In our latest interview, we caught up with V.V. Lightbody to talk about growing up in a musical family, the story behind her name, the birth of nap-rock, and much more. Indulge below and make sure to follow V.V. on social.
Hi, my name is V.V. Lightbody and I am a 27-year-old musician here in Chicago.
You originally started out playing in bands such as Santah and Grandkids. How did you know it was time for you to pursue a solo career?
Santah was phasing out of existence and we played our last show about a year ago. My other band Grandkids was still going, but we had slowed down performing for various reasons. As much as I loved being a part of those bands, I had all these songs that were either reject songs from those projects or songs that didn’t fit the mood of those bands. I decided I wanted to start a soft rock solo project. I tend to listen to soft, pretty music so in that moment I knew I needed another outlet that was completely mine and not of a band mindset.
When I decided to be V.V. Lightbody I took about six or seven songs I had already written and wrote a few more and used them for my first album, “Bathing Peach.” Most of these songs I wrote in my bedroom when I was sad or in love.
You also grew up in a very musical family with a dad that played guitar and sang and a mom who introduced you to many musicians. You even got to play in the band Santah with your brother. How did that opportunity present itself and what was the dynamic playing in a band with your brother?
I learned so much from being in a band with my older brother. I’m four years younger than him so when I was in high school he was in college. In true little sister fashion, I looked up to him and decided right there that when I make it to college I want to start a band too. I ended up doing that by starting Grandkids, but I also got the opportunity to join Santah. The dynamic was definitely intense at times, I’m not going to lie. He is my older brother which means it’s only natural for siblings to butt heads every once in a while, but we also work very well together. I feel lucky though because people will tell me they are close with their siblings, but they don’t realize that I lived in a tour van with my brother for a few years. We were inseparable. That connection is something special that created many amazing memories for us. He was my mentor, but also always pushed me to keep growing. Also, our parents used to come to our shows and it really became a whole family affair that brought us closer together.
Keeping in the theme of family, your stage name has a great story to it too. It is your grandmother’s maiden name, right? How did you decide to use the name in her honor for your solo career?
Yea, my grandmother’s full name is Virginia Lightbody. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become closer to my grandma and I have started to think about our relationship differently. I also like to think about it as passing on the matriarchy. “Lightbody” has an extremely ethereal sound to it. Then the two V’s came from my first name Vivian.
The other morning I was talking to my Grandma and we were discussing how my Great Grandfather used to play in a big band in Chicago and she told me that he’d be proud to know that I am pursuing music using the family name.
This project feels right to me because the name, the look, the sound, and who I am all seem to match well with “Lightbody.”
After a trip to Spain, you created a new genre called “nap-rock.” What exactly is nap-rock and how did Spain inspire it?
When I went to Spain to study abroad I brought my brother’s classical guitar. I lived in Bilbao which is right by the ocean. Instead of using my electric guitar to write music with my band, I was transported to this really quiet setting where I could skip to the beach after class and write on my own. Even though I’m very Midwestern, I am inspired by the water and the waves. Sleeping is an important part of my life, as it should be for everyone, and I love soothing music. It just made sense to create a sleepy time rock sound.
Your debut album, “Bathing Peach” is based on a break up that you were going through. When writing the songs for the album would you say you were writing lyrics based off of your breakup to help you cope or to reach out and relate to an audience to help them get through their breakups?
I think it was definitely helping me cope, but I have had a lot of people come up to me and tell me how they related to a specific lyric, went through the same thing, or that one of my songs really hit them. As a songwriter, when you realize that your lyrics relate to your audience and help them cope, it is the most rewarding feeling.
People might say it is because I’m a Sagittarius, but I have to talk about things to get over them and understand what I’m experiencing so writing those lyrics definitely helps me process it all.
When people think of rock music, they hear drums, guitar, bass, and vocals. You add a major twist and incorporate flute into your tracks. I know you used to play flute in high school, but did you keep playing after graduating high school and how did you decide to include it on your record?
When I originally went to college I thought that I would never play flute again. Long story short, I started to listen to a lot of Brazilian music and had a Brazilian friend while living in Urbana. He gave me his whole Itunes library once with Brazilian songs and I was shocked by all of the flutes. A light bulb went off and I started to play around with flute in my music and layer it within tracks. It has been an exploration, but I am committed to keeping flute in my music.
How has being an artist based in Chicago influenced your music?
The huge amount of talented Chicago musicians has pushed me to be a better musician. There are almost too many artists to name that have inspired me and helped me grown into the musician I am now.
Sonically, having the sounds of the city constantly around you and being in bands with louder sounds, I think this record was a reaction to not having a quiet space. I think I began listening to soft rock music more since moving here as an escape and way to combat the noise of the city. If you listen to my record, there is the softness to it, but there are metallicy sounds and shimmers of city noise.
This past October, you did your first tour and visited towns such as Milwaukee, Nashville, Philly, and Brooklyn. How did it feel to bring your songs on the road and perform outside of the Chicago scene?
This was the first time I’ve toured after my record has been released, and also with a band to support me which was an important way to get the V.V. word out to different cities. I had some anxieties about going out on tour, but overall the tour was very validating. Going to these cities I was able to set up some great shows with artists I knew. It felt like I was getting the ball rolling again and touring can be one of the hardest things, but I’m really proud because it went off without a hitch.
Playing in New York was a highlight. It was the first New York show where I really felt like people were there to listen. One thing I appreciate about Chicago is that there are a lot of good listeners here; I have had experiences in New York before where no-one is paying attention. This time though, I felt really accepted and received great reactions to the music.
What would be your advice to artists currently in a band that wants to experience a solo career too?
The circumstance in which I felt that I needed to try a solo career was that I needed something new. Not that my groups weren’t supportive, but I could feel them moving in a different direction. My advice would be if your band is going in a different direction and you feel yourself physically pushing back, then starting a solo thing is an amazing way to let your band go in that direction and be okay with it while still having your own thing that centers you. It is going to feel weird at first, but you are going to grow. When you don’t have that group around you to tell you what sounds good or bad, it can honestly feel isolating and scary, but on the other hand, it forces you to grow and push yourself. Having control over it is rewarding and empowering, especially in a world where it feels like we don’t have control over a lot of things.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy