Ladyhawke (real name Philippa Margaret Brown) was born in 1979 and grew up in Masterton, a small farming community near Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island where she was encouraged to play music by her mother, a singer/guitarist, and stepfather a jazz drummer. As a child she was stricken with a rare disease known as erysipeloid, more common amongst birds and sharks than humans, and her recovery was complicated by her allergy to both antihistamines and antibiotics, she was fortunate to survive. Although not diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until 2009, the condition manifested itself at an early age in her natural reticence to communicate with people, and the long periods of convalescence at home when she was ill, encouraged her to listen to the radio and explore her mother’s record collection, using music as a means of connecting with the outside world. She particularly enjoyed the music of the Beatles and the Pretenders, and her retro tastes in music would later surface in her own recordings with a 1980’s aesthetic being obvious – the Bangles, the Go-Go’s, and Bananarama.
In 1985 she had adopted the stage name Ladyhawke, inspired by the heroine in Richard Donner’s 1985 medieval fantasy film of the same name, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer, she identified closely with the character as her version of “a sort of superwoman creating radio-friendly songs in a single bound.” Throughout her career Brown has struggled to communicate with her live audiences when she is not actually singing and playing an instrument, natural banter and audience interaction is a skill she has worked hard to acquire.
While attending Chanel Secondary College she played in several garage grunge bands and after graduating relocated to nearby Wellington where she formed the punk band Two Lane Blacktop, and even got to perform at the famous New York club CBGB’s. Following the demise of her band she relocated to Melbourne in 2004 and hooked up with Nick Littlemore of Pnau (later Empire Of The Sun) and formed the art rock band Teenager, who released the single Pony in 2008 which featured in the video Grand Theft Auto 1V. Teenager’s debut album Thirteen was released in 2006, and it was critically praised as exotic pop, the second single released was Bound and Gagged which was also praised, but nothing charted.
Nick Littlemore encouraged her to write and perform her own songs, she was a gifted multi-instrumentalist who could play bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, rhythm guitar, and keyboards, and in 2007 she relocated to London where she performed and recorded between 2007-09. Her eponymous debut album was issued in September 2008 on Modular Recordings and climbed to #1 in NZ and #16 in both Australia and the UK, sold over 150,000 copies, and won the ARIA Award for Breakthrough Artist- Album of 2009.
The lead single was My Delirium, a moody, indie -electronic anthem with insistent percussion by Pascal Gabriel, simple but addictive hook-laden guitar riffs by Ladyhawke and Alex Gray, and the soulful vocals of Ladyhawke in her beguiling contralto, blending with backing vocals from co-composer Hannah Robinson.
Ladyhawke has stated that she wants to make music that could put a smile on people’s faces and give them a feeling of nostalgia even though they may be hearing her songs for the first time. The influence of such 80’s all-girl bands as the Go-Gos and the Bangles is evident, but it is in no way derivative or hackneyed, rather it evokes a sweet melodic connection to the past and her music of the present. My Delirium was a substantial hit, climbing to #8 in Aust, #9 in NZ, and top 50 in the UK and Denmark, selling over 100,000 copies globally, and picked up the ARIA Award for Breakthrough Artist – Single in 2009.
Ladyhawke had collaborated with British songwriters Hannah Robinson (Rachel Stevens, Geri Halliwell, Kylie and Dannii Minogue), producer Pascal Gabriel (Temper Trap, Goldfrapp) and DJ/producer Alex Gray, and described the background to the song, in interview with Songfacts in 2008 “ I wrote the song a year and a half ago after days of no sleep due to terrible jetlag. I felt like I was going out of my mind, missing my friends and family back home, and basically living to hear my phone ring in the hope that it would be one of them calling me. So my delirium came out of me thinking that I was going crazy from lack of sleep.”
The music video for My Delirium was directed by Benji Davies and Jim Field, together known as Frater, who collaborated with Aussie illustrator Sarah Larnach, who was responsible for the cover art on Ladyhawke’s album and singles. The video begins with Ladyhawke in a roadside motel looking out the window while packing her bags, and then transitions into an animated picture on the wall, depicting Ladyhawke leaving the motel and driving along a remote desert road in a Ford Thunderbird muscle car a la Thelma and Louise. As the video continues, the desert road backdrop becomes more surreal, with landmarks such as Mount Rushmore appearing with the heads of cats, until the bridge in the song where the car is seen to drive off a cliff, again reminiscent of the movie Thelma and Louise. At the outro Ladyhawke is depicted playing the guitar in watercolour as she drives through space, while another 80’s influence is the clever use of rotoscope layering of images, first seen in a-ha’s 1985 music video for Take On Me, and as the clip finishes she fades out of shot back to a now empty motel room.
Subsequent album releases by Ladyhawke have enjoyed only moderate chart success, her second album Anxiety, released in 2012, charted #17 in Aust, #12 in NZ and #36 in the UK, with no hit singles forthcoming. During 2014-16 she endured a period of depression and alcohol and other substance abuse, finally sobering up and issuing her 2016 album, the synth-inflected, pop of Wild Things which made top twenty in NZ and Australia but flopped elsewhere. Pip Brown married NZ actress Madelaine Sami in 2015, the couple below, and she gave birth to a daughter in 2017, the family now resides in Los Angeles.