Ladyhawke on overcoming ‘disgusting’ homophobia, Catholic guilt and postnatal depression
When Ladyhawke released her debut album in 2009, she was warned by people in the UK’s music industry that she should avoid talking about her sexuality in interviews.
Looking back on that time, Ladyhawke – or Pip Brown, if you want to use her real name – believes she was treated appallingly. Things have improved vastly in the years since for LGBT+ artists, but she still thinks about the homophobia she faced early in her career and feels angry about just how bad it was.
“It was really tough because I’d been out for years,” Ladyhawke tells PinkNews ahead of the release of her fourth studio album, Time Flies. “Everyone knew I was queer, I’d had girlfriends. When I moved to the UK, to be told I wasn’t allowed to talk about my sexuality and that it would ruin my career was just like… my self-esteem as a female musician is already pretty bad. To be told that, it just made me feel disgusting. It was really gross and I feel really angry about it.
“I wasn’t the only artist either. I knew other artists who were told that.”
That message came from “a few different people”, but Ladyhawke says she’s “too scared” to go into further detail. “I can’t even say. I don’t even want to open that can of worms. I don’t think I’m strong enough yet to go through that. But yeah, it was a variety of people in the industry.”
While there’s always more work to do, she says the music industry today is an entirely different landscape for queer artists.
“I just wish it was like this when I was making my first record,” she says. “That would have been great. There’s always more work to be done, but it’s amazing that there are kids making music and they have other queer artists to look up to who are out, and it’s not a thing like it used to be. It’s not something that’s written in the gossip pages. It’s not a scandal anymore, it’s just the way it is which is how it always should have been.”
Now, LadyHawke is back with her first album in five years, Time Flies, which began life in pre-pandemic LA and was finished after a move for the artist back home to New Zealand PinkNews caught up with Ladyhawke to talk about the inspiration behind it, her experience of postnatal depression and why she felt the need to confront Catholic guilt in her music.
Are there any particular emotions that characterise the album as a whole?
It’s me reflecting on a lot of things and processing a lot of things, and it sort of comes out in a real rollercoaster of highs and lows. It came after a time of really being forced to look back and think about my music career and my life, and I came to this point where I I was confronted with everything in a really positive way, and I wanted to draw from things in a really positive way. So even though some songs may have a slightly sadder tinge to them, I wanted to make it feel at least uplifting or happy. I think an overall theme would be nostalgia and reflection.
I think this album’s the most personal album I’ve ever done really, so I hope they listen to it and feel like they know me a bit better, like they’ve gotten to know me through listening to the album.
The song “Guilty Love” deals with Catholic guilt – was that inspired by your own experience?
Yeah, I was brought up Catholic and went to Catholic school from age five to age 18. Church every Sunday, school chapel on Fridays – it was all-in with religion. LGBTQ rights [were never really talked about], no one cared, there was no education on it whatsoever and if there was anything mentioned on it, it was a sin. So me trying to figure out who I was, I think it was so deeply buried because of all of that. I honestly didn’t have any idea, I just thought there was something wrong with me. I just thought, ‘Why don’t I like all these boys like all the other girls do?’
You’ve spoken about the fact that you’ve gone to therapy and started taking anti-depressants. What has that experience been like for you?
It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life – depression, anxiety, severe dark bouts of depression that it takes me years to get out of. Crippling anxiety, panic attacks, all of those things. I also had my daughter, she’s about to turn four now, but I had postnatal depression after having her, so that was thrown into the mix. I was sort of half expecting it, but I didn’t recognise what was happening to me at the time. But it actually lasted ages, the postnatal depression just kept going and going and going.
It got to the point, it was around the end of 2019, and I remember just being like, ‘I can’t take this anymore, I really need help.’ I didn’t want my daughter to grow up seeing me like that – I really wanted to try my best with her, and obviously myself as well. I wasn’t the best version of myself anymore. So I asked around a bunch of friends for a recommendation for a therapist, and a really dear friend of mine put me in touch with a therapist who was highly recommended. I went to see him, we hit it off instantly, and he really took his time getting to know me. It was great.
When the first lockdown happened, my anxiety was bad, my depression was bad, and he’d sort of been saying to me, ‘Have you ever considered maybe some medication?’ MY serotonin levels were really bad. I said, ‘You know, I’ve always been really resistant in the past, I’ve tried it and I haven’t liked it, but I’ve never stuck with it for very long.’ I’ve always thought I can handle it on my own.
I have to admit, I was just at a point where I was willing to try absolutely anything – so I slowly weaned myself onto medication because I was terrified, and it just really changed my life. It’s been a real journey and it’s taken me years to get here, but that’s the thing – when you’re struggling with mental health it sometimes takes a long time, but don’t lose hope. That’s the biggest thing – and speak out when you’re feeling bad, especially when you’re at your lowest. I think that’s the thing that helped me when I was at my complete lowest, I felt like I couldn’t get any lower, that’s when the old me would have just stayed in bed for days at a time, but I just had to talk to someone.
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You’ve also moved back to New Zealand recently – what has that been like?
It was pretty crazy actually, I had lived overseas for 14 years so I had been a bit of a travelling show for a while – I couldn’t really settle in any one place for too long. I was living in LA for four-and-a-half years and was pregnant with my daughter and just decided it would be better to move home. I’m so glad me and my wife made that decision – our families are both here. People had said to me, ‘When you’re pregnant you just want your mum to be around,’ and I just had exactly that. I was like, ‘I’ve got to go home to my mum,’ like a little kid. So it was absolutely the perfect move because I would have really struggled with the postnatal depression in the States without any family around.
Do you have any words of encouragement for LGBT+ artists who might be worried about facing issues in the industry because of their identity?
It’s really important who you have around you and who you give your trust to. I wish I could go back and give myself this advice – I think you need to look at a person’s motivations for being involved in your career. If anyone was to say anything negative about your identity, just don’t have anything to do with them. [Being queer is] a plus for your career now, which is great, so if anyone said that to a young artist now, just turn around and run a mile. They won’t last long in the industry anyway if they’re going around saying things like that. My advice would be to just be yourself and don’t compromise for anyone.
Are there any LGBT+ artists on the scene at the moment that you’re really excited about?
Well I think me and the rest of the world – Lil Nas X. He’s one of the artists that gives me the most joy in my daily life. Every Instagram post makes me smile. He’s so funny and clever and he’s brilliant. I think the guy’s a genius, just the way he’s marketed himself and embraced every aspect of who he is, and when he gets faced with all this hate, he turns it into marketing for his music. Did you see those billboards he had up around Hollywood? I just thought that was absolutely genius! I find him really inspiring, and I know there are tons of other great queer artists as well. It just makes me so happy that he’s the biggest artist in the world and he’s African American and queer. It’s amazing.
Could you have imagined 10 years ago seeing an artist like Lil Nas X on the scene?
No, and I’m so glad. He’s just gone all in and it’s awesome, and he’s the biggest artist in the world. What does that tell you? Everyone loves him.
Ladyhawke’s new album Time Flies is out now.
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