Kat Von D and synthesizers: Ladyhawke on the chance encounter that spurned Wild Things

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Born out of the swirling cauldron of indie-rock that began to overflow in the early 2000’s and gave us acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and a little later Santigold and Dragonette, young Pip Brown  (aka Ladyhawke) made a name for herself with her elegantly crafted, 80’s fueled snythpop hooks. After two critically acclaimed albums and a massive tour for her sophomore release Anxiety, which detailed the stress and restlessness that Brown developed amidst her agitated jump directly from touring to the studio, she found herself at a breaking point. Caught in the same self-made trap that she had sprung for herself after that last tour, this time already deep within the writing process for her third record, Brown made the decision to stop as she began to realize that her anxieties were seeping into her writing. This led to a series of encounters and personal revelations that would eventually culminate as Wild Things, her four-years in the making follow-up to Anxiety, the first of which was her chance meeting with producer Tommy English thanks to neighbor Kat Von D.

“It was pretty random actually,” shared Brown in an interview. She texted me one day asked if I wanted to do some vocals on a record she’s making. So she sent me the address to go to, and I just assumed she’d be coming with me but I went by myself–and it was Tommy English’s house. I turned up there one Sunday and we just sort of got along instantly.”

English worked with the synth-happy, helium crooner Borns on his debut Dopamine, so the injection of his penchant for euphoric pop couldn’t have come at a better time for Brown, who was still trying to recover both personally and creatively. Mustering up what will she had to continue with Ladyhawke, she reevaluated her life from top to bottom. In revamping everything from her diet to her writing process, she started to do the things she realized she should’ve been doing from the beginning.

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After touring for Anxiety, instead of just taking a big break like I should’ve done, I decided to go straight back into it,” explains Brown. I felt like crap and the music I was making was dark. It didn’t really feel right to me, and I knew that I just had to change something–and it was good because it made me take a step back and look at my life to try and figure out the causes. Why am I making this dark music, what’s making me feel so dead? That’s when I quit drinking, I tried to get healthier and look after myself, and the material reflected that transformation.”

Aggressively optimistic, Wild Things surges and thunders forward on a heavy flurry of electronics, everything from blown-out to glittering synthesizers give the album a sense of organic buoyancy. From it’s declarative opener, “A Love Song,” all the way to its moody, bass pumping finale in “Dangerous,” her electric harmonizations are as energized as ever and it shows. But in terms of tone and sonically, the album is a slight removal from her previous work–a shift that came about in part thanks to English.

I didn’t want to dictate any sort of script during the writing sequence. I didn’t want to be like “It can’t have this,” or, “It can’t sound like that,” which is something I’ve always done in the past because I knew what I wanted. But with this record I only wanted one thing, which was for it to reflect how much happier I was feeling. I’ve always been a huge fan of synths, I’ve experimented with different synthesizers on all my records–and I just really took that further this time around. And Tommy is an amazing musician and has a great ear, and he loves messing around with synths. It just happened quite organically, we were just messing around and all of a sudden we had quite the catchy, synth-y record in front of us.

Yet, beyond lifestyle changes and the influences of English, Brown found that her emotional direction during the creation of Wild Things was also spurned by Los Angeles’ flawless weather and sunshine. The 36-year-old has called Hollywood home for some time now, but the city’s inclination towards sunny days only truly began to affect her when she was sitting in English’s studio. Brown shares:

“The weather reflects the way that I’m feeling, if it’s crappy outside I feel worse than I normally would. I’m prone to depression, so I’m very sensitive to the weather, and L.A. is a place that’s sunny all the time. But I found that writing the album with Tom, he has a really awesome studio with glass walls, glass windows everywhere, so the light just streams in. It really made the experience that much more beautiful when we were writing the album.”

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In retrospect, Brown attributes the success to the album on the changes in outlook that she underwent in the aftermath of Anxiety. Comfortable in her own skin and free of the bleak tendencies that came with pushing her mind, body, and creativity toward a boiling point, she found herself needing to reflect the positivity that came flowing when she allowed herself to take a breather from touring and recording. That happiness carried all the way through her recording sessions with English, and has allowed her to retain an air of desire for making music as Ladyhawke.

“I enjoyed making Wild Things,” shares Brown. “I enjoyed the writing process with Tommy. I’m looking after myself and doing all sort of basic stuff that you don’t consider when you first start out because it’s this whirlwind. I already know when I’m finished touring Wild Things, I can almost guarantee I’ll be ready to jump back into the studio because I’m already excited about the prospect of doing that.”

Ladyhawke will be making her way to The Roxy on July 6 for an intimate performance. Wild Things is out now via Polyvinyl Records.

Interview feature by Steven Ward

 

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