Ladyhawke’s Life-Changing Lessons

Photo | Lula Cucchiara - @lulacucchiara
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Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke, just released her aptly titled new album Time Flies, which she began recording in 2019. She tells Oliver Hall how pandemic restrictions helped her find greater confidence and reminisces about coming out, travelling the world and meeting her wife.

Tell us a bit about your new album Time Flies?

I started writing it in 2019. When I went over to LA. I was working with my mate, Tommy English, who produced my Wild Things record. I wasn’t in a hurry. I was just having fun with it. I was really enjoying the process and felt a sort of freedom for the first time because I wasn’t placing any sort of like pressure on myself. I was just glad to be making music.

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Then I was supposed to fly back to LA in April last year to finish everything and couldn’t because of the pandemic. So, the rest of the record was quite a new experience for me trying to figure out how to finish it (from home) in lockdown. I chose that to finish the stuff with Tommy English in LA remotely. And when locked down lifted, I was able to work with Josh Fountain here in Auckland, who produced all of Benee’s stuff. We just hit it off instantly. So that was my whole process of making the record and then throwing in the mix, being a mom and figuring out who I was as a person again, because you sort of lose your identity a little bit when you become a mom and I was still trying to figure that out.

It feels like the most kind of commercial album, you’ve done since your first album.

I think it’s because I feel like I’m in a similar position, mentally, not as far as my career goes because when I started as Ladyhawke, I had no expectations because nobody knew who I was. I was known as a guitar player and Nick Littlemore’s (of Empire of the Sun and Pnau fame) right-hand person. So I didn’t really have anything else to compare that to. Then, I released that first record, then two more, and all this baggage comes with that, like, crappy self-esteem and imposter syndrome. But with this record, because of everything I’ve been through my personal life, and just like the journey I’ve been on the last few years, I honestly felt like it was starting all over again. I’d come full circle and I wasn’t worried anymore.

Are you one of those people that Lockdown actually helped because it forced you to reassess?

Last year it did. The first big lockdown was quite good for me. It made me go, ‘I can do this!’ It gave me this new confidence in my own skills and talent, which is crazy because I realized I should have always had. I’m good at what I do and I don’t need a million people around me. That’s what it did for me. But then this time around because Auckland’s been in Lockdown now for over three months. It’s a bit different. I’m losing my mind… I never thought I would care this much about leaving the house!

What sets this album apart from the previous records?

Just the ‘getting my shit together’ sort of mental state that I’ve been in. Feeling mentally stable for the first time. I know some artists that thrive on being mentally unstable and romanticize it but it’s torturous! I just wanted to have a day where I didn’t feel like I’m plummeting into the pits of despair. Mental stability has completely changed everything for me!

And how did you achieve that?

You have to verbalize it. I had been saying, for years, I need to see a therapist and would just never do it. I would just never get around to it. And it got so bad. I had postnatal depression. I texted a friend, and said ‘I really need help.’ She came back within 10 minutes with a list (of therapists)… So, just ask the people who love you for help. I met this therapist who I still see to this day, and he helped me immensely and got me on a course of medication that suited my brain chemical and balance my needs. He spoke with my GP and they formulated a plan for me, based on how well they’d gotten to know me. My therapist literally talked to me for over a year before medication was on the table. I think that’s great, because so many GPs and therapists are just like, ‘here’s some pills.’

Ladyhawke.

There seems to be a theme in the videos from Time Flies depicting lots of female relationships. Was that intentional?

100%! This time I felt I had got to fly the flag and represent myself. I wanted to work with queer artists and photographers and directors… My wife (Madeleine Sami) directed my parts in the My Love video).

I feel like I can hear her personality in this album. Is she a fan of the new music?

She loves it! But my biggest fan is my daughter who just wants to hear My Love over and over again.

Pride month is coming – what does pride mean to you?

It’s so great to go somewhere and not feel like you’re being seen as something other than cis and straight. And straight people don’t understand that, no matter how much of an incredible ally they are… Sometimes it feels like you have to come out every day! Every time you meet a new person, or you sit in the back of an Uber and the driver asks “are you married? What does your husband do?” It’s so great to not go through that when you go to Pride!

You’re right! Every time we’re walking the dog and my partner takes my hand, I feel like we’re coming out to everyone who’s on the beach!

It’s baggage! There’s years of homophobia and scary shit… you want to hold your partner’s hand and with that one simple moment comes all this crap attached to it, that society’s put on you and it’s not fair… Maybe one day, every day will be like Pride. I certainly see it with my niece and nephew’s generation, it’s just like, a shrug!

You’ve lived in Melbourne, Sydney, London, LA, Auckland and Wellington. Could you describe the experience of living in it of each of those?

Wellington – windy, cold, formative, rowdy fun. It was kind of where my musical journey began.
Melbourne – was a blur of parties, drinking, and skating with my friends. It was where I found myself as a queer woman and came out.
Sydney – was all about music. Nick Littlemore, Jonno Sloane, DJing, playing live shows and starting Ladyhawke.
London – was an absolute blur of touring, being taken out on this wild ride of festivals. My feet didn’t touch the ground the entire time I lived there. I just love the passion for music that England has. It hasn’t been matched anywhere I’ve ever played.
LA – was like recovery. Well, hitting rock bottom and then recovery. I partied till I couldn’t party anymore. And then started my journey to getting sober. I love the sunshine and made a heavy record in Wild Things.
Auckland – has been grounding. Humbling. Getting my mental health journey on track. It’s family and I think it’s where I belong.

And you spent your childhood in the metropolis of Masterton, what was growing up there like for you?

I loved it, it was quite idyllic. Nice hot summers, swimming in the pool, going to the beach. I love Masterton and I still go back there all the time when we’re not locked down.

You got married there.

It was a beautiful day and scorching hot… It was interesting being a teenager there and discovering music. Suddenly I had this global awareness that I was in a country at the bottom of the world and everything just felt really far away. I think it gave me the drive to travel. As soon as I was able to, I was out of there, not because I didn’t like it, I just had to see the world.

You’ve had a couple of pretty big health scares in your life, experiencing erysipeloid as a child and recently level-four melanoma. What effect have those experiences had on the way you live your life?

I didn’t understand the gravity of the one when I was a kid. It messed up my mom more than it messed me up. My health was an annoying thing for me as a young person, and it really fueled my anxiety and made me a bit of a germaphobe. I was the OG traveller with hand sani and a mask before any of this pandemic business… With the melanoma that was a whole different level. When I got the all-clear, I felt like I had been given this second chance. It gave me this whole new lease on life and made me look at my music and think, ‘love every second you’re doing it because it’s a privilege to be doing it.’

You mentioned earlier that you ‘came out’ in Melbourne. How was your coming out experience?

It had been a journey for a couple of years. I had gone to a Catholic school where you still get taught religious education. That stuff really did mess me up as far as figuring out my sexual identity because I probably would have realised younger if I had been taught about it or had heard it talked about in a positive light! I never had a gay uncle or auntie or any gay family. I didn’t know anyone. And if there was anyone gay in my town, it was always like, ‘oh, blah, blah has been seen at the public toilet.’ You know, like really awful shitty stuff was said, so it took me years. I remember moving to Wellington where that journey started and trying to figure it out, ‘why am I really into my best friend?’

It took me going to Melbourne and finally being around a lot of openly gay people. I worked at a bar that had a Queer and Alternative night. It exposed me to people I’d never been around in my life. It was such a welcoming community, I felt instantly at home. I met my first girlfriend and I remember finally telling my friends, and everyone being like, ‘yeah, we’ve just been waiting for you to realize!’

What was the most memorable moment of the night you met Madeleine? And what made you think I want to marry you?

I met her the night of the New Zealand Music Awards in 2009.

Through Lucy Lawless?

Yes! Lucy presented me with two awards that night. We walked off stage and she introduced me to Madeline and I dropped my award on the ground and chipped it a little bit, so that’s quite memorable! We went to the green room where there was a big party happening with all the bands. I remember chatting to her and she was really funny and I was like, ‘who the hell is this girl? She’s so hilarious!’ I had no idea who she was because I’d been living overseas forever… That’s a big thing for me, making me laugh – that’s key! So, we started dating, not long after that. And eventually, I decided to move back to New Zealand… I was never really into the idea of marriage, but it just takes the right person and suddenly marriage is a great idea!

What has your daughter Billie Jean taught you about life?

She’s taught me some interesting things. Like that whole nature/nurture thing. I am such a tomboy and always have been. I grew up absolutely crying my eyes out of my mum wanted me to wear a dress, from as early as I can remember. While Madeleine to a certain extent has way more of a fem side than I do, she’s still a tomboy, but Billie Jean from as early as I can remember was obsessed with dresses, loves princesses and every girly thing. I’m just like, whoa, you’re just your own person!

From two years old she would do this model walk and strut around and pout, and loves handbags and the most disgusting shoes! I’ve supported that and thought if this is what she wants, then I’m going to be clued up on all the names of all of Barbie’s siblings, and I want to know every Princess and their backstory.

Who’s your favourite princess?

Elsa, because ‘she gay!’ If you see Frozen 2. There’s definitely some subtext with a girl. Every lesbian in the world is like: “Oh, Elsa and Honeymaren!”

Ladyhawke’s Time Flies is available on all good music streaming platforms now.

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