and will likely hear someone who wrote your favorite song, or maybe even your next favorite. The ability to surround myself with so many brilliant and dynamic writers has grown my songwriting immensely, and I think you can hear that one this EP.

What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?

One of my favorite things about this project is that I got to explore so many aspects of myself and my creative process. I think this got me one step closer to embracing myself as an artist, and letting go of that imposter syndrome ever so slightly. For instance, I used to say that I wasn’t a songwriter because I didn’t major in songwriting in college. But I wrote all of these songs, and I will keep writing. I am a songwriter. I’ve always said I wasn’t a visual artist because I can’t draw as well as my architect mother. But I did all of the album and single artwork for this project. I am a visual artist. And whether or not someone else appreciates it doesn’t change that.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I can’t go into detail about the unreleased songs, but for A$AP Rocky, there are a lot of  references to his brand and his songs. The first verse is essentially an answer to the intro for “Goldie”, and the chorus calls out his song “Electric Body”. There are similar Easter Eggs in the album art as well.

Any plans to hit the road?

As of right now, I am staying local. I have a show in Nashville on May 26th, and I am currently working on what will come after that! I’ll keep you updated.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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