Victoria + Jean
A duo linked creatively and romantically, Victoria+Jean have a story worth telling. Their remarkable debut album, Divine Love, is a truly collaborative record, littered with Victoria’s towering vocals and Jean’s varied and formidable electric guitar playing. Not content with just convincing the likes of John Parrish, Ian Caple and Rob Kirwan to work with them, they have also undertaken the bold move of creating a video for each of the album’s tracks.
The initial spark was a chance encounter in a Brussels rehearsal room. “All I remember is that he had big eyes and a big smile and he didn’t say a word. I brought back his amp and while I was leaving he couldn’t take his eyes off me and I was wondering who he was,” says Victoria. Their paths would cross again after Jean said Victoria should check out a band, his band, in Brussels. “There he was again, on stage this time. And he was smiling back at me in the crowd,” Victoria says. A connection was made. Jean then convinced a friend to drive him to Paris, where Victoria was living, to seek her out. He was unsuccessful this time but wrote her a love letter. On the back of this Victoria granted the enigmatic Jean an hour of her time. And that was that.
Their connection was a catalyst for greater things. Victoria, playing solo and in bands, was starting to believe that she would never make the music she loves. Disheartening experiences included an unfulfilled three-album deal as a teenager. “I was starting to believe that you always have to compromise. Then I met Jean and it was like this huge, dark tunnel became bright all of a sudden,” she says. They turned to each other. They had nothing to lose. “We thought ‘why not just try?’. And if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work,” she says. But it worked and Victoria and Jean became Victoria+Jean. They have thrown off the constraints and embraced their creative freedom, and fulfilled their heart’s deepest wishes.
After years of shows, travelling and shared life, Victoria+Jean have finished Divine Love. But more than just creating it, in many ways they have curated it. After narrowing down the past few years’ work to a dozen tracks, they took an ambitious step. They hunted down a handful of their favourite producers, sent them the album’s tracks, and asked to collaborate with them. Remarkably, each producer chose the track that was intended for them.
“We wanted them to have fun,” Victoria explains. “We gave them carte blanche to make them sound the best way they could.” Production was split between a roster of renowned names who have worked on some iconic albums. They were John Parish (PJ Harvey, Goldfrapp), Ian Caple (Tricky, Kate Bush), Rob Kirwan (The Horrors, Depeche Mode), Christopher Berg (The Knife), Joe Hirst (Stone Roses), Alistair Chant (PJ Harvey & John Parish) and Lucas Chauvière (De La Soul). The results astounded them. Ian Caple’s ‘Divine Love’ was the first they received back. It is a spacious, ethereal and soaring opener that ushers you – but not gently – into the album. “I was amazed. I was speechless. I thought ‘Wow, I didn’t know we sounded like that’. Each track we got back, each time we were speechless,” Victoria says.
Their love of blues-rock is evident in the brooding ‘Why Won’t You’ and ‘Takes You Like A Rose’, while ‘Your Baby Don’t Know Me’ is an explosive four minutes of fierceness. Throughout Divine Love there is a contrast between hard and soft but also within the songs, like ‘Where We Belong’, where serenity is punctured by bursts of punchy electric guitar and rising, powerful vocals.
The album’s themes reflect their own shared lives and experiences. As well as the thread of divine love, the transient nature of their existence – of different cities and cultures – is clear. Victoria was born in Sweden, grew up in London before moving to Paris. An exploration of belonging and identity are all present. ‘Härligt Sverige’ is a shimmering and occasionally unnerving ode to the extremes of beauty and nature that shows the contradicting emotions in Victoria’s relationship with her birth country. But “divine love” is the album’s concept drawn large in Russian artist Oleg Dou’s portrait of Victoria for the artwork. “I think it all goes round this theme of divine love. Love might make you blind but, it’s divine and can show you the way as well,” Victoria says.
The collaborative nature of Divine Love also extends to the visual. In addition to tracking down Dou to create the mysteriously beautiful cover art, they have made videos for each of the album’s tracks. Travelling to Los Angeles, Tokyo and Sweden, they collaborated with an array of award-winning directors including Anita Fontaine, Maria Mochnacz, Kosai Sekine and Spike & Jones. Given the incredible scale of the project, was there any point where they questioned what they were doing? Only that they thought they might be mad to do it. To fund their efforts, the pair sold fridges and chocolates, among other things. Again, it worked.
At the very beginning Jean thought Victoria wanted to conquer the world. Over time, their perspective has changed. Victoria+Jean’s music is not about power; it is more fundamental than that. They want to share with the world what they create with each other. “I think I can’t see my life without doing music, I need to write, I need to sing. If I don’t I don’t feel well in my body and with my soul,” Victoria says. “We like to live this way. We like to say we only live once, let’s do it to the end.”