Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Ladyhawke Interview: The Accidental Popstar
It happened somewhere in a field near Leeds in 2007, watching Johnny “firstly, I’m a genius” Borrell strut across a stage lit up brighter than the heavens, clad in skin-tight white, like the Jesus of a generation: the realisation that indie music has a habit of creating these truly ridiculous egomaniacs who will stop just short of actually nailing themselves to a backlit crucifix to prove that they are the undisputed saviour of music. It was the same sentiment that surfaced upon hearing Reverend And The Makers frontman, Jon McClure, proclaim that he was going to quit music earlier this year with the words, "I'm gonna go out having told the truth and with my head held high and having stood for something.” (Did anyone ever work out what?) Thankfully, this mutated sub-species of musical hubris generally results in a nasty media backlash (like this one) and the perpetrators of such usually end up looking like silly pricks (like McClure).
The absence of this all-too-familiar arrogance is one reason why Ladyhawke is somewhat of a breath of fresh air. She’s not reinventing the wheel with her synth-laden Stevie Nicks-esque take on modern pop. Ladyhawke takes what any self-respecting music lover once loved about the eighties – those Kate Bush synth-choirs, that hypnotically tinny drum machine, and that impressively voluminous backcombed barnet – and dusts it off a bit for a new generation, spruces it up with a plaid shirt for the indie kids. This isn’t just all hot air and blonde hair – take a good listen to Ladyhawke’s debut and you’ll hear everything from Tangerine Dream in ‘Manipulating Woman’ to Gary Numan in ‘Paris Is Burning’ to Human League in ‘Better Than Sunday’. So yes, plenty of early eighties references here then. And all that from a Kiwi girl the wrong side of twenty-five with roots in hardcore and punk.
“I guess I never really expected it to get to this,” Ladyhawke admits. Only she’s not really Ladyhawke today – there’s no sign of the vampish alterego that the name suggests – no Jesus complex, thank God (apologies). This is just Pip Brown, admitting that her aspirations “were quite small. I was writing in my bedroom, expecting to sign to some indie label and release an EP in Australia, and to be honest I think I would have been quite happy to do that.” Instead she accidentally made a wildly successful pop record, selling 3500 copies in the first week of release and catapulting her into the media spotlight. Which hasn’t been easy, especially as Brown suffers from Aspergers, a condition on the autistic spectrum that can affect communication, interaction and imagination – three qualities that at first glance seem fairly essential for your average aspiring popstar.
“Sometimes, if I didn’t have stuff to do I’d just never leave the house, I went through a period of time when I didn’t leave the house for ages [three months, to be exact] and my friends were telling me that I had to get out!” Pip says of her social nervousness. She doesn’t come across all that shy in person, but she visibly suffers from stage fright in her live shows, something that the media have often noticed. “I always worry I’ll fuck up – make a mistake, sing off key, make a fool of myself on stage…” It was to counter this that Ladyhawke was invented – an alterego for Pip that could embody the starry qualities her creator lacked. This kind of method acting isn’t new – The Beatles tried the same tack to counter the professional pressure they felt with Sgt. Pepper in 1967. But has it worked?
“It didn’t work out, because we’re just the same person,” she admits. “Sometimes I try and use Ladyhawke more, I try to dress differently on stage. But mostly I just take that side of it as it comes, I don’t expect it to get better.” Strangely then, it’s actually the gigging that Pip likes best. “Even though I get nervous and everything, I just have to tell myself it’s over in about forty minutes – my sets aren’t very long. I love playing – it’s kind of a love hate thing. And you get so much free alcohol!”
It’s the same with her music – Ladyhawke is absolutely a pop record, and yet Pip loves heaps of stuff from the other end of the musical spectrum. “First I was in a hardcore band, and then a grunge band, and then this punk rock band. I still listen to AC/DC, and I always think it’s only a matter of time before I revert back to that.” She talks of side projects in sixties rock that feature her on the drums for future collaborations, and reminisces about her early punk days, which even saw her play at New York’s CBGB club – the birthplace of New York punk.
As for Ladyhawke, Pip has no plans to procrastinate over her second album. “I already have an idea of exactly where I want to go with the next album, I want to try something new.” And when asked if she plans for it to come out next year she squeals, “definitely, I don’t know why I would wait until 2010, it seems far too far away! I’d get bored and probably move home!” Pip seems fairly savvy about the fickleness of celebrity culture, quick enough, anyway, for her to realise the importance of capitalizing on 2008’s success with a sharpish followup.
Ladyhawke has had a few run-ins with the weirder side of celebrity this year. “My friend actually put me on to this youtube video called ‘Ladyhawke Lover’, and it is so scary!” she tells me, of her biggest fan. “This girl is obsessed! She has this big picture of me above her bed with lights all around it, and then she goes to her cupboard and she has a shrine with a picture of me in it. And then she gets a glass of wine and she dips her finger in the wine and rubs it on my face, and she says, “Please Ladyhawke if you see this get in touch with me!” She’s a New Zealander though so that made me feel a bit safer – I’m over here and she’s over there!”
Pip seems to find it hilarious that someone out there could really become obsessed by her and her music. There is genuine bemusement at her own success in her voice when she says “it surprises me how things happen and once the ball starts rolling people just seem to catch on – it’s insane.” This kind of humility is a breath of fresh air in an industry saturated in self righteous Jesus-types and mediocre reality TV victims. Here’s hoping Ladyhawke hangs around in the UK long enough for it to rub off.