In New Zealand music in 2008 and 2009, Ladyhawke was everywhere.
After gaining a modicum of success with Two Lane Blacktop and then Teenager, one of Nick Littlemore’s many PNAU side projects, Pip Brown exploded into the wider mainstream consciousness with her first album under the Ladyhawke persona.
Thanks to stylish pop-rock songs like “Paris Is Burning”, her self-titled debut, a clever melding of 80s influences and modern indie rock, reached number one on the New Zealand Albums Chart – and the top 20 in Australia – and swept up at the 2009 New Zealand Music Awards. Recognition from the UK soon followed, including a nomination for Best International Artist at the BRITs.
It would be difficult for any artist to sustain such breakthrough success, but Ladyhawke has been stringently doing her own thing for almost a decade and a half now, despite myriad health battles. (“I feel lucky to be alive and making music,” she told The Guardian in 2021.)
Her fourth album, 2021’s Time Flies, might not have performed as well commercially as her debut did all those years ago, but it reached the people Ladyhawke needed it to reach, her fans. In the last couple of years, too, she’s discovered a new place to connect with them: just as a blue-haired Ben Lee found a new lease of creative life on TikTok, Ladyhawke recently took to Twitch, streaming performances and getting closer with people who had been listening to her music since the very beginning. The older rockers aren’t going anywhere, they’re just moving with the times.
These past two years have also seen Ladyhawke properly return to touring, and she next heads to Adelaide’s Harvest Rock II this weekend, where she’ll play alongside Tash Sultana, Jamiroquai, Beck, Julia Jacklin, and many more. A postponed UK tour will finally take place early next year, and as Ladyhawke told Rolling Stone AU/NZ, new music is also on the way, despite what some naysayers thought (more on that below).
Read our full conversation with the singer-songwriter below, in which we discussed parenting, her UK tour, working with PNAU, how much Twitch has helped her music, and much more.
More information about Harvest Rock II can be found here.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: The last time I saw you play was with Tame Impala in Auckland last year.
Ladyhawke: I had such a good time that night! That was so good.
Did you get a chance to speak to Kevin [Parker] backstage?
Yeah, he came in and gave me a big hug after the show. It was nice to see him. I’ve done manyt things with him over the years, especially on my first album cycle. So it was really nice to reconnect after all that time.
Are you looking forward to Harvest Rock II?
I can’t wait! It’s gonna be great. Me and my band are all ready, we’ve done a couple of shows and a festival in Brisbane. So we’re all warmed up and ready.
It’s quite the lineup. Is there anyone you’re eager to see?
I’m pretty keen to see Jamiroquai.
That’s who I thought of as well. That’s my childhood right there.
Yeah, like my teen years! I remember seeing the video for “Virtual Insanity” and being like, ‘How did they do that? Mind-blowing stuff. Warpaint is another one I really want to see. I’ve been friends with Stella [Mozgawa] the drummer, for many, many years, so it’d be really nice to see her play the drums.
Are you based in Auckland these days?
I am at the moment, yeah. I’m just down in my hometown with my daughter because it’s school holidays.
Lovely. Do you get over Australia much now?
Yeah, now that the COVID stuff has sort of stopped, all the closures. I’ve been over quite a few times since all the lockdowns lifted. People like myself are desperate to get out and play again, after so long not being able to.
It seemed like Auckland and New Zealand’s music community really came together during the first few pandemic years while most of the rest of the world was locked down.
Yeah, exactly. We were able to just support our own bands really, and I think it made people appreciate things a lot more. We were putting on local shows, and everyone was supporting local bands and New Zealand bands, and that’s been something that Kiwis don’t often do. So it was nice.
I was chatting to Princess Chelsea recently and she said a similar thing, that she felt more appreciated overseas.
I go to Australia, I play shows there, and I just feel so good. The Aussies all sing along, they know my music, and then in New Zealand, it’s a bit like, ‘Oh, not this chick again,’ you know?
I wonder why that is?
I have no idea. It is what it is. A lot of us Kiwis are used to it.
So you’re going to the UK early next year?
Yeah, that’s in January. I’m really excited about that. It’s gonna be great.
When was the last time you were over there?
My daughter is about to turn six in one month, and I was pregnant when I did my last tour. So that’s telling you how long it was! Six years ago.
I appreciated how open you were on social media about the reasons for postponing the UK tour earlier this year.
It was one of those things where I was like, ‘I have to let people know I’m not just being flaky.’ I was going through some hard stuff and needed to make the right decision so I could be there for my daughter, which ended up being the best decision I could have possibly made.
And I think it’s worked out timing wise better for the UK. The tour’s nearly sold out, which is awesome, and I’ve had a lot of feedback from people saying, ‘I’m so glad you rescheduled, there was so much on that time.’ So that makes me feel better!
You being so honest with fans is appreciated by them though. I think we’re seeing more and more artists doing that, admitting when they can’t tour for personal reasons.
You know, everyone’s gone through stuff in the last few years. It’s been really brutal. I think the more people talk about it, the more you go, ‘Oh, god, I’m not the only one.’ That makes you feel better.
Is there a follow-up to Time Flies in the works?
I’ve got a couple of interesting things. So years ago, I did a project that never came to anything with PNAU. Me and Nick Littlemore, we’ve been close for a very long time, we used to have a band called Teenager together. So we’ve sort of talked about splitting up the material – there were about 20 tracks altogether – and maybe me releasing an EP and then a new Teenager record as well. That’s something that’s been in the works and I think could be really exciting for next year. That’s what I’m going to be working on.
That’s great. PNAU are fantastic.
I’ve done quite a lot of stuff with them over the years, and I will be playing two tracks that I did with them live at Harvest Rock II actually.
I was going to ask if there would be any songs being debuted at the festival.
I did “Embrace” with PNAU years ago, sort of around the same time as my first record came out. And then I did “River” which came out last year, I think. And I know the Aussie crowds always know those songs. I thought why not chuck them in the set! I tried them out in Brisbane a couple of weekends ago and they loved it. I was like, ‘This is perfect for Harvest Rock II.’
The thing about PNAU is that they always carefully pick their collaborators, so that’s a big compliment.
Yeah, they’ve got good taste. I’m just complimenting myself!
You’re allowed to do that! So is a Ladyhawke album further down the line?
There’s a lot of things bubbling away now that my life is starting to settle down a bit. I remember seeing people write that they thought that Time Flies was gonna be my last record. I remember that being a rumour after I’d released Time Flies, and I sort of almost thought, ‘Oh, maybe it should be,’ but then I was like, ‘Who am I kidding? No way.’ I’m gonna definitely do another record.
Have you introduced your daughter to your music yet or is she still too young?
It’s funny because she had no clue, obviously. She’s been side of stage for shows before, and she’s been at festival venues and stuff with me, but she didn’t really click until she went to school and some of the parents of kids in her class were like, ‘Oh, that’s Ladyhawke.’ So then she goes to me, ‘Are you Ladyhawke?’ She knows from other people talking about it!
If I sing one thing at home, she’s like, ‘Mum, be quiet!’ It’s really funny. But she knows now that’s what I do. I sing and play music for people, she gets it now.
I’m sure when she’s a teenager she’ll go through a Ladyhawke phase.
Part of me is hoping she’ll get into music herself. She’s already playing drums and she’s quite good. So I’m like, ‘Yeah, get those drums!’
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I also wanted to ask about Twitch. You’ve been on there for a couple of years now?
I started streaming during all the lockdowns. I was streaming heaps, playing video games and just chatting to my community. I built up quite an awesome community. The last stream I did was a livestream of my full band and studio, we played a full hour-and-a-half set or something. We had like 100,000 views at one point. And then because of everything that happened in my personal life, I moved down to my mum’s and I haven’t managed to start streaming again. I’m back in Auckland now, so I’m going to start very soon.
Many musicians like yourself seem to be using Twitch to connect with fans now.
It’s been so good, I really connected with fans that have been sort of following my career for years; a lot of new fans as well. It feels like you meet them on a one-on-one basis. It’s quite crazy how it feels. It’s such a public setting, but it feels so personal. I love it.
I think, since COVID, artists want that more personal experience with their fans.
That’s exactly right. Another thing that I found which helped me was I’ve always had stage fright, I would get nervous, and I found Twitch gave me this crazy confidence to speak in front of people. It helped me and I don’t get stage fright anymore. So that’s perfect and it’s all because of Twitch.
So it’s 15 years since you released your debut album as Ladyhawke?
Yes! Someone hilariously wrote it’s been 25 years which really made me laugh. I was like, ‘Wait a second, that would put it as coming out in the 90s,’ and I was still in school then. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years, where’s the time gone?
It must be nice to pause and reflect on those 15 years though. How do you view all of your albums together? Do you see a clear progression in them?
It’s funny because I never thought I’d be the sort of artist that has such huge gaps between releasing records, but then I look back on everything and I kind of get it. I have this thing where I wish I’d done some things differently, and I wish I’d had the inner peace and competence that I have now back then, because I think I would have been a bit more productive and not as scared. There was a lot of fear holding me back then, but it is what it is. I’m proud of everything I’ve done.