Five years since her her last album, Ladyhawke has just announced that her long-awaited new record is on its way. We caught up with her to find out what’s been going on in the meantime.
Pip Brown is nothing if not patient. Having spent the early part of this millennium building a powerful reputation in Aotearoa and Australia’s underground music scenes, it wasn’t until 2008 that the artist better known as Ladyhawke broke through into the mainstream. After the release of her award-winning and chart-topping debut album towards the end of that year, things changed quickly, but her focus on quality over urgency remained. Her follow-up album came four years later, with another four years passing before her third.
Now, almost five years exactly from the release of that most recent record, 2016’s Wild Things, Brown is preparing for the release of a new album – the fittingly titled Time Flies. Just a few days before the release of second single ‘Mixed Emotions’, we sat down with the understated creative force to talk about juggling motherhood and music, the secret to warding off homophobes on Twitch and what she actually wants from music these days.
Your first record came out almost 13 years ago. How have things changed since then?
I think when I was actually making that record, I was very naive.
In what way?
I didn’t know anything about the music industry. I had just been playing rock ‘n roll bands, playing pub gigs and having fun with my friends. I didn’t know anything about the industry at all. I guess after three albums – just made a fourth – you learn a few things. You go through a lot, and I think I definitely changed hugely. I’m a bit wiser now. I was very willing to trust people and go along with what people said, as opposed to trusting my own gut. I think if I could go back and say anything to my younger self it would be not to listen to what other people say. Listen to your instincts.
How have you approached music this time compared to your previous records?
This time I went in with freedom. I started the writing process in 2019 in LA, then came back to NZ for a while, then went back to LA again at the end of 2019. I was planning to go back again to finish it in April last year, but then the pandemic happened. So I was sort of faced with that thing every other artist who’d started a record had, like “How the hell am I going to finish this?” All of a sudden I was faced with the possibility that I’d end up putting out an album that I might not ever be able to tour.
Was it hard to focus with that at the back of your mind?
It was, but at the same time it was liberating. I came to the realisation that everyone is in this. It’s not just me, and in all fairness most people have it worse off, because I’m in New Zealand. During lockdown I was doing Zoom sessions with (producer) Tommy English in LA and we were trying to finish stuff off, but it was all going to shit over there. At times I found it quite hard to work knowing he was so down, and in a completely different situation. I didn’t know if I was going to wait for him or get him over to New Zealand somehow, but then I met Josh Fountain and we clicked instantly. He basically became my New Zealand collaborator and helped me finish the record off.
You’re become quite well known as a gamer, and for your Twitch streams. Do you plan on using that platform as a musical outlet in the future?
Yep. That’s what I’m building up to at the moment. My studio at home is tiny and can’t fit enough stuff in it to be able to do both, I have to do one or the other – music or Twitch – but I’m working towards being able to write and produce on stream and have people watching me do it and ask questions. I was so nervous at the start, I didn’t think anyone would want to watch me play games. But it’s been seven months now, and I’ve met this incredible community of young queer and trans kids, young lesbians, gay dudes and straight people as well. Every time I stream though, I have the LGBQTIA tag so people know I’m a queer streamer and that it’s a safe space to come to. You do get trolls who seek out that tag and drop these awful bombs in the chat, but the community outweighs them. There’s these things called emotes, and I just made one myself and it says ‘Gay’ in a synthwave sort of font. Whenever a troll comes in that’s homophobic, everyone in my chat just spams the gay emote.
That’s definitely a great way to ward them off. Is it safe to say Twitch has helped you overcome a few barriers?
Twitch has helped me in every aspect of my life. It’s going to sound ridiculous but it’s helped my public speaking, the way I am in front of a camera and I’ve learnt how to talk to people better. It’s so helpful to my confidence and broadened my interaction with fans which I never had before. I felt so cut off from fans. I have a Discord, and I have a growing community on there. They message me everyday and I chat with them, they show me pictures of their animals. I had one fan from New York who sent me a copper guitar pick with my name engraved on it. It’s so great, I’ve never had that fan interaction before.
Do you feel like you’ve grown more into yourself as your career’s progressed?
I think there were a couple of major moments for me where I was able to just accept myself. I had years of just never feeling satisfied, never feeling happy. I think it’s like that with every artist; nothing is good enough, judging every aspect of yourself and I did that really badly. Having a baby changed that for me. Having a daughter, the focus leaves yourself and goes into someone else. You sort of stop worrying about the little things you used to worry about.
Was there ever a point where you felt like you were ready to dust your hands off and be done with Ladyhawke?
I don’t think there was a point for me where I felt that but I think maybe some other people around me thought that. I think there might have been some hints from other people to give up. But there’s nothing else that I want to do. I don’t care if I’m not relevant or no one gives a shit anymore. It’s still my job. If I was a lawyer, I wouldn’t give up being a lawyer. I wouldn’t give up being a doctor. So yeah, there have been those moments, but I’ve said, “Nah, this is the only thing I can do, so fuck you all”. You don’t have to listen to it, but I’m still doing it.
Do you ever feel the pressure to outdo yourself when making music?
I do, yeah. I don’t know an artist that doesn’t though. I feel like there’s this invisible bar that you set for yourself. It gets raised every time you release something new. A voice of ‘I want to do better than that, I hate this and that, I’ve got to sound different and I’ve got to do better than all those things.’ This record was different though.
What was different this time?
All of the pressure had gone for me. I didn’t care. Life became more important, like my cancer scare for instance, the fact that I had faced the prospect of not being around, and I had a baby. All of those things put everything else into perspective. I got to the point in my life where I realised I’m so lucky to be able to do this. I’m lucky to make music, so I’m just going to be in the moment and make music. Whatever else happens will happen. That’s when the bar disappeared.
Ladyhawke’s album Time Flies will be released in October 2021. This content, like that album, was produced with the support of NZ on Air.