One of the brightest stars to light up the pop firmament this millennium is back, with a difference. Thanks to her brilliant self-titled 2008 debut, LADYHAWKE, aka Pip Brown, shot to stardom around the world, particularly in Britain and the Antipodes, where the New Zealand-born singer-songwriter soon gathered up armfuls of awards as THE breakthrough artist of the moment.
Her follow-up will surely even exceed those achievements, and establish the wildly talented young tunesmith as one of her generation’s most beloved pop heroines. Eighteen months in the making, ‘Anxiety’ carries ten instant classics, each brimming over with irresistable hooks, fresh beats and ear-grabbing synth sounds.
So far, so Ladyhawke, but changes are afoot. The last album’s signature instrument was unquestionably the analogue synthesizer. ‘Ladyhawke’ was all about Pip exploring the keyboards, which built the soundworld of her ’80s heroes [chiefly: ELO and Fleetwood Mac]. This time, she has re-embraced the trusty implement, upon which not only the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll rests, but her own career, too – the electric guitar.
Before she dreamt up her solo alter ego, Pip’s rep back home was as a guitarist, not an ivory-tinkler. “For years, I was known as the rock chick,” she says, “because I played the Gibson Explorer guitar, and then I played a Firebird [two quintessentially rockin’ models]. I was always the girl playing heavy guitar and doing solos – you know, like, off to the side.” So, after touring ‘Ladyhawke’ around the globe, Pip decided to re-activate those skills, as the basis of a thrilling new sound for her second record.
‘Anxiety’ is duly awash with riffs and lovingly distorted guitar textures, bringing added energy and excitement to her insanely catchy melodies. ‘Blue Eyes’, for instance, features pulse-racing blasts of six-string noize, a wiggy solo, and a “na-na” chorus, all harking back to the age of glam-rock, and one of Pip’s absolute idols, Joan Jett. The title track’s refrain, meanwhile, hinges on stadium-torching chord changes, while ‘Black, White & Blue’ has the fuzzy, disorientated vibe of a 1966 proto-psychedelic garage-rock nugget, plus another hot, spangly solo!
With such inventive and hyper-melodic gems laced throughout, ‘Anxiety’ is shaping up as one of 2012’s biggest albums. More delirium, anyone?
“I always came from a rocky background,” says Pip. “As a teenager I was discovering lots of guitar music – heavier stuff, like ‘Siamese Dream’ by Smashing Pumpkins – I must’ve been about 15, it just blew my mind! Around the same time, I got Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’, and I was obsessed with Metallica’s ‘Black Album’, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana… Then at 16, I discovered Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and all the older stuff.”
Growing up in what she calls “Smalltownsville” in NZ, Pip took to music-making pretty early. Aged 11, she started out as a drummer, and several years later was busy trying to emulate the battering inaugural drum pattern to the Pumpkins’ ‘Cherub Rock’. However, it was as lead guitarist in Two Lane Blacktop that she first trod the boards. After relocating to Melbourne, she joined Teenager, based in Sydney, as a fledgling axe-hero role. That band was a duo, just her with Nick Littlemore, who later hit the heights as Luke Steele’s sidekick in Empire Of The Sun.
“I’d been writing with Nick for Teenager for a few years, but I didn’t really put my voice to it,” Pip admits. “I was quite happy playing guitar, contributing my ideas and stepping back. I was at Nick’s house one day, and I’d been messing around with music just in my home studio, but always too scared to play it to anybody. He heard me singing a song, and rushed in and said, ‘What’s that?’ I was like, ‘It’s just like, you know…’
“I had a Myspace page, calling myself Ladyhawke [after Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in a scary 1985 movie] with a couple of rough demos up there. Nick was like, ‘That’s cool, you should really follow that up. You just need to get in a studio and record it.’ So we jumped in the car, and he drove me out to his parents’ house, and we recorded that song, which never ended up being anything, but that was the start for me, where he helped me get the confidence.”
Suitably enboldened, Pip started recording herself on ProTools. A few months down the line, she played some tracks to her publishing company, who “were really excited” and put her in touch with Pascal Gabriel, a producer/musician of considerable pedigree. He’d started out involved with acid-house-era dance legends Bomb The Bass and S’Express, and has subsequently worked with everyone from Dido to Kylie Minogue.
“He just liked the demos that he heard, and we ended up doing half of the first album together. That’s how everything got started, just a couple of people that obviously saw something, believed in me, and really pushed me to do it. I knew I had the ability to write the songs, but I didn’t know if I had the confidence to put myself out there.”
Signing to Island, via ultra-hip Aussie indie Modular, and moving to London to launch her solo career, Pip’s debut album as Ladyhawke was put together with help from a large cast of producers and collaborators, but it seamlessly projected her vision of ’80s synth melodrama. She scored her biggest hit with the ace Kim Wildean anthem, ‘My Delirium’, and ‘Ladyhawke’ went on to sell 250,000+ copies in the UK alone. Pip found herself swept up in a whirlwind of adulation, amid a wave of so-called “chicks with synths”, who also included Little Boots, La Roux and, of course, Lady Gaga. To her utter bemusement, she was lauded as a fashion leader.
All this attention was, of course, a dream come true, but, as no less than five singles were drawn from ‘Ladyhawke’, giving it a lengthy shelf-life, Pip often felt bedraggled by the relentless demands of touring and self-promotion. “I was like a rabbit in the headlights that had been run over partially,” she says with a rueful chuckle, “so I felt defeated by the headlights at times.” Her live schedule came to an end in February 2010, after a slot on the Big Day Out in Oz and NZ.
Pip’s second album is called ‘Anxiety’ with good reason. After her debut success, expectations were piled high upon her to deliver again next time out…and the clock was ticking. “It was a really stressful process making this album,” she says, “but I staggered it across quite a long period of time, so I wouldn’t go insane, and so I got to make the album I really wanted to make – which is the whole point, I guess.”
Together with her trusted producer, Pip was able to have a good deal more control over the album this time. “I was always a drummer first and foremost,” she notes, “but I only played drums on one track on the first album [‘Back Of The Van’]. This time I played pretty much all the instruments – drums, bass, guitar. Pascal did all the synths and keyboards, except for one track where I played the piano. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies, and we did the music [i.e. arrangements] together.”
So, on a musical level, ‘Anxiety’ feels like Pip blossoming, staking her claim for what’s hers. Some of her simple, crunching beats were inventively recorded on an electronic drum kit, which had been programmed with sounds from Pip playing live on a crappy old ‘real’ drum kit, giving them an unique part-man-part-machine sound. Her guitars were put through a mix of FX pedals, including a vintage Russian Bigmuff, the one favoured by Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan and indeed Mudhoney, as celebrated in their grunge-defining album title, ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’.
“Most of the rock stuff I love, though” says Pip, “is really poppy, whatever little niche in the rock world it sits in. As heavy as Billy Corgan’s stuff was, he knew how to write a good pop song – just good tunes you can sing along with.” It gets no more ‘pop’ than ‘Blue Eyes’’s ‘na-na’ chorus – “I came up with the melody, and sang it over the mic thinking I was gonna write words to it, but it was catchy, so that’s how it stayed”. At the other extreme, ‘Cellophane’ “felt like it was a proper song. I never wrote a slow song before – like, lighters in the air!”
While the music is overwhelmingly uplifting and tuneful, the lyrics offer a window into Pip’s world these past three years. “There’s a lot of living inside my own head going on, it’s the theme of the album. I sometimes get depressed. I had weeks in between writing the songs, doing nothing, going, [mopey] ‘So ok, now what do I do?’ I have terrible anxiety, it’s like it feeds itself.”
The ‘Anxiety’ album is a story which already has a happy ending, before it has even won the hearts of a global audience (as it surely will). “Ever since I finished the record,” chirps Pip, “I’ve been like a completely different person, like this weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve made an album I’m really proud of, so I just can’t wait to start playing with my band again, and touring, and having some fun.” She smiles. “I can’t wait to get back into it.”
We'll send you weekly updates & new release info straight to your email.