Ask New Zealand-born, London-based Ladyhawke songstress Pip Brown about the genesis of her much-anticipated, recently-released second album Anxiety and she pauses, laughs, and then jokes about “not wanting to turn a very nice interview into my own personal therapy session!”
32-year-old Brown first rose to prominence with the 2008 release of her self-titled debut. Much lauded worldwide, the album produced a string of phenomenally successful singles – ‘Paris Is Burning’ and ‘My Delirium’ chief among them – and won her a number of music prizes, including the 2009 ARIAs for Best Breakthrough Artist in both the single and album categories.
For almost three years, Brown toured virtually non-stop, circling the globe to promote the album and play live. In the process, she says, she “lost pretty much all of my inspiration, personally and creatively.”
The relentless touring schedule exacted a massive toll on the singer/songwriter and, when it eventually ended, she came off the road and went into self-imposed exile, completely cutting herself off from all forms of music for what she describes as “a very, very long time.”
“I came off that touring and really pretty much collapsed. There was a pretty long period there where music, even listening to other people’s music, just brought me no comfort whatsoever. It took me quite a long time to get back into thinking musically again. When I started writing Anxiety, I don’t think I was initially aware of how personal and how revealing it was going to end up being. I think I was about halfway through writing the title track and I just went: ‘Oh, God, what am I doing? Am I being too personal? Am I revealing too much here?’ That really worried me,” Brown reveals.
“People giving a shit about me, about my personal life, or what I did or thought was incredibly hard to cope with.”
“Then, eventually, I thought, you know, maybe that’s just what this needs to be. Maybe it’s my therapy session. I obviously needed to get it all out of my system. In the end, I wound up thinking, about the song ‘Anxiety’ itself, that there are probably a lot of people out there who can really, really relate to that. That realisation kind of made me keep going. I kept writing and I was able to keep writing because I’d had that moment, I’d had that realisation that, yeah, I was writing personal stuff, but it was stuff people could relate to. Maybe that makes someone feel a bit less alone. It wasn’t just for me. I had to remember that other people might relate.”
For Brown, the inevitable attention that came along with chart success and critical acclaim was difficult to deal with. She’s been open about having Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder often characterised by difficulties engaging socially and interacting with others. Also diagnosed with anxiety, Brown admits that “people giving a shit about me, about my personal life, or what I did or thought was incredibly hard to cope with. I was quite paranoid for a while there about people wanting to know or knowing anything private about me.”
“I’m quite a private person. I don’t like putting myself out there massively. It sort of happened, this thing people call ‘fame,’ without me really registering what the after-effects of it might be. It’s so different when you’re in a room, face-to-face, just having a chat with a reporter about what you’re doing. Especially with my first record, it didn’t sink in that what I said would end up in print and be read by thousands of people. The reality of that hit me. People would start to repeat quotes I’d said and stuff and it really freaked me out. It was intense and pretty scary,” Brown concedes.
“I was surprised at how many people were interested and how many people would ask me about stuff all the time. I think, actually, the truth is that I was pretty naïve. I thought it would all be about the music, that people would only want to know about the music and wouldn’t care about me. It did change for me, though, I kind of came to feel the opposite about it. People did care about the music, sure, otherwise nobody would come to interview me, or buy the records, or come to the shows. But I did feel, at one moment in time, that maybe people cared a bit too much about me, the person. That whole process was really strange and more than a little bit hard for me, yeah.”
Whereas many of the songs on Ladyhawke were characterised by the sounds of the analogue synthesiser, Anxiety is dominated by the presence of the electric guitar, something that Brown says was “absolutely intentional.”
“There definitely is that one instrument or sound that defines each record. I always knew I’d never be one of those artists who sticks to the same genre and writes a variation of an album over and over. I love all sorts of music. I get joy from sitting down and messing around with music. The first record was really its own little entity and I knew, even before I made it, that my second would be something quite different,” Brown admits.
“Guitars just felt right, for some reason. That was where my brain went to straight away. After touring the first record for so long, actually, I played guitar onstage and I felt like making some edgier, more rock music. I felt like going down a different path. I still wanted to make it pop, but I also wanted to mess around and have fun exploring and experimenting with other sounds, you know? I think that was, initially, about keeping it interesting for myself and now, I guess, it’ll be interesting to see if it keeps it interesting for the listener, too.”
Though Brown cut herself off from listening to music for several months after she finished touring in support of her debut, she nonetheless says unhesitatingly that music is “incredibly important” to her.
“I was quite sick as a kid, spent a lot of time in hospital, and I really remember music. I remember listening to the radio a lot. I also loved The Beatles and The Pretenders because my mum had their records so I heard them a lot. Really, though, my iPod hasn’t changed for years! When it came to making this particular album, I guess because of the frame of mind I was in, I was quite stressed out, so I was listening to music that’d calm me down, make me feel happy or nostalgic, bring back memories of happy moments in my past and stuff,” Brown says.
“I was listening to an awful lot of David Bowie. And there was Joan Jett and Nirvana, which just reminds me of being fourteen-years-old, and Beck. There was even a lot of really bad pop that I used to listen to when I was younger, but that can remain nameless! I was listening to a lot of stuff, but I can’t really put my finger on any one artist or record and say they heavily influenced the eventual writing of the record or anything.”