The offices where I meet up with Alex Lahey are modern and sparse, but also a little cool and classy. I was expecting there might be some funky couch to sit on and chat, or a ritzy office, but instead I make my way to the empty office kitchen and recreational space. Alex Lahey is there, dressed in casual gear, a long sleeve denim shirt and a Little Richard tee. We meet casually and make small talk before settling into the interview. The echoey concrete interior feels cold, unlike the warmth of the rising star sitting opposite me.
Lahey’s debut album is just weeks away when we meet. It is called I Love You Like A Brother, and one quickly understands that family is very important to Lahey. “When we started touring, my brother [Will] would come along and he’d do merch or little menial jobs, and that was really, really fun having him there. Those early days of touring are shit-kicking and when you’re with three of your mates in the band you’re telling everyone what to do because you don’t have a tour manager. It’s a big ask. It was awesome having Will there, just sort of as like a third party. It really broke things up and created this awesome dynamic. I feel that was very beneficial to myself and my band in those early days of touring which are very sensitive and pressing times.”
Her mother has also been very supportive of Lahey’s musical pursuits. “Mums are there to look out for ya!” she laughs. “I’ve never had anything like [financial support] from my family, but the encouragement, the support and the belief in what I do has been awesome.”
Her mum, despite always encouraging Alex to have a day job, even succumbed around a year ago when Alex was trying to break into the Australian scene. Alex told her, “I think I need to quit my job!” When her mother replied, “Yeah, you do,” she knew that things were going okay!
The album had been done for a while, but with the limited access to vinyl production in Australia, the release date had loomed slowly in the distance for a long time, and the release just over a week ago on 6 October was a big relief! The wait was excruciating for Lahey. When comparing notes with fellow songstress Meg Mac, who herself has just released a debut album, Lahey found them discussing the period of limbo between the album being done and released.
“It’s the worst time!”, she exclaimed passionately, “It almost makes you be the artist that you never want to be because you start worrying about, ‘What if people don’t like it? What if no-one buys it?’ Which is not the reason why we make music at all, but it makes you think like that! It makes you totally at risk of becoming this person and you just have to stop it.”
One would feel that Lahey should not be nervous about album sales and public response. Her track, You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me has just over two million plays on Spotify alone at the time of writing. She picked up multiple nominations following her debut EP, B-Grade University, at the AIR Awards along with scoring the Josh Pyke Partnership Grant for 2016. “You can get very caught up in the little things and not the big picture, so I go in and out of excitement and nerves, but I think that’s a good place to be.”
The album, whilst not a huge step away from the EP, displays a sense of maturity and growth in songwriting and heartily establishes Lahey’s credentials in the Australian musical landscape, which currently features so many outstanding singer-songwriters. The production on this album was assisted by Holy Holy’s guitarist Oscar Dawson, a man who also knows a little about how to make a hit album. “I think that the best way to learn is by working with others,” Alex admits. His influence can be heard in the album with the number of instruments and techniques used to get the sound that Lahey was looking for, and maybe some that she didn’t even realise she was.
The buzz around Alex Lahey has been building, not only in her home country but also in the US, with a recent tweet from Smash Mouth’s Twitter account simply saying, “If you don’t know,…. @AlexLahey” [sic].
The word is getting out and she will surely be noticed by a lot of new fans as she tours the UK, Europe, US and Canada in an epic 30+ shows spanning the last three months of the year. “I think I was really fortunate to get some really good press overseas last year and with that kind of came… it was a bit of a double-edged sword, in that it all of a sudden exposed me to all these other markets and places in the world and people, but when you’re in Australia it’s really fucking hard to get there. It’s really expensive and when you’re an independent, under-resourced new artist, you’re very much in danger of biting off more than you can chew. I think I’ve been really lucky with the opportunities that have directly come my way overseas in terms of getting there.” She references her exciting support for Tegan and Sara at the start of the year and
“I think I’ve been really lucky with the opportunities that have directly come my way overseas in terms of getting there.” She references her exciting support for Tegan & Sara at the start of the year and her invite to SXSW in March. It’s a continual quandary for up-and-coming Australian artists: is it more worthwhile attempting to make the jump to the overseas markets, or concentrate on your own backyard?
“I put off travelling for so long. Like I said, I’m an independent artist. I basically funded my own label advance when I started doing this because obviously, no one else was going to give me the money. I saved the money and then I started the project and funded it. I feel really lucky to still be independent but it is a big ask as an Australian artist to fund these things.”
We return to discussing the album and the sonic style that Alex employed. Whilst her fun and honest brand of pop-rock is front and centre, the last track, There’s No Money, stands out with its more laid back and ballad-y style. “I had nine songs and I was just like, I’m going to write the final song of this record. I was thinking about this song that I love dearly called Every Time the Sun Comes Up by Sharon Van Etten, which is the final song on her record Are We There and I just think that it’s the perfect last song. It eases you out of the record and you’re left in a real calm state even though the song is so heartbreaking. There’s a lot of banging full-on tracks on there and I’m like, ‘Imagine if this record just ended with people feeling calm’, so I wrote this song with [that track] in mind.”
Lahey was a part of the hugely successful pair of Electric Lady concerts in June. This initiative, born from artist Jack River, showcased just a slither of the amazing female artists that are making great music in this country right now. It’s safe to say that the current wave of non-male artists is at a peak never seen before. Alex agrees, “If you look back in the ’80s, it was like there was room for one woman and if that meant pushing the other people down, you’d do it. I think that now it’s changed where it’s like, everyone’s sort of propping each other up and one person paving the way is a means for someone else to follow in their footsteps.”
Despite the improvement, Alex thinks there is a long way to go. “I’ve heard of a lot of people being told by Australian festivals that they’ve got their quota of women. It happens and it’s really bad and things need to change. Things like Electric Lady are a great start in generating a conversation, but I also don’t truly believe in ‘Othering’ for the sake of ‘Othering’. Women playing music is normal and it should be the norm that there is 50/50 representation of gender both onstage and behind the stage at all music events. I think that we are a very, very long way off that. There’s room for a lot more to be in the spotlight and I think that there’s been a significant start, but I think that there is a long, long way to go and I’m not going to pretend that the problem is being solved very quickly, because it’s not.”
The future for Lahey will most likely be enormously busy and very exciting, but she has the most relaxed and calm disposition that I’ve seen from a musician. She comes off as chilled, honest and level-headed. Her music gives just a glimpse into the disposition of an artist that loves her craft and putting herself on display without putting on a facade. What you see is what you get, and it’s extremely refreshing.
We wrap up our chat returning to the nervous energy of waiting for her album to drop. “Maybe I sound a little resigned or unenthusiastic [about the release of the album], but I’m not. I’m very, very enthusiastic, but I’m also mindful that I’ve done all I can do. Going back to the last song on the record, I really liked that the last lyrics on the album are ‘I have nothing to lose.’”
18 October, Corner Hotel, Melbourne
19 October, The Rosemount, Perth
20 October, Mojos, Fremantle