As Ladyhawke, Phillippa “Pip” Brown crafts larger-than-life songs that made her one of the leading lights of the 1980s synth pop revival of the late 2000s and well into the 21st century. However, she’s just as inspired by Nirvana and Electric Light Orchestra as by Cyndi Lauper or Pat Benatar, and Brown’s musical literacy gave her award-winning 2008 debut Ladyhawke a wide appeal as well as critical acclaim. Where many of her contemporaries focus on slick surfaces, Ladyhawke draws upon real-life emotions and situations that added depth to her songs, whether on the grunge and glam-rock augmented angst of 2012′s Anxiety or the therapeutic grooves of 2021′s Time Flies.
Born in Masterton, New Zealand, Brown grew up in a musical family: her mother was a singer and guitarist, while her stepfather was a jazz drummer. As a child, she spent hours listening to music including her mother’s Beatles and Pretenders albums, and played in grunge bands as a student at Chanel College, a secondary school in Masterton.
After graduation, in 2001 Brown moved to Wellington, where she became the lead guitarist for Two Lane Blacktop, a punk-inspired band she formed with some of her friends. Just as the group were set to tour with Modey Lemon, they suddenly dissolved. Brown continued with the plan to travel to Australia, and ended up relocating to Melbourne in 2003. Once there, she met up with Nick Littlemore of the Sydney-based band Pnau (and later Empire of the Sun) and he asked her to play in his new band, Teenager. In 2004, Brown relocated to Sydney to join the group, who gigged together for a few years and released the arty pop album Thirteen in 2006. However, when Littlemore heard some of the songs Brown had written on her own and posted online, he urged her to start her solo career. Dubbing herself Ladyhawke after the 1985 Richard Donner movie, she recorded her debut album with producers Pascal Gabriel and Hannah Robinson. Ladyhawke first appeared on “Embrace,” a song from Pnau’s self-titled 2007 debut, with the full-length Ladyhawke following in September 2008. Released by Modular, the album’s mix of 1980s synth pop drama and 2000s attitude made it a hit. Ladyhawke topped the charts in New Zealand and was ultimately certified platinum. It was a Top 20 hit in Australia and the U.K., going gold in the latter country. Meanwhile, the single “My Delierium” was a Top 10 hit in New Zealand and Australia. Ladyhawke’s accolades included the 2009 New Zealand Music Awards for Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Best Female Solo Artist, and International Achievement Award; 2009 ARIA Music Awards for Breakthrough Artist in the Album and Single categories; and nominations for Brit and NME Awards.
After a year spent touring and promoting the album, Brown returned to the studio with Gabriel to work on a follow-up, but the sessions fell apart due to Brown’s post-tour exhaustion. The pair took a break from recording, and Brown appeared on Junica’s 2011 single “Living In My House” and remixed Alex Winston’s song “Sister Wife.” Gabriel and Brown reconvened in his studio in France, and Ladyhawke’s second album Anxiety was co-released in May 2012 by Modular and the rejuvenated Casablanca label. Taking inspiration from Nirvana and other like-minded ’90s alt-rock acts, Anxiety’s stripped-down songs dealt honestly with the Asperger’s syndrome that Brown was diagnosed with in 2006. The album peaked at number 12 in New Zealand, and reached the top 20 and top 40 in Australia and the U.K., respectively. One of the album’s songs, “Blue Eyes,” was featured in a series of television ads for Verizon in the U.S., where Anxiety made it to number 12 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart.
Brown began work on her next album in 2013, but decided the songs she was writing were too dark and didn’t reflect her more positive outlook on life. During this time, she appeared on “Last Train,” a track on Tiësto’s 2014 album A Town Called Paradise, and returned to the studio with Tiësto collaborator Tommy English to work on a much brighter, poppier album. The result was June 2016′s Wild Things, the first Ladyhawke album to be released by her new U.S. label, Polyvinyl. Reflecting her happier perspective after her marriage to actor and comedian Madeleine Sami, the album was a top five hit in New Zealand and a top 20 hit in Australia. It reached number seven on the U.K. Independent Albums chart and number 15 on the Heatseekers Albums chart in the U.S.
In 2018, a collaboration Brown recorded with the Charlatans’ Tim Burgess in 2011 appeared on his album As I Was Now. Following work with the group Crooked Colours on their 2019 album Langata and a 2020 reunion with Pnau on the single “River,” Ladyhawke returned in November 2021 with Time Flies. An upbeat set of songs influenced by the treatment she sought for her anxiety and depression, the album featured contributions from English, Broods, Jono Sloane, and Chris Stracey. ~ Heather Phares & Tim Sendra