From the first spin of her debut album, Ladyhawke’s music was, ahem, magic.
The New Zealand singer-songwriter’s 2008 self-titled debut was a critical and commercial success, establishing legions of Ladyhawke fans who loved catchy songs of hers like “Back of the Van” and “Paris is Burning,” as well as her vintage-inspired visuals.
But after a wildly successful first album, what followed were years full of incredible highs and lows. In 2015, Ladyhawke — real name Pip Brown — announced she had married filmmaker Madeleine Sami, which served as her coming out as part of the LGBTQ community. The two welcomed a baby girl in 2017. The following year, Brown revealed she had survived “an incredibly hard time” after being diagnosed with invasive melanoma.
Survive she did, and now sober and back in her native country, Brown is preparing to release her highly anticipated new album, Time Flies. The artist spoke with Logo about making her surprisingly upbeat new album, coming out as part of the LGBTQ community, and if she’s ever seen a U.F.O.
I thought the album was going to be darker, more serious. But it’s dance-y! Did the album’s direction change from when you started writing these songs to what we have now?
It actually started dance-y. I just wanted to have fun. I’m so happy to be here to make music, I feel so lucky. So that was the headspace I started in, and I was just wanted to have fun with it and experiment. I remember that being the first thing I wanted was experimenting with getting some nostalgic sounds like old drum machines, back to my love of nostalgia and just feeling quite excited about that. And then it did evolve over time, but it just evolved to be slightly more fun.
So when you went into the studio, it was your form of escape.
Yeah, totally. And honestly, I just felt so lucky and privileged to even be doing it. That’s the headspace I was in because, for a minute there when I was diagnosed with melanoma, my daughter was only 10 months old. I had a couple of weeks where the doctor couldn’t tell me if I was going to live. We didn’t know how serious it was. So I went through this whole thing like, “Oh my God.” Just the worst thoughts you could possibly think of. And then when I came out the other side after I had surgery and everything, and I got given the all-clear, I was like, “I’m so lucky. I dodged the major bullet.” On the back of that, I started getting excited about making music. I feel so lucky that I escaped that possible fate, and I’ve just got to make the most of it. So that’s where I was. I still am.
You were raised Catholic, and you went to Catholic school, right?
All the way from age 5 to 18.
And so I’m guessing that played a part in repressing your sexuality?
Oh yeah, to the point where I didn’t actually know. It was taboo. No one talked about anything to do with being gay or lesbian or queer. There was no LGBTQIA support group, there was none of that. Anything to do with that was an insult. Kids would be bullied and called “gay” or “dyke,” or something like that, so it never actually entered my mind. But looking back on it, I knew. I pretended it wasn’t there for a long time and it was definitely the environment in the school, the religion.
Where did the idea come from to adapt your Catholic school experience for the “Guilty Love” music video?
Well, Lula Cucchiara, the director, I just played her the song and she got so excited. She just nailed it. She sent me back the treatment without me telling my story. And I was like, “Well, that’s just… You’ve hit the nail on the head with that one.” Because Georgia from BROODS, when we were writing [the song], we both had shared the Catholic upbringing, and it sort of missed with her as well. She had the whole thing of being told she had to be a woman, a certain type of woman. And, “this is how you should act, this is how you should be.” So that was both of our, it’s almost both of our experiences molded into one. And then I sent the treatment over to Georgia and for the video, she was like, “This is perfect.” Lula just nailed it. She’s a lesbian herself, who’s been through stuff.
When it was announced that you got married to Madeleine, I was surprised. Are you surprised when people are surprised?
Yeah, I guess I am. It’s funny because the reaction is always different. Queer women knew. Some people have said to me, “I knew just by the way you sound,” and I’d be like, “Okay.” But it’s funny because back then, I had a girlfriend living with me, and she would come to all my promos. It’s really hilarious. It’s just like, how did nobody pick up on that?
And you already had a big queer fan base. Me and all my friends, we love your albums.
I love that. It just means so much to me. And it’s just such a shame — I always think back on that time and wish it’d been different. I got told not to talk about my sexuality by my management. It was like, “No, it’ll ruin your career.” I was like, “Oh, really?” So it sucked. But I was like, I’m not going to hide it. I was always with my girlfriend; I had a girlfriend the whole way through that first album, and then we broke up.
I saw that you’re a big X-Files fan. Have you ever seen a U.F.O?
My God, you have no idea. I’m so desperate to see a U.F.O., so desperate. And I dream about them all the time. I had this epic dream that one of those big, triangle ones was hovering over me and I was all scared. I’ve just been fascinated since I was a little kid. I have no idea why, but my wife has seen a U.F.O., and she’s a skeptic. I was so pissed off. She’s the Scully and I’m the Mulder. I was like, “Why do you get to see the damn U.F.O? I’m always like, “It’s a ghost for sure. It’s definitely a ghost. It’s an alien.” I’m that person. And she’s like, “Well, there’s science,” blah, blah, blah. And then she saw the goddamned U.F.O.
You’re about to release your next album, Time Flies. I know it’s a really broad question, but how has your process changed over the years?
I think it’s hard to change without a lot of bad experiences, and I think that’s the unfortunate story with a lot of musicians, a lot of female musicians, in the industry. And especially a lot of queer female musicians of the music industry. When I first started out, I didn’t know where it was going to go. I never expected any attention for what I was doing. I wasn’t prepared for it. And it was like, I’ve never really had the personality to. I’m a Cancerian; I’m sensitive. I don’t have that tough of an outer shell, so I wasn’t really prepared for that. I had to go through a lot of stuff and a lot of bad experiences and I had to toughen up, but it sucks that I had to go through all that stuff. And it sucks that I got told not to be myself. Now I’m just like, what are you going to do? You know? I try to be really open about all my experiences and my mental illness struggles because I feel like not only is it helpful for me, but I think it could be helpful for other people. It’s taken me a long time to get there though. Back then I would have been an anxious bundle of nerves. I was riddled with anxiety back then just shocking anxiety. And I just drank way too much, I was a massive drinker. Just drank way too much. And it was just this endless party — drinking, hangover, drinking, hangover.
Suppress those feelings.
Yeah. It’s this endless cycle that’s just been on and on and on. And I’m seven years sober now because I just had to. I couldn’t do it anymore. I just had to go through a lot of stuff to get to the place of it now. But I just wish I could go back and tell myself, “You’re really cool.” I just wish I could give myself a cuddle and say, “You’re really cool, don’t worry about things.”
Time Flies is out November 19.