Ladyhawke: 'You have no idea what I have been through'

She hated physical contact, shunned company and once locked herself in her house for three months. Then, two years ago, Pip Brown was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. So how is she coping with life as Ladyhawke, the next big thing in pop?

When New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Ladyhawke was beamed down into the music scene earlier this year, it was difficult not to be a little cynical. There was something too perfect, too Shoreditch-cool about her Stevie Nicks hair, her angelic face, those detached blue eyes and the 1980s revivalism of her music. Before long, Kylie Minogue's people were calling Ladyhawke's people to tell them that Kylie loved her – as does Canadian electro superstar Peaches and grunge crackpot Courtney Love. Her self-titled debut album of big, blustery pop songs was released to widespread acclaim in September – but who was the elusive young woman behind it?

Ambling into her PR's east-London office, Pip Brown – as she is known to her parents – cuts a striking figure. Tall and resplendent in stripey trousers and Dr Martens boots, her kohl-lined eyes framed by that voluminous blonde mane, she's quite the gangly, glamorous tomboy as she shakes my hand shyly and coos at the office kittens. The singer admits to being a little wary around journalists, and with good reason: recently, she revealed to a British newspaper that she has Asperger's syndrome (a form of autism) which suddenly shifted media interest from her music to her autism. Among other traits, the syndrome manifests itself typically in social communication difficulties and, according to the National Autistic Society, "limitations in imagination". Hardly the stuff of showbusiness legend, and entertainers with Asperger's are few and far between: the actress Daryl Hannah (diagnosed borderline autistic in childhood) is one; Craig Nicholls, frontman of Australian rock group The Vines, is another. Still, everyone loves an against-all-odds story, and here was Brown's.

But it's not the story that the singer wants to be defined by. "I really regret talking about it," she says. "There's a kid with Asperger's who wrote to me on MySpace, saying I was a liar. It was really hurtful. I was like, you have no idea what I've been through. Yeah, I'm a bit weird. I do weird things. I've been really wary since then." Not that it shows. Brown is chatty, warm and sincere; in many ways, the opposite of the autistic stereotype – which goes to show how far the stereotype is from reality, and how far she has come. Slouched on a sofa, she talks breezily, in her thick Kiwi accent, about her overwhelming and exciting year as a rising star.

"It's been very up and down," she admits. "The ups are the touring and playing with other bands, and the way people have received me. That's been amazing. The down is the constant exhaustion." Then there's the small matter of having moved from sunny Sydney – where she had been living – to the smog and grind of London. "Missing my family and friends has been really hard," she admits. "When I arrived in London, I was living in Soho. I hate huge crowds of people and that's what Soho is about. It was horrible. I haven't made many friends since I've been here, but since I moved to Brick Lane, I find myself just walking up to the pub and meeting heaps of people."

The curry-scented streets of Brown's east-London neighbourhood are a far cry from her beginnings in New Zealand. The singer was born 28 years ago in Masterton, a small town near Wellington. "Growing up there was amazing," she enthuses. "I love suburbia. We're lucky in New Zealand because there's a lot of space and not many people. It was always sunny. I have great memories of growing up there." But her undiagnosed Asperger's created all sorts of problems. "I wouldn't go to school when I was younger, and when I did, I would just stare out the window. I didn't like anyone touching me and I didn't like people coming near me." Even so, she excelled at art and music from an early age, thanks to her parents' encouragement – her mother sings, and her step-father is a jazz drummer. "I started playing piano when I was eight. It came quite naturally, but I was just bored," she says. "So I took up drums when I was 11 and that was it for me. I loved it. After that, I picked up lots of instruments instinctively."

Brown has been almost famous on a couple of occasions. The first time, it was in the early Noughties as the lead guitarist of the New Zealand rock group Two Lane Blacktop, which she formed while studying design and photography at university. "It was a rock'n'roll band, like the Clash crossed with Iggy Pop," says Brown. "It was so much fun playing in that band. It was me and three guys and we were great friends. We started to get a lot of attention and we were about to sign a deal in the states with Roadrunner Records when the band broke up. The singer didn't want to do it. I was really angry at him. I hated him!" She laughs, before adding, "But then I got over it and we became friends again. When I was in that band it was the first moment when I thought, actually, I could do this."

After the band broke up, Brown moved to Australia – first to Melbourne, then Sydney – where she pulled pints, DJed at sleazy nightclubs and ran gig nights with her best friend Sarah, who now designs all of her artwork. There, she had another stab at pop stardom when she formed the art-rock duo Teenager with Aussie musician Nick Littlemore (now one half of the dance-music double-act Pnau). Teenager were name-checked in the NME, somehow managed to achieve the indie-rock dream of working with two members of Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley) and then died a quick death. "I started calling myself Ladyhawke around 2004 or 2005, just out of frustration," says Brown. "I just wanted to do my own style of music without somebody in the band saying, 'I don't know, maybe we should do this instead.' I was so sick of that."

And so Ladyhawke was born, named after a bizarre 1980s fantasy film about a pair of star-crossed lovers played ' by Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick (who are respectively cursed to take the form of a hawk by day and a wolf by night). "People always ask me why I call myself Ladyhawke – but why would I call myself Pip Brown? It's so boring. If I had a cool name like Engelbert Humperdinck, that would be OK." Ladyhawke suits her. It's an armour, of sorts, lending the singer a certain toughness. Moreover, Brown – like the characters in the film – is herself something of a chameleon. She struggles with her confidence, but knows what she wants; she's super-shy, but performs in front of hundreds of fans every night; she feels uneasy around people, but she's charming company.

More importantly, her music is fantastic. Brown's debut album as Ladyhawke exudes confidence and joy – pure pop with an indie heart. At times, it sounds like the lost soundtrack to Back to the Future and at others, just like the future. It's more ambitious than any of her previous projects, both in terms of the songs – which are, each and every one of them, solid gold tunes – and the influences, which teeter towards classic 1970s/1980s pop, such as ELO, Blondie, Bowie and Fleetwood Mac. Brown is tickled by comparisons to Fleetwood Mac's resident torch singer, Stevie Nicks, but remains unconvinced. "I always think it's just because of my hair," she says. "I don't sound anything like Stevie Nicks and I don't dress like her – I don't wear crushed velvet and heels on a daily basis."

Despite how far she's come, personally and creatively, Brown admits, "I have my weird moments when I revert back to my old ways."

Those "old ways" included locking herself up in her house in Melbourne for three months, after which, enough was enough. Two-and-a-half years ago, she went to a doctor and got her diagnosis – much to her relief, as it "explained so much". "When I moved to Sydney, it got to a point when I was so sick of feeling like everybody hated me," she admits. "So I went to a doctor who referred me on to somebody. I ended up having a few sessions with a psychologist and she told me, 'I have Asperger's as well.' It was really inspiring."

Live shows are still a bit tricky – partly due to the syndrome, partly due to nerves – and it hasn't gone unnoticed by the music press. But it's a love-hate thing. "It wasn't until I became a solo artist that I realised I had terrible stage fright. I get really shy and embarrassed and stupid and klutzy and I trip over. I'm a mess! But I love it." Luckily, her fans are behind her all the way. "When I played at the Roadhouse in Manchester, it was sold out. I was standing there shit-scared, so I said into the microphone, 'This is the most nervous I've ever been in my entire life.' And everyone cheered. I was like, OK. Is that a good thing? But I'm learning to be better on stage. When I know people are there to see me, I react differently because I can feel a better energy."

In reality, Brown's nervy honesty makes a refreshing change from the usual cocksure swagger of today's rock stars (both male and female). She has a certain vulnerability and self-contained strength that anyone can relate to, whether they share her condition or not. Unlike many of the singers who have dominated the indie music scene over the past few years, Brown does not take drugs (but she likes a drink) or start media wars against her fellow musicians – although she has come across her fair share of such people. "Being a musician doesn't make you better than anyone else," she ponders. "When you meet a band, there'll always be that arrogant, rock-star guy who has little tantrums and acts like a superstar. I'm so anti that. I feel like I'm really lucky because I'm doing the thing I love and I can survive off it – for now. When I meet an arrogant musician, I don't get it."

Instead, Brown seems to have a formidable control over her life, music and career. "I don't know if this is a cliché, but as a female musician it's really hard to maintain your credibility, because people often assume you don't write your own music. They also assume you can be moulded easily. I don't use a stylist any more, because I was sick of people trying to make me look feminine. I don't wear girly shit. I have my own weird thing going on." Plus, she's a little bit wiser about the greasy inner workings of the music industry. "I always thought I was pretty wise to it when I was younger, but you don't realise how everything works until things start to get serious for you. People build you up and you've just got to maintain a sense of self and keep your wits about you."

A few days after we meet, Ladyhawke is named the sixth coolest person in the world by the NME, a dubious honour that Brown is probably taking with her usual pinch of salt. Unlike many others on the list, Pip Brown is talented, gracious and she isn't one to ever rest on herlaurels. Sometimes, she even ponders going back to university to study composition – "so I can get my skills up as a writer and producer". And she dreams about owning a pub. "I love a beer," she giggles. "I'll be that old lady with 20 cats and a pub. I just love pulling a beer and sitting down and chatting to people."

In the meantime, Ladyhawke is touring Australia this winter, looking forward to seeing her friends and family at Christmas and writing her next album, which she promises will be entirely different to the first (which sold 3,500 copies in the UK in its first week of release). "I'm getting the hang of it," she says, "and I think next year will be better for me, because I'll know exactly where I am."

She may not know it yet, but she's already there.

Ladyhawke's single, 'My Delirium', is out on 8 December. The album, 'Ladyhawke', is out now

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition