Pip Brown On Ladyhawke's New Album, Giving Up Drinking and Shaking Imposter Syndrome

by Anne T. Donahue




Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke, isn't the same person we knew four years ago. Immediately after touring 2012's Anxiety (her follow-up to 2008's self-titled debut), she dove back into the studio and realized she needed to change things up. Big time.

So, within the four years since her last record, Brown has come into her creative, professional, and personal own. After gotten sober in the wake of a few stark realizations, she's re-learned the art of writing, recording, and performing on her own terms, and has written and released Wild Things as a testament to her newfound happiness. Which are just a few of the things we talked about when I called her up to talk about drinking, Imposter Syndrome, and her new direction.

This is your third album, and it's massive because you underwent such a huge life change before recording it. Was it intentional to make your album seem and sound emotionally and mentally light? And I don't mean "light" as in "empty." It feels like clean air.

Pip Brown: I was desperate to feel happy. I wanted to be able to make something that translated to how I was feeling. And I wasn't really too aware -- during the writing and recording of the album -- of how it would sound to other people. We were just in a little bubble for quite a long time, and I wasn't really aware of how much it would come to through the album, how I was feeling and how positive it was. But it really was because I was in such a better headspace than I had been for years.

Didn't you scrap an album before this one because it was too reminiscent of the past?

Yeah, I still hadn't sorted myself out. I'd finished touring the second record, and I was pretty much trying to write the next album straight away. So it wasn't an entire album -- it was eight or nine songs. It was close to an album! And if I wanted to, I could've gotten them mixed and mastered and released, but it made me feel sick. And that's not to say the songs were bad, I do like some of the songs, but the lyrics and the sound of the music was just so dark. And I wanted to feel happy. And I was sick of feeling like crap and it coming through in my music, so that's why I scrapped it.

Well when you're in it, yeah. I stopped drinking a few years ago too, and social anxiety is that I've dealt with something myself, and when you're in it, it feels infinite. It comes out everywhere. Of course it would come out in your music.

Yeah, yeah! And I know a lot of musicians like to draw from that, and I -- to an extent -- did in the past. But it gets to the point where you can't do it anymore. It's not even worth it. It's not worth it to make music through your sadness and pain. You get to a point where you're like "I just want to feel happy and normal, I don't want to feel this way anymore."

So did you stop drinking after you made these eight or nine songs? Were they the catalyst?

It was a part of it. It was a long, drawn out decision I came to to stop drinking. First, when I sent the demos to my Mum -- who's my biggest fan -- she was quite shocked. Like, the look on her face. And that was when I was like, "Oh God, my music's so dark even my Mum doesn't like it." And she even liked my music I was playing when I was in punk rock bands. So that really plagued my anxiety in my brain -- I kept thinking about it. And then I didn't want to play my music for anybody. And then my drinking -- it's always been bad, but it got worse, and worse, and worse. And I was cancelling writing sessions, and cancelling appointments because I was too hungover. And it got to the point where I was like, "Oh my God, I've really fucked up, this is so bad. I can't keep doing this to myself anymore." I looked in the mirror and didn't even recognize myself anymore. I had alcohol bloat, and it was horrible. I felt disgusting and I was always tired. Tired, depressed, crying, and it was the worst. And I got to the point where I had the worst hangover, and I was just like, "Fuck this -- I'm killing my career and my body, so I need to get into shape and start taking care of myself."

So I changed heaps in my life -- not just the alcohol. I cut out sugar for a year and really bad junk food. A thing I would always do is when I was really drunk, I'd get junk food and just binge on burgers and fries, and it was so bad. So I had to stop all that. And I remember stopping sugar was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Oh my God the headaches. I have sugar now, but I had to get myself healthy.

I love how honest you've been about having to play your first show sober and how scary it is. Because I remember when I drank, I thought it was easier to be funny or talk to people or write, and as soon as [alcohol] gets taken away, you realize that it's all on you. And it's so scary in a way that I don't think a lot of people understand.

It's true. I always used alcohol as a social lubricant. And I always thought I was so hilarious and charming and now that I'm the sober person in the room, I can now picture how I was like. And another thing that I found that with the live show and not drinking, I realized that I'm used to . . . I've got really bad stage fright and it's something that I've always had, so I used to drink for that. But I also really hated rehearsing. That sounds really stupid, but I find rehearsing really stressful as well. I find it just as stressful as playing live, so I would cancel rehearsal And then I would get to the show and be like, "Oh my God, I'm under-rehearsed." So then I'd get drunk and think, "That'll fix it!" So stopping drinking has made me pay way more attention to the live show and how I present myself to the audience. I've taken a massive step back and looked at myself and my band and I've been trying to put a lot of thought into the way I get up onstage. I want to engage more.

It must help with your anxiety a little bit, knowing that they're there to see you.

It's funny because I have this real fear that if I talked publicly about stopping drinking, people would think I was a pussy or something. It sounds so weird when I say it out loud, but I was really scared that people would think I was an attention seeker or something. And it really stressed me out. But I felt like I needed to talk about it, because it was such a massive change that helped this album come to life, and I've been so blown away by people's responses to me. And it's the polar opposite to what I thought it would be.



I think it's also your approach to it, too. Because your album is full of hope and life, and people want to listen to that. And you have a choice. I remember when I stopped drinking, I [had to decide] to be like, "I stopped drinking! Here's the rest of my life!" Or, "I stopped drinking! Here's my past on my sleeve." And you've chosen not to make your past a tragedy or over-romanticize the drama. You've chosen to look forward.

Yeah! I feel better. And being able to see and think clearly for the first time in absolute years, it's way more important to me than the crap in the past. It's painful and horrible, [and] I would never want to bring that up again and make music about that. It's done now. It's the past.

So when you look at this album, what are you most proud of?

I don't know! I think I really discovered my songwriting ability better this time around. Because I would quite often drink in the studio when I was writing, and stopping doing that, I really got to see my songwriting evolve. And I think people might be able to hear that I've matured as a songwriter and found my voice. I used to be a little held back, I think. A little bit restrained. Because I was always worried that I couldn't do it. I always thought I wasn't a proper singer.

Why?

I always felt like I fell into it because I was always the drummer or the lead guitar in bands, I was never the front person. So I never had the mentality of a front person. I had the mentality of the bandmates. And it's taken me so long to get into the mindset that I am a singer, and it's come through on the first two albums that I didn't think I was a real singer. And now I do. I think it's when I first met Tommy English -- the producer -- Kat Von D was doing an album and she wanted me to do some tunes on it. And it was at Tom's house. And I didn't know him or anything, so I was really nervous. And I was just sort of messing with harmonies ,and he turned around and said to me, "I really love your singing voice." And I'd never worked with anyone who said that to me before. And it made me feel so good -- like I wanted to sing better for Tommy. I wanted him to think I was a good singer. And I think working with him and doing this album has helped me become a better vocalist which wasn't even a focus of mine in the past.

And it's a testament to how you're kicking Imposter Syndrome's ass.

I've never heard anyone say that before.

It's the idea that you're waiting for someone to tell you that they're onto you -- that everyone will figure out that you're a fraud.

That's so true! That's exactly it! I've never heard anyone say that before, but that's how I've always felt.

It's very real! Especially in the arts. You're always waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder, tell you they know you were faking it, and that it's time to go. But you're continuing to do -- you're not succumbing to it. Every day that you're continuing to do your art, you're showing it who's boss. And you're involved in fashion too, so have you started to notice anything new about [fashion and music] since you've been sober?

When it comes to fashion and beauty, it's a really weird thing because I try not to get too drawn into the world. It's funny because I never thought I was fashionable or stylish or anything. I never thought I was very cool, and I just love clothes. When I was a kid, me and my Mum and my sister, we didn't have a lot of money growing up, and I know my Mom always wished she could've given us all the fancy labels that all the rich kids were wearing, but we never had that stuff. And I never yearned massively for it, but I remember that's when my interest in fashion first started. So me and my friends would go thrift shopping. And when I was a teenager -- I went to a uniform school -- we'd have mufti days. And because I couldn't afford the cool labels, I'd have to think outside the box so me and my friend Paul would go to the thrift shops, and I remember my sole goal was to look as weird as possible on mufti day.

But I think that's what makes fashion so interesting now. Everybody whose style I admire tends to create their looks in less of a reactionary sense and more on the offense. Like, "I will create my own look, and everyone can deal with it." And it's very evident in the way you dress -- especially in terms your album art.

Cool! Everyone's gotten what I was hoping they would get from it.

And what were you hoping we'd get from it?

I wanted it to be bright colors -- I wanted the colors to pop out because I've never had a photograph of me on my cover before. It's always been illustrated. And I wanted to show myself in a way where I wasn't like, this done-up . . . I didn't want to seem glam. I wanted to seem serene. I wanted it to be simple and get across: nineties meets seventies. Nineties with the makeup and seventies with the t-shirt.

So did you actively decide to put yourself on the cover? As an extension of, "This is my new life, here I am world"?

I thought about it. We brainstormed, and came up with this plan, and I wore something brightly colored, and it was all very considered. It was important to me. I wanted to show a new side of myself, and I felt like it was very important . . . that photoshoot was shot half black and white and half in color, and it was all shot on film. And my managers were really adamant that they wanted a black and white photo, and I was like, "Nope!" I knew exactly what I wanted. And I got it!

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