In Conversation with Alex Lahey

Alex Lahey. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Her second album is a marvellous treat – The Best Of Luck Club is at turns honest, emotional, self-aware and hopeful – a woman that is keen to explore, live life and not be limited by any boundaries.

First impressions after our conversation was how mature Lahey is – an artist that obviously loves music, but also understands the importance of balancing work and living life. Not only for the benefit of relationships and mental health – but to further feed her creative processes. Lahey is a woman assured.

I AM NOT TOO HUNG ABOUT THE FEELING THAT I NEED TO PROVE ANY PART OF MY IDENTITY TO BE SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE THINK I AM.

ALEX LAHEY, MAY 2019.
The debut album released in October 2017.

Lahey’s debut album I Love You Like a Brother was released in 2017 and was not only greeted with positive reviews but also was a commercial success. Lahey toured extensively, and also entered American lounge rooms with an appearance on  Late Night With Seth Meyers performing live with ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’. Lahey, 26, is not a flash in the pan – she has the musical instincts and the songwriting talent, and seems to want to constantly push herself to explore and evolve her talent. We chat with Lahey on the eve of the release of The Best of Luck Club.

<Brian> How did you approach this album different than the last one?

<Alex> I mean there are so many innate circumstances in not making a first album that kind of forces you to approach the album differently. The biggest one being that you don’t have a lifetime of songs to pick from anymore. And so, by default, the songwriting process or the timeline is extremely more condensed. But maybe in a way that makes the songs and the stories more of a particular time in your life. 

So, was it like writing to some sort of deadline? Did you feel that pressure to come up with something of good quality in a short period of time?

Yeah, I suppose. At the end of the day it wasn’t for anyone else, but for myself. My identity as an artist lies a lot in putting out records and making records, because I love that process and I love doing it. I love the challenge, the rewards and the reflection that comes from that. It wasn’t like someone was saying you have to have an album out by this time. It was more about me  wanting to keep growing and developing and learning – and what better time to do it. But there are certain things, for example my life is pretty tied down to a touring schedule these days. And so, for me, knowing that I had a block of time at the end of last year where it would be perfect for me to make a record – and so we obviously booked in the studio time and go about it that way. Which again was something different than doing this record to the last one, because touring was kind of peppered through the recording of the first record because I didn’t have the luxury of taking time off the road. 

To me there seems to a real maturity to the songwriting on this album. A real advancement – it seems you have grown as an artist – you have been exposed to so many different things – some fame, long touring schedules, you have been on American TV, etc. And the themes of the album that I am picking up on seems to be about relationships, being on the road, and leaving people at home, break ups – is it harder being away from home and sustaining relationships, when you have this unreal lifestyle of touring?

Yeah, on one hand the job that I have is so unusual – but it is a job. And all people almost have one. And working full-time does impact your life regardless of what type of job that you have. All those changes in friendships and navigating relationships, I think that everyone experiences this to a degree as they grow older and their responsibilities change. So, I think that it does become hard to maintain those relationships because of touring – I feel it’s not because of touring, I think it’s more because it’s a job and because it is a shift of lifestyle. You think about going to school, where you see your best friends every single day in the same place <laughs>, which is not how real life works! So, you kind of move away from that and try to navigate how to best maintain those relationships. And also, the difference as you grow older is that it’s your responsibility – no one is going to do it for you – you really do get what you give. 

How do you still have fun – how do you balance it to make sure your job still remains fun. Or is it just hard work?

Of course it can be hard sometimes, but I think that for me, if this wasn’t as fun as it is, I wouldn’t do it. Being a musician and touring is a hard job – and it’s not for everyone. When I reflect on it, having fun is number one on the list in terms of what I am getting out of it – and for long as that is happening I will keep doing it and loving it.

The track ‘Internal Demeanour’ on the new album is quite personal – it seems to deal with mental health and the importance of dealing with these issues. How do you remain grounded?

Taking responsibility for my relationships is a big one. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, no one is going to wait around for you to fill a role in their lives, no matter how successful you are. You know what I mean? Taking responsibility – my role in my relationships is something that is really good for my stability. And you don’t always want to keep thinking about work all the time – it’s good to massage those other facets of your life and be present in them. But other than that, all the difficult things that people do to wind down and being aware of what those things are – and making sure that I am aware of my boundaries even if it means having to be in contact with them to know what they are. 

Have you enjoyed the fame that you have had?

I don’t really think that I am particularly famous!

<Facetiously> You were on American TV, I saw you on YouTube!

Oh yeah! I don’t feel like my life has changed in that regard. I don’t think that I have any notoriety or anything like that! I never wanted to be famous – that’s never been a reason in doing what I do. I think for me the reason why I do this, is because I love writing songs, I love expressing myself that way – I love playing music with people, and I love learning. And there is just an infinite wealth of things to learn when you are a musician. 

The Best Of Luck Club album cover.

This album seems to be very personal – even musically, where you played every instrument except the drums? 

Yes, that’s right.

And you play a real great sax solo. Do you have a love/hate relationship in playing sax? It was great hearing sax on a track – I haven’t heard sax for such a long time! 

That’s great, I am glad you liked it! It was one of those things, because it was just Catherine and I in the studio making the record. Catherine Marks being my co-producer. I just brought all the shit that I owned at home that would eventually be used on the record. And one of those things was my saxophone – that I have spent many, many hours with in the past – I think we kind of got to this point in the song, and Catherine was like “c’mon you brought it here play it” <laughs>. I think she thought it was a bit of a joke – that I just happened to own a saxophone! I don’t she realised that I actually studied it at university and was quite obsessed with practicing it for a while. And she thought it was so funny that something had came out of it!

When you listen to tracks from the eighties, you realise how that saxophone sound was just so ubiquitous. Hearing it on ‘Don’t Be Hard On Yourself’, it sounds cool!

I think it’s pretty funny. I think Catherine said that it was one of the most bizarre choices she made!

You were pretty diligent in writing the songs on this album. You were in Nashville to write the songs. Why Nashville? 

I went to Nashville because I was in America to start with and I had just finished a tour – and then I had some time off. And I never been to Nashville before, but I have always heard really good things and also I love the TV show “Nashville”. So, I decided to go! I wasn’t there for too long – I was there for about a couple of weeks – but I was really fortunate that a publishing house allowed me to use one of their rooms for that time. Which is literally just a room with nothing in it, to write songs. And I just sat there every single day. Treated it just like a 9 to 5. I did the Nick Cave method! About half the album was written in Nashville.

We are not waiting for an Alex Lahey country album next?

I don’t know about that! Maybe one day! I think that Nashville is so much more diverse than it is given credit to be. More than anything , there is actually a credible punk-rock scene in Nashville. And I think you will find a lot of artists that are up and coming do have ties to Nashville in some way.

Some of the album tracks have a distinct vibe – with ‘Isabella’ is very reminiscent of The Beatles. With this album, there seems to be a more diverse vibe musically, is that a conscious thing to have the album take a new musical direction?

Not really. I think it goes back to what I was saying before about having fun. You are doing the same thing over and over again – I don’t think that is particularly fun. I want to explore different styles and push myself. Maybe one day in my career I will push myself to a direction which isn’t necessarily popular. And maybe it will demonstrate something different. I am not too hung about the feeling that I need to prove any part of my identity to be something that people think I am. For me, it’s not a conscious decision or anything like that – I love so many different styles of music. I don’t feel like that I am particularly bound to a style of music. I don’t particularly identify as jazz, punk or whatever – you know, even though I have been all those things at one time, I guess it’s all about being myself and exploring, and trying out new things. Working with different people and seeing what happens.

‘Unspoken History’ showcases your voice, more ballad-like compared to the other songs on the album. That song seems to me to about a relationship that is slowly fading. What does that song mean to you?

The song to me is deeply personal to the point that I don’t want to go to the specifics of it. More or less how it started, is that I started to write it about one relationship – which is like a pretty superficial romantic situation – and then it kind of turned out to be something a lot more deeper than that, and it wasn’t romantic at all. And I think that, there are sometimes relationships in our life where we have to resign them to being what they are. And you can fight and fight and fight – to make something what you want it to be or what you think it’s supposed to be. But there are those things, at the end of the day, that can only give you so much. And I think there are times in our lives we expect someone who defaults in a particular role in our life, to fulfil it in a way we expect them too, but they can’t. Or the circumstances don’t allow that. And it kind of gets to a point that you battle with that all that you want, but I think that eventually you do get to a point that you just resign yourself to the fact that you have to accept something for what it is. Or what it is able to be for you. 

The limitations of the relationship.

Does that make sense?

Yeah, it certainly does! The album has some dark themes, but I love the way it ends with a sense of positivity with ‘Black RM’s’ and ‘I Want To Live With You’ – you have talked about being on the road and it being hard work  – with ‘I Want To Live With You’ it seems to conjure up an image of some sort of domestic bliss. Is that something that is important to you?

I am not going to do it for the sake of it! <laughs> If and when the right person wants to come along – I am not going to pass up the real deal! And I don’t think I have. I feel very happy in my personal life and very grounded. And that is thanks to the people in it. I think it is because I allow it to happen. 

You are a Melbourne girl – how important is Melbourne to you?

I was in Melbourne this weekend – my old band used to play at The Evelyn a lot – we used to do a 100 gigs there when we were together. And I went there on Thursday night, and it was like a time capsule. You know! And, I think that my band was playing there five plus years ago, and the opportunity of doing it so many times enabled me to hit the ground running with my project, cause I played heaps of times on stage before. And to go there and see it is still the same it really heartens me. Because the next batch of people that are making bands in Melbourne, will have the same opportunities. So, I think that is really wonderful, and I think there is something said about the consistency of support in the scene. And it’s really great to see that it is still happening. I think a bit of time away happens because I am on tour and that sort of thing, to have that time away and come back and to see that it is still there  – I feel like you have a greater sense of change when you are away from a place and come back. But you also feel by that token consistency as well. And the consistency in the Melbourne scene is definitely there and that takes shape in the support that it gives young artists, and the opportunities that are there for people to start a career. 

When you read the press about you, there are always comparisons to artists like Courtney Barnett. Females, for some reason, seemingly have to be compared to other females – but for male artists the comparisons are not so plentiful. Do you think this is an example of a form of sexism?

I think it’s lazy! And also, why do people feel like that have to connect with artists by comparing them with something that has come beforehand? The reason that many of us do what we do, is because we are our own people, and we want to express ourselves in our own way. There are definitely some bands like Alex Turner from the Artic Monkeys, where he says I just want to be The Strokes! For me, to be honest, I don’t really give a shit what people say, because I don’t try to sound like anyone else. I definitely like to explore and be influenced by other artists, but I don’t try to be anyone but myself. 

In terms of your inspirations musically, you have said that you have diverse range of likes not just associated with one genre. What sort of music inspires you? Do you have a favourite artist or an artist that inspired you when you were younger?

My favourite band when I was a teenager were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I was like pretty inspired by Karen O. Even though my performance style is nothing like Karen’s. I really don’t have that in me. I was always very inspired and loved that band. I was looking for the references for this record, when I was doing a podcast the other week, and they wanted to go through a playlist that I made, so I gave them my reference playlist  – there was all different stuff in there, there was punk-rock, and one of the first posters on my wall was the Ramones. I was pretty much into that. I studied jazz for a very long time and that was a pretty huge influence – my favourite Australian album last year was the Emma Loiuse record that came out. There are all sorts of stuff that kind of comes through, that I love enjoying and indulging in. I just love music! And I have an increasing love for recording music, which is something which I have to do for the rest of my life. 

You have used Catherine Marks on this album. You seem to be getting greater control of your music and are ambitious. Do you think you will eventually produce yourself? 

I don’t know if I want to produce myself. By myself. I don’t know about that – maybe. If I happen to have a long enough career – like I hope – I suppose it would be fun to do one day. But it’s not like a goal for me to produce my own album. But definitely producing other artists is something I am interested in and I am looking at in the not too distant future. I like being to step out of Alex Lahey land every now and then and still be creative.

You are going to take on a new persona like Prince did!

<Laughs> I don’t know about that – more in the sense of roles. 

You are touring this album – both here in Australia and overseas – when you are overseas do you notice a difference in the crowd reception? A distinct vibe that maybe difference from region to region?

Yeah! It’s the same in Australia – where every city is different. And every city has its own culture, energy and vibrancy. So, I definitely feel that. I think it is interesting that the terminology people use overseas to describe what I do – for example, in the US they would call my music “pop-punk” – I feel like if you said that in Australia it would be the kiss of death! The other thing I find that is different overseas compared to here, this is like what every artist overseas notices – there are more diverse range of ages that go to gigs overseas for some reason. And I think that is actually really cool! And so, you get a melting pot kind of vibe in the crowd. Which is great!

There is more room in diversity in anything. I think that companies, events, etc, don’t have the diversity spread. And this something we all should be working on to make sure that everyone feels welcome wherever they go.

Do you see yourself ever relocating yourself away from Australia?

Yeah I do. I definitely hope that I do. Not because I think it is going to further my career, or you know that I am going to make it big – if I can make it there I can make it anywhere sort of thing. I think the reason why I want to do it, is because I am in my mid-twenties and what a better time to experience something like that. I want to live a full life, and I think that for me living abroad is something that I always wanted to do regardless of what career I was doing. Yes, I really hope so.

Do you have ideas on the direction of the third album? Is there anything in seed form now?

I am starting to think about it, yeah. I haven’t written any songs for what would be a third album yet. Because I needed a bit of a break. I have been writing songs for other projects though. But I am starting to think about it and sort of think about the things I would want to explore. It is an exciting time  – the genesis – the seed is there! I am excited to see how it grows. I am now familiar with that process – it is fucking awesome! <Laughs> It is so much fun!

I assume you have to live a bit between albums.

Yes, absolutely. You have to live a bit – and you just don’t owe that to the songs, you owe it to yourself. If your life was just in buses and planes and bandrooms, it becomes a bit monotonous and you don’t get much out of it. I have had  a really good six months off the road, and to the point that I am itching to get back on it. But I have also had some really fruitful experiences in that time as well.   

Alex Lahey’s second album is out on May 17. It exudes energy, catchy hooks and gives us a glimpse of a woman assured. A maturing talent that seems to be in it for the long haul – not for the fame – but for the buzz she gets in creating and expressing herself. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and we take interest in watching her career evolve.

Our recent review of Alex’s album can be read here:

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