When Vivian McConnell was a student at the University, she made her mark on the Champaign-Urbana music scene as a member of local bands Santah and Grandkids. When she left, she evolved with both of those groups into the Chicago music scene. Now, she’s forging a new path through her innovative solo project, V.V. Lightbody. This weekend, she’ll be returning her roots in the Champaign-Urbana music scene when she brings V.V. Lightbody to Pygmalion Festival in support of Frankie Cosmos.
V.V. Lightbody released her first album, “Bathing Peach” in June. It’s under a genre that McConnell calls “Nap-rock.” It’s whimsical, soft and largely influenced by Brazilian music.
The inspiration for the V.V. Lightbody persona came about as a result of McConnell’s desire to work on a project where she could truly be herself.
“V.V. kind of came about because there were a lot of songs that didn’t fit into the rock bands I was playing in, but also because of the need to feel like I could express myself and have a little bit more control over the project,” McConnell said. “The bands were really great, but it was really democratic and everybody kind of had to have an opinion, which was awesome. But I wanted something that could be truly “V.V.” I took on the name because I wanted something that’s a character but also a mirror image of myself.”
McConnell describes the album’s development as a slow process.
“I kind of was tired of having the pressure of other people and other forces telling me when things should be done,” she said.
But it was also a collaborative one. Although McConnell wrote all of the songs, lyrics and accompanying flute parts, the album was recorded alongside jazz pianist and fellow University alumnus, Daniel Pierson.
In developing the V.V. Lightbody sound, McConnell draws inspiration from her time living abroad in Spain. Her experience is represented on “Maja,” the album’s fifth track.
“It’s about seeing someone that looks like you or like a friend in a different country,” she said. “I was walking around Spain alone a lot. I kept catching glimpses of people, and I kept thinking about myself if I had been born in a different area or something.”
Although V.V. Lightbody is McConnell’s solo project, her live lineup features fellow Chicago musicians.
“I have kind of a rotating cast of musicians that functions as the V.V. Lightbody band,” McConnell said. “I think the live set takes on a little more pep than the album.”
McConnell has lived in Chicago for five years now, but she admits that navigating its rich music scene has had its challenges.
“It’s taken me about five years to feel like I’m really in the right place,” she said. “Navigating it for me was finding the people that inspire me to make music.”
But she’s frequently returned to play shows in Champaign-Urbana with all three of her projects, including Pygmalion appearances with her bands. This will be her first time playing Pygmalion as V.V. Lightbody.
“I’m very excited to showcase this project,” she said. “The music scene in Champaign is really supportive and special. Even when I moved to Chicago, I was still able to come back, and I had a lot of friends who were living there or who had stayed there after college. I felt really close with the community and still do.”
Catch V.V. Lightbody at this year’s Pygmalion Festival on Saturday at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center from 6:30 to 7 p.m.