Ladyhawke - Wings Of Desire
With a lavish article in the NME this week and records coming out in Europe, the United States and Australia, the world is in love with New Zealand born Ladyhawke. 3D’s Cyclone finds out about the lady behind the name.
Boho-glam rocker Ladyhawke, AKA Phillipa Brown, may idolise Stevie Nicks but, backstage, she has the shy demeanour of Nicks’ Fleetwood Mac bandmate Christine McVie. The trick Brown has learnt is to transform that shyness into mystique. (This also explains her long romantic fringe.)
At any rate, the softly spoken Kiwi has been overwhelmed by media interest, recently previewing her debut on a whirlwind Australian tour. Brown laughs at the idea that Madonna can choose her interviews. “Totally – God!” she blurts out. “I think she does no promo anymore.”
The “underground idol” appears to have sprung from nowhere, but she’s a seasoned musician. Brown, a Wellington native, was raised in a musical family. Her jazz muso stepfather was a key influence. Because of him, Brown started hitting drums. She soon progressed to other instruments. “Pip” eventually joined her step-dad’s brass band as percussionist.
Having rocked in grunge bands while at school, Brown played guitar with the hard rock Two Lane Blacktop. In fact, the outfit enjoyed moderate success in Australia with their single The Rat. (John Peel also picked up on them.) However, Two Lane Blacktop split suddenly due to “personal differences” before releasing an LP. A crushed Pip moved to Australia to begin afresh.
“I left New Zealand when my band at the time broke up,” she says. “I left at the end of that just to get out of the whole band break-up thing. I was really gutted by it.”
After two years in Melbourne, Brown relocated to Sydney, where she was part of Teenager with Pnau’s Nick Littlemore. Frustrated creatively, she resolved to become a solo artist.
“I was just sick of being in a band,” she says. “I was always answering to somebody – and not myself. I really struggled to get my opinions heard. I thought, if I had my own project, at least I’d know that it was me. I only had myself to answer to so, if anything went wrong, it was only myself to blame.”
Pip had almost completed her Ladyhawke album when she signed to Modular, Steve “Pav” Pavlovic loving Paris Is Burning. In 2008 Brown resides in the UK. There, she’s charmed an often-fierce music media currently extolling “the Antipodean influx”.
The ‘Ladyhawke’ is derived from the ’80s film of the same title starring Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s not the first time Brown has referenced cinema. Two Lane Blacktop, too, took their name from a movie. Pip initially approached Ladyhawke as an alter-ego, but that’s been challenging to sustain.
“When I started calling myself ‘Ladyhawke’ three years ago, it started off being an alter-ego and an excuse to come out of my shell,” she reflects. “I’ve always been really shy and I never thought I had it in me to stand up in front of people and sing. I’d always been just a guitarist or drummer. I’d never really been at the front of the band, I’d be off to the side or at the back. As time has gone on, though, especially in the last six months, it’s been really hard to actually separate myself from Ladyhawke. I can’t escape the fact that when I’m on stage I’m still quite shy. It started off being an alter-ego, but everything’s moulded into one now.”
If the Ladyhawke flick centred on Medieval fantasy, then Brown’s pop mines the ’80s, the songwriter, 29, exploring an enduring nostalgia for the lost decade. She’s likened to everyone from Kim Wilde to Pat Benatar to, yes, Nicks.
Ladyhawke’s breakthrough single Paris Is Burning – which, incidentally she had remixed by close buddy Peaches – sets the tone for an album spanning glam rock, synth-pop, disco and contemporary indie-dance. With no connection to the electronic scene, Pip has expressed surprise that she should be embraced as a ‘dance’ act. Yet she shares many of her ’80s (and ’70s) inspirations with today’s dance producers. Even Pip’s beloved Fleetwood Mac command a following in old Chicago house circles with the Nicks-penned Dreams a cult classic.
Aside from ’80s icons, Ladyhawke might be compared to other nu-electro starlets, but she’s differentiated herself. She’s more eccentric and subversive than Annie, less urban than Robyn, and nowhere near as brash (or bling) as Lady GaGa. Nevertheless, Brown has struggled with pop’s gender politics in realising ‘Ladyhawke’. She refused to be manufactured.
The multi-instrumentalist chanced on a kindred spirit in Belgian producer Pascal Gabriel. Based in the UK, Gabriel’s studio credits include dance pioneers Bomb The Bass and S’Express and, much later, Kylie Minogue. But it was his involvement in her early ’s Batbox that attracted Ladyhawke.
“We just got on like a house on fire. We have a lot in common,” Pip says. “He’s been an incredible influence on me. We ended up doing five or six tracks together on the album. He’ll probably be my main collaborator for the next record, just because we have some flow together. This album was quite a discovery of who I could work with well. I had to work with a few people to start off to figure out who got me and who didn’t.
“The next album I’ve already gotten to that point where I know who I can work with, so it’ll probably be mainly Pascal and maybe one other person.”
Pip had some uncomfortable exchanges in the process of finding Gabriel. She encountered dictatorial (male) producers.
“It was interesting... It could be frustrating at times, though, ’cause at first I got paired up with producers who I just didn’t like and I didn’t get along with,” she says. “They weren’t interested in me or what I was doing.
“I went through a couple of sessions where they’d already written the entire song and treated me like I was just some no-talent pop singer. It really annoyed me because I write my own music and I write my own lyrics. I don’t wanna go in there and have some manufactured pop writer write me some garbage heartless piece of music!
“I said to people, I really have to think hard about who I’m gonna work with, because it’s just a waste of people’s time if I’m gonna go into the studio with somebody who’s not willing to work with me.”
And, Pip confesses, she did stomp out of the studio on one occasion. “I got really insulted and I just left,” she recalls. “I was really angry and upset. I had a bit of a moment and just walked out of the studio and never saw the guy again.
“’Cause I’m so shy, sometimes I can’t say what I want when I don’t know the person. Sometimes the first day would just be me sitting there awkwardly looking really grumpy. Then, by the second day, I would have gained the confidence to say, ‘Actually, can we write a song from scratch, can I get my guitar – can you stop treating me like a pop artist, because I’m not.’”
That control extends to Ladyhawke’s fantastical image. Pip won’t use stylists on photoshoots and her artwork is handled exclusively by friend Sarah Larnach in Sydney.
“I’ve tried to keep it really close to me, just so that I know that I’m being portrayed the way that I want – which makes me happy.”
WHAT: Ladyhawke through Modular/Universal
WHEN: Out now