Joanna Hunkin is the Head of Entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

How Ladyhawke overcame her dark journey

Ladyhawke’s new album may sound carefree but its creation was no easy ride. She tells Joanna Hunkin why.
Ladyhawke is feeling calm about the release of her third album Wild Things.
Ladyhawke is feeling calm about the release of her third album Wild Things.

The first time I ever interviewed Ladyhawke was a disaster. We were backstage at a Big Day Out and she was clearly anxious. Speaking softly, she avoided all eye contact as we both stumbled our way through the awkwardness.

My cameraman (who shall remain nameless but still cringes about the incident) forgot to check the audio levels and the result was an inaudible mess.

The second time I interviewed Ladyhawke, two years later, was like meeting a different person. Again, it was just ahead of a live set, but this time she radiated energy and enthusiasm.

So as we came to sit down for a third time - for her third record - I was unsure which Ladyhawke would greet me.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Four years after our last meeting, Ladyhawke (real name Pip Brown) is cool, calm and collected. She's happy. But more importantly, she's at peace.

"I feel good," she says as she settles into an armchair. "I'm relieved it's kicking off now. I've been sitting on the album for a year now."

That album, Wild Things, comes four years after the release of Anxiety and marks a return to the cool, carefree electro-pop of her self-titled debut in 2008.

It's a fun record, full of big hooks and singalong choruses: an easy crowd pleaser.

But the journey to get here has been anything but easy. In fact, there was an entire other record that was scrapped before Wild Things came to be.

"I was in a bad headspace and partying too much," she explains. "I didn't care anymore. I was really disillusioned. I wasn't looking after myself and I made this really dark album. It just wasn't me."

It wasn't until she played the demos to her mum and step-dad that Brown realised how heavy the album was.

"The look on their face made me go 'oh my God, I can't release this music. I have to start again'."

But first, she had to climb out of the darkness that had tarnished the record.

"I got myself all healthy, I started going for walks and stuff. I'm not an active, fitness person. I don't go to the gym. So I just started going for walks and eating healthy.

"It sounds so cliched but I had to do it. I had to get rid of sugar - I've had a year of no sugar."

A change in diet helped her concentration and productivity. But the biggest change came when she gave up alcohol.

After years of battling depression, Brown says the two issues had become intertwined.

"It starts to become chicken and egg. They're fuelling each other. I know for so many musicians and actors, they don't know which came first. Definitely with me, I feel better now that I'm not drinking. I can see clearly."

As she prepares to launch her third record, she also has the benefit of experience. This time around, she knows what to expect.

"The first album I was quite naive and excitable. I was young and just couldn't believe what was happening. I didn't think my life could get any better, I was just happy playing music and it just got better."

But that experience soon soured as she was thrust deeper into the industry.

"I can't even describe it, I just felt like I was at the centre of a hurricane and I didn't understand what was going on. It was too much for me. I'm not an extrovert. I'm not an 'out there' character, so people didn't know how to take me.

"I got judged on that. I got judged by the fact I was quiet and reserved and I wasn't a crazy performer."

Those feelings were documented in 2012's Anxiety, which had a darker, rock sensibility than Ladyhawke's debut.

"The second record, I was so disillusioned. I thought the industry sucked and I was tired and exhausted and sad.

"Now, the third album, I don't care anymore. I'm happy. It was a joy to make this album.

"I feel so much more confident in a studio writing music now than I used to. I can sit in a studio now with my producer and I'm not scared to say what I want. I used to be quite intimidated by working with a producer. I'm a lot more confident and assured of myself."

Part of that confidence also comes from her home life. Having settled in Los Angeles, Brown is now happily married to actress Madeleine Sami and has established a strong network of creative friends, including fellow Kiwi songwriter Gin Wigmore.

"In LA, you need to have good people around you. It's not a place to be on your own. The first six months I didn't really know many people and I was quite on my own.

"Me and Gin have become really close since she moved to LA. We didn't know each other at all before she moved. It's amazing having another person who knows your experience. We talk about and share our experiences all the time. We've gone through heaps of similar stuff. It's so good having her there."

Much like Gin, Brown struggled to find her place in the music industry, in an era when Shakira, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera dominated the charts.

"I definitely stood out as being the odd one out. I wasn't the girlie girl that they could dress up. No one quite knew where to put me. I wasn't pop enough to be pop and I wasn't indie enough to be indie.

"I was just this weird tomboy girl that was playing pop. It confused a lot of people."

But though some were confused, others embraced her sound and style. She became a rising star in the UK, nominated for best breakthrough artist at the 2010 Brit Awards.

Ladyhawke became a breakout star in 2008 both here and internationally.
Ladyhawke became a breakout star in 2008 both here and internationally.

To this day, she says, she's surprised by just how many fans she has in the UK. They follow her around London and wait for her outside hotels.

It has been (and at times continues to be) a surreal experience. But one she's now got a handle on.

So if there's one thing she's learnt from the past 10 years?

"Be wary of people in the industry who try and give you creative advice. They don't know. They're not the creative people, you're the creative person. You need to remember that - you're the artist creating music.

"If a record label person tries to give you creative advice or a manager, don't listen because they don't have a clue. They know about business. You have to stick to your gut instinct."

Who: Ladyhawke
What: New album Wild Things out June 3
Touring: CPSA, Christchurch, July 21; Bodega, Wellington, July 23; Powerstation, Auckland July 23.

- TimeOut

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