PIP BROWN FINALLY FOLLOWS UP HER DEBUT ALBUM WITH WHAT ELSE BUT A RECORD CALLED ‘ANXIETY’
Comebacks are never easy, and it’s something New Zealand songstress Ladyhawke knows all too well. After all the awards, the sell-out shows and the hype of 2008’s ‘Lady-electro scene’, Pip Brown gave us silence. Fighting off breakdown rumours, bone-crippling exhaustion and the dreaded ‘second album syndrome’, after a three-year wait, we finally find out what’s comes next for Ladyhawke.
Peering through the dim lit gloom in Sheffield’s Leadmill, it appears Pip is feeling fragile. So much so that when she proffers a tiny hand to shake, I fear that she might break. Since contracting a rare illness and being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, Pip has found herself prone to bouts of sickness, allergies and panic attacks that make touring a constant struggle. I wonder out loud how she has learned to cope.
Gently nursing a bottle of Berocca and peering sadly from beneath the brim of her fedora, she answers softly: “Touring’s a double edged sword really, ‘cos I love it, but I hate it at the same time. Like, I love playing but I’m not really that sort of person, I like my home comforts. Sometimes it’s wonderful and other times you feel really crap and you have nowhere to go.
“I wasn’t a social kid really anyway,” she says. “I liked being at home, I didn’t like staying in other people houses or gardens. I still don’t really like it. Sometimes it’s the pleasantries you have to get out of the way and I like the person, but it’s so awkward going over to someone’s house sometimes.”
There’s something about Ladyhawke that breeds an easy familiarity, and despite feeling under the weather Pip is relaxed and friendly, her smiling eyes hidden by a mop of shaggy blonde hair. When she swears in her soft New Zealand twang it sounds almost school-girlishly naughty.
“Shit, I remember wanting to play drums so bad! It was the most I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. When I was about 11, I begged and begged and begged, then I remember my mate Jonathan called up my Mum and said, ‘Mrs Brown you gotta let Pip play drums, it’s free! It’s free lessons!’ I’ve just always wanted to play music. That’s all I’ve wanted to do.”
Her new album, ‘Anxiety’, has a darker, more insistent beat running through it than her self-titled debut. It simultaneously reigns in the electro pop while polishing off some of the rough edges for a glossier production sheen, though Pip insists she was going for a more “low-fi, home studio sound”. Recorded in the South of France and New Zealand with her long-time producer Pascal Gabriel, it’s been a long, drawn-out process and her relief that it’s over is palpable.
“There was absolutely no part of me that was gonna do that album as soon as I finished touring, though,” she reasons. “I was too tired and I didn’t want what I was doing to sound like everything else. And so I needed a break to get some perspective and I think that’s what it gave me.”
Away on tour almost constantly from her self-titled debut album’s release in 2008 until 2010, Pip Brown was burnt out. So she decided to take some much-needed time off, returning to her family and her roots in her hometown of Masterton, New Zealand.
She grins happily. “It was amazing! So awesome and chilled out, and to see all my friends and family and just reconnect again… It was a really good place for me creatively as well, as it got me out of the whole hustle and bustle of London; you know, the stress of being in the industry. I just rent a place there now (in London) but I lived there for a few years, then moved back to New Zealand for a year and half and now I’m back here again. So, yeah, it’s good to go home.”
Following her long break from the stresses of the industry, calling her second album ‘Anxiety’ has incited an onslaught of personal speculation, particularly in her home country where articles wax lyrical about her alleged “complete breakdown” in the run up to its recording.
Pip sighs. “The thing is that everyone always said to me that I was too private. As for the title, I didn’t think it was that big a deal, it was just me poking fun at myself.
“Definitely for this album it felt like one extended therapy session. I remember writing the lyrics to the title tracks and thinking, ‘Fuck, is this too much?’, and then realising that I can have a sense of myself because it’s true and there might be people out there who can relate to it.”
Songs like ‘Cellophane’ also hold a special place in her heart, with its heavy drums and crunching guitars hiding her closest thing to a torch song. She explains, “You can go through your whole life and you always look upon the past with nostalgia, but you don’t realise what you have at the time, so it’s really easy to do. ‘Cellophane’ is a song saying, ‘it will all make sense later on down the line’.”
Having chatted for a while and now seeming almost completely relaxed, common themes of fantasy and reality dodging crop up and she laughs to recall an early interview where she said she wished she could see ghosts. Ladyhawke itself is a name Pip took from a fantasy film of the same name – a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer as doomed lovers who transform into a Hawk and a Wolf at different times of day. It’s essentially a love story, albeit one with Matthew Broderick as a dopy peasant and a bizarre medieval disco soundtrack.
“Somehow it felt right, like it suited me,” says Pip. “And I loved the concept that she was one thing during the day and another thing at night time.”
As for Ladyhawke the performer, when she burst onto the scene in 2008 she was quickly grouped with other female artists like La Roux, Little Boots, Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine, also becoming an unwitting style icon in the process when ‘Paris Is Burning’ was used to soundtrack a Chanel runway show. Critics heralded the new wave of self-empowered women as a movement, something with which Pip Brown heartily disagrees. “I think it’s a shame when it’s girls doing something it’s a ‘movement’, but when guys are doing something it’s just music. It really fucked me off actually.”
In the midst of all the madness surrounding her first album, she also garnered a celebrity fan base containing musicians as likely and unlikely as Kylie Minogue, Courtney Love, Peaches and Tim Burgess, who she recently collaborated with on his new album.
“We’ve known each other a few years,” she says, “and I’ve been a big fan since I was16. He was a fan of mine as well. We met and we got on instantly, you know. He just asked, so I came to Manchester and stayed in his house and made some music. It was cool.”
Pip is also a self confessed “massive gamer” and collector of retro consoles. ‘My Delirium’ was used on rally game Colin McRae Dirt 2; her previous band Teenager had a track featured on Grand Theft Auto IV. It seems only right that I should ask her if she has ever thought about creating her own gaming character?
She laughs. “Definitely not, no. I’d love to co-create a game with a proper gaming geek and I could be the ideas and things, I’d love that. That would be awesome! I’d probably make myself a dinosaur or something.”
Most recently, the release of ‘Anxiety’ has been pushed back once again to June 4th, begging the question, what are Ladyhawke fans still expecting and hoping for? Are they expecting anything at all? If they are and the answer is another record ripe for the indie disco, set to the synthetic pop brilliance of ‘My Delirium’, that’s not what we have here. ‘Anxiety’ is still for FM radio, but it’s slower, more guitar-driven than synth-lead, and now Pip smoothly purrs with intended sass. It sounds a lot like a Cardigans record, which, in parts, at least, has been worth the wait.
Infinitely more comfortable in the confines of the studio than here, on the road and about to play a show, it seems that Pip – a creator and a pop performer, but also a complete introvert – is constantly fighting a battle with the two sides of herself. Played out to greatest effect in the superficial world of the video created for single ‘Black and White and Blue’, she still has long way to go before conquering her inner demons.
Slowly though, she’s finding solace in her long-term goal of becoming a music producer.
“That’s what I want to do, write and produce for other people. That’s the path I’m steering myself down. Because I love being behind the scenes. I mean, I love doing what I do, but I’m not going to be young forever, you know? The age is creeping on.”
Set to tour the UK as well as New Zealand and Australia this year, she’s had very little time to think about her next move. “I’ll just be touring basically and there’ll be another UK tour later in the year. So yeah, shows all around the world ‘til I can’t walk anymore, I imagine.”
With that this most unstarry of rock stars declares her urge to pop upstairs for a nap and a cup of green tea. Later on stage, lit by glittering fairy lights, a heady transformation takes place, as thrashing at her guitar she flings out songs into the crowd. One thing during the day and another thing at night time.
By Kate Parkin
Originally published in issue 38 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2012