Ladyhawke makes her New York debut tonight at the Bowery Ballroom and at Studio B on Thursday, March 26.
Taking her name from the 1985 Richard Donner film, New Zealand’s Ladyhawke is next in a line of dance-wave acts that’ve recently surfaced. Although she’s played “dirty rock and roll” with her former band Two Lane Backdrop, Phillipa Brown’s Ladyhawke persona makes electro-pop in the vein of Cyndi Lauper, Blondie, and Madonna. She’s most recently been getting attention for the club banger “Paris is Burning” and it’s even rumored that Lady Aguilera is currently reworking her infectious single “My Delirium.” We recently caught up with Brown over the phone from London a few days before she headed our way. –Michael D. Ayers
Are you packed and all ready to come over?
No. I’m having a little issue with the visas.
Yesterday we were at the U.S. embassy with, oh my God, what seemed like every band in the U.K. about to go to South By Southwest. I think they might be having trouble processing all the visas in time, so we’re like “fingers crossed.”
But you’ve played here before, right?
Yeah, it was years ago. It was a few gigs–like a couple of gigs in New York and a couple of gigs in L.A. It was a whole lot of running around and meeting people. But it was a load of fun, really.
How old were you back then?
I was 23.
You were playing much more rock-oriented music back then. Did you consciously want to move away from that?
As a teenager I was in a bunch of grunge bands and rock bands. I loved playing rock guitar–it’s my favorite style of guitar to play. But I’ve always had a thing for pop music. And I always had ideas for poppy songs–not gross pop songs, but cool pop songs. My bandmates were never that keen because they thought it was uncool to write pop music and I ended up getting sick of feeling uncool. So I decided to go out on my own and there’d be no one to tell me I was uncool [laughs].
That is one of the benefits of going off on yourself.
Yeah. Because when you’re in a band, there’s a whole group of personalities involved. I was the primary songwriter in the band but I had three other guys as well. The singer, he was really concerned with what was cool and what wasn’t cool. That used to drive me crazy.
You’re record has an 80’s dance, synth-pop feel to it. Did you grow up listening to a lot of that stuff?
I was exposed basically to what was going on in popular culture at the time: TV, radio, as well as my parents’ record collection. The sorts of cassette tapes that I beg my Mom for when I was eight: Michael Jackson and Madonna, stuff like that. I had really varied music tastes when I was young. Everything from The Beatles, to Michael Jackson.
We here in the United States are getting a lot of New Zealand humor these days with Flight of the Conchords. And they always make fun of how isolated it is. But it doesn’t sound like it was isolated at all.
It’s like being in Iceland, or something. New Zealand is basically at the bottom of the world. It’s right next to Antarctica. It’s only like a couple of hours from Antarctica and only a couple of hours from Australia. And it’s tiny. The entire country only has four million people.
I’ve never lived in the States or anything, but I imagine that a country like that–you have access to so much culture. Popular culture is such a big part of how everything is. So many different styles of music, it seems massive. There are only a couple of big cities in New Zealand and they’re not even that big. The rest is just small towns. I grew up in a small town, and it had about 18,000 people. There was no record store in town–just a CD store that only got CD’s in 1996 and when it got stuff, it was just top 40. So you couldn’t hunt for music. We were basically exposed to our own music scene, which has always been really amazing. I think that’s why we tend to describe ourselves as isolated. It’s a bit of a culture shock when we leave New Zealand for the first time.
A lot of the tracks on your self-titled debut have been done for a while, and you’re just getting around to promoting?
Yeah. The oldest song on the album is “Back of the Van.” I wrote that so long ago; I think it was 2006. Or maybe even 2005. The album was finished at the end of 2007. It’s been a slowburner. But I’m happy about that; I guess it’s growing on people.
One of my favorite cuts is “Paris is Burning.” Seems like you had this really romantic notion of Paris going into it, like we all do, but it was a bit overwhelming.
Exactly. I’d never been to Europe in my life and I’d just arrived to London. Europe is always this really fairy tale place when you’re young, when you think of Paris and Italy and all those places. It should be out of a storybook. I was really stressed out at the time, and my friend was like “come over and play with me.” So I went to Paris to visit her and I immediately thought, “Oh my god, this place is amazing.” I had such a great time and got really drunk and that was basically my trip. The day I got back to London I wrote “Paris Is Burning.”
How long was this whirlwind?
Only four nights, I think it was. When I was there, my friend and I were watching TV in her apartment. We heard all this commotion: yelling and screaming, people marching down the street. I was like “What the fuck is that?” I looked out the window and it was French Gay Pride day or something. There were hundreds of thousands of people–I’ve never seen so many people. They were on top of bus stops, on top of cars. There were DJ’s and bands playing. This was like twelve o’clock, lunchtime, and people were wasted. Falling all over the place. The streets smelled like wine. I was like, “Man, this is my first ever time to Paris and its like the biggest party of the year.” [laughs]
Do you speak French?
No. I speak very little. I know enough to make sure they don’t put dairy in any of my food.
Besides playing shows in New York, anything you’re going to check out?
I have a friend there who is a musician and I hope he can show me some things. He’s one of about three people I know there. But I’ve only been there once before and I thought it was amazing.
The bars stay open until 4.