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Interviewed by
Natalie Finnigan
Thursday 25th October, 2012 10:46AM

Lips is the solo project of New Zealand - now based in Brooklyn - musician Stephanie Brown. She won one of this country's most prestigious music awards, The APRA Silver Scroll this year for her song 'Everything to Me' and is due to release her EP Look Listen this week (a teaser video for which you can check out below). Natalie Finnigan caught up with Lips to discuss her career-to-date and the transition from New Zealand to the Big Apple.

Lips | 'Look Listen' EP | Brooklyn, NY from Bayly & Moore on Vimeo.

Can you describe your musical journey?

I started learning piano when I was seven and I think around 11 I wrote my first composition. The joy that came from pulling a piece of music out of me was so great, it was indescribable. I played my little song over and over again and I’ve made music ever since.

What music did you listen to growing up? What was the first record you ever bought and what did you love about it?

The first cassette I bought was MC Hammer, ‘Can’t Touch This’. We used to do jazzercise to it in primary school. Why has jazzercise disappeared from my life?? I used to listen to a lot of soul, jazz, r'n'b music.

When did you start to find your own sound and how did you get there? Did it come naturally or did it take a bit of experimenting?

It took a lot of experimenting! My first released song was a soul ballad that I wrote after hearing “Untitled” by D’Angelo. D’Angelo’s song blew my mind, this mix of soul and sex and church music. I wrote soul music for a while, and then after I started playing more electronic synths I moved into this weird quirky synth funk stuff. I never really showed it to anyone. And then I went back to writing organic blues/soul stuff in my band Fredericks Brown; the vocalist Deva Mahal can sing ANYTHING. And now I’m back in electro/soul/pop territory as Lips. I think it will forever evolve.

Do you listen to the same type of music you make?

Yes but not exclusively. I listen to all types of music.

You’re living in New York, how is that working out for you?

New York has been a journey. I moved in 2007 for a change of scene. I had been working as a freelance keyboard player in Auckland for around 5 years but I could see myself doing the same thing for the next 30 years, and I really wanted to try my hand as a songwriter most of all. I needed to change something to make that happen so I moved.

I live in Brooklyn, in a mostly Puerto Rican neighbourhood. It’s really noisy; there are always fights and jokes going on. Lots of Latin music blasting from car stereos.

How are you supporting yourself?

I work with Deva Mahal a lot (an incredible soul/blues singer) and as Lips. I do the occasional freelance keyboard thing. Just in the last few months I’ve been able to live solely off gigs and the odd teaching job. It is not much to come and go on but it gives me time to write and record which has been incredible. It’s month by month at the moment, we’ll see.

Let's discuss your new album: are you happy with it? What was the writing, recording, and production process like? Good times? Stressful?

I am happy with it. It took a lot of back and forth over the internet with Jeremy Toy in Auckland (who co-produced and mixed it). He has been an amazing collaborating partner; I think that we have similar influences and sounds in our heads so that makes it easier.

Does it have a theme or is it more a collection of what you’ve done so far?

I guess there is a general theme of the impermanence of time and how that affects different relationships and circumstances.

Who did you work with?

Musically it was just myself and Jeremy Toy, though I had my friend Tash Wong play the violin on “Everything to me”. Also, Marika Hodgson added some bass to that track too. Kristin Trayes makes all my artwork. We use this figure “Lips” who is this girl with a giant lips for a head. For the cover art she made this Lips head piece and then we superimposed it onto a photograph of me on my fifth birthday. Because Lips and I are the same, it was a document of the child Lips, symbolizing where she came from.

Where did the inspiration for that character come from?

I really wanted to create a character that would personify my music - that would be the face of my music. Particularly important for me was to make a character that acknowledged the fact that I’m a girl writing, producing and performing my music in an industry that is particularly male dominated. So Lips, this girl who is a giant lips on legs, represented that for me.

How do you approach live shows and translating what you do in the studio to that environment?

It has been an experimental journey. Currently I’m playing a micron keyboard, with added tracks on Ableton live, and I’ve just started rehearsing with a drummer to add more of a live dynamic. It’s getting there!

What kind of shows do your prefer to play? What sort of venue and atmosphere? So far I prefer the more intimate shows because I like to talk to the audience. But as we stretch out the boundaries of the live show using the drums I think it will be fun to play larger venues.

What’s the most inspirational thing about being in New York?

The creative output, the drive, the desperation. Yesterday I met my friend for coffee and someone had attached their own painting to a lamp post, right outside the cafe. Creating their own gallery, breaking convention, demanding people view their work. It’s inspiring, it’s also exhausting.

Have you seen any great acts in the states which have inspired or challenged you?

Yes, I saw SBTRKT last week and the live show was fantastic. When SBTRKT got on the drums you could feel the energy storming out of his body - it was electrifying. Also I saw Prince play in New Jersey - that was incredible.

Do you hope to come back home, or are you quite keen to stay put overseas?

I will come home one day, I’m not sure when. I miss my family. I have a few goals I need to get through first. One is to release my first EP which is happening next week. I don’t know, I think about it a lot. I miss the community, the support. Not having to fight a battle just to get someone on the phone.


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