Maybe it’s that indelible Kiwi accent, but speaking to Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke, you feel awash with an immediate disarming quality that you would assume is atypical of your standard pop star. You can attribute it to the fact that Ladyhawke isn’t your typical pop star. Though it’s been four years since Ladyhawke broke through in a massive way with a banger-studded self-titled album, an exhaustive touring schedule and undeniable pop longevity has dissuaded any sense that the shine of Brown’s rising star was diluting any time soon.
After prefacing a full re-immersion within the touring cycle with a stunning headline show at venerable rock den The Tote late last year (and subsequent Meredith appearance), Ladyhawke is primed to once again be launched into the collective psyche with her long-gestating sophomore record, Anxiety. “I toured the first album for about two years, then I finished touring early in 2010 – it was Big Day Out that was the last tour of the first album,” Brown states, recalling the long lead-up to album number two. “Then I went to Auckland and Pascal [Gabriel], my producer who I work with, came out to New Zealand and we had a good couple of months in the studio – but I was so exhausted from touring that I couldn’t really do anything. I’d literally go to the studio and just fall asleep. But during that time we wrote two songs together, then at the end of it all we basically called it quits. I just said ‘I need a break’. But those two songs just had me thinking, ‘Now I know what I want to do’. I didn’t really know what the sound of the album was going to be like, but these songs seemed to have came out of nowhere, just from me jamming on the drums for about an hour. It was really cool. Once those two songs were done I had about six months off, but I knew in my head what the album was going to sound like. So that’s how it all came about,” she recalls.
“It didn’t feel like a long break to me at all. From the time I finished touring I took six months off and then started the record, and doing the record took about eight months. The time went so fast it was stupid – my feet barely touched the ground. Even chilling out went quick. It still blows my mind – 2008? Was it really that long ago? It still blows my mind, it’s crazy,” Brown declares with an astonished chuckle.
With the first album proving to be a massive crossover success into the mainstream, it’s surprising to hear that Anxiety makes a conscious effort to wholly avoid the trends that define the current state of pop music. “There was no part of me that wanted to make my first album all over again. Then I was getting really sick of all the blatant factory pop, trancey-rave stuff that was coming out. It got to the point where it was getting ridiculous,” she exclaims before blurting her best imitation of a Euro-dance melody. “I mean, I love pop music and I know the way it works, but it felt like people were doing it just to sell records rather than make a good pop record. It was getting frustrating, seeing what was all over the charts and seeing what the kids were buying – just all this lazy pop stuff. Maybe a couple of years ago it would have excited me, but I don’t know. Making this record I just felt very excited to be making this rock – still very pop – but very rock-y, fuzzy guitar record. It excited me to do something like that after playing the first album for two years,” she beams.
“I was listening to everything I always listen to, I just think there are a lot of very different vague influences which make up the sum of the whole. As always, David Bowie was at the top of my playlist. There was also The Zombies, Nirvana, Blur – a lot of Britpop. So much different stuff. I’ve sort of had the same music in my iPod forever, I just always end up listening to the same shit over and over again,” Brown laughs. "I was in France in the middle of nowhere, just me and my iPod – no street noise, no TV. So it was just my music in my head all the time, and all of it contributed to the final outcome of the album.”
Though it’s probably a little too soon to contextualise tracks such as My Delirium and Paris Is Burning within the grand modern pop canon, they still emanate a sense of timelessness. “When it’s something you’ve created yourself it’s hard to think of it like that, because it’s something that is so inside of you that you can’t step back and look at it from an outsiders perspective. It’s so funny, just thinking that this is just something that we did in a studio together back in 2007. I get so chuffed that people still love these songs, and all the tracks from the first album. It’s very cool and very flattering.”
As for the runaway success of Ladyhawke, it was a sensation that Brown wasn’t able to monitor in real-time. “Because of all the touring I was quite oblivious to what was happening. Back Of The Van was my first single and it didn’t do anything at the time. Things just grew over time, and that just happened with each single. I was on the road when My Delirium came out and I didn’t know how well it had gone, then all of a sudden I heard it went platinum, and the album went gold. I really couldn’t believe it. We did this massive tour then on the last day everybody had to tell me what had been happening while I was away, and I was just thinking, ‘Oh my god, what the hell is going on?’ All I could think about was playing shows every night and that was it. So it was completely crazy,” she says.
Despite selling a monumental amount of records in the worst possible climate, it’s still a stretch to label Ladyhawke as a mainstream artist. “I’d love to think that people don’t worry about putting things into boxes. It’s quite frustrating as an artist to be classified and put in a box when you don’t think of yourself that way. I hope that if people see me perform live or read interviews then people can gather that I am a musician – I’m not really a pop, girly, lad-di-da artist. If I was quite bubblegum as a person then maybe I wouldn’t be able to slip into the ‘indie’ world as easily as I do. I think who I am as a person sort of helps me to have one foot in each camp, if you know what I mean? Maybe the fact isn’t as much in the mainstream camp as my record label would like is because of the way I look or the way I am,” she muses with candour.
Both within her music and in conversation, Brown exudes an overwhelming down-to-earth charm – which is evident when I ask she doesn’t feel the need to inflate her own ego. “I’ve never been that person, ever. I’ve always been this way. I’d feel like a dick if I was that way. No-one’s going to blow smoke up my arse. I don’t think I have it in me, I would just be disappointed in myself, thinking ‘what the hell have you become?’, you know? I’m happy with what I do, and a nice level of low self-esteem goes quite far,” she says with self-deprecating aplomb.
Despite the accent, it’s difficult to anchor Ladyhawke to a geographical locale. Like the pavlova and Russell Crowe before her, Australia has gleefully claimed her as our own – shit, Ladyhawke even managed to score a couple of ARIAs.
"It doesn’t really matter to me, I’m just me. I’m a Kiwi. I actually did my whole first album in England, apart from one track. I was living in Melbourne when I started calling myself Ladyhawke, I wrote Back Of The Van there and recorded it in Sydney. I kept the whole thing going when I move to Sydney. I just call myself an Australasian artist. I never thought I would be anything other than that. I was happy and content with that, then opportunities presented and I took them up. I’m happy to go with the flow and move overseas. Having said that, all my friends are down under – I haven’t really met anyone in England. But you only live once. I’m just a Kiwi that is a bit everywhere, really. I owe a lot to a lot of places.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Anxiety is out now through Modular. LADYHAWKE will perform at Billboard on Tuesday July 17, and then play Splendour In The Grass in Byron Bay, taking place Friday July 27 until Sunday July 29.