Interview: Alex Lahey
Alex Lahey was nominated for Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2018 ARIAs, after her debut studio album I Love You Like A Brother reached the number 15 spot on the Album Charts.
The Melbourne-local is following up her phenomenal success with her next studio album, The Best of Luck Club, which is described as an experience “where there’s no dress code and you can check in any time you like.”
Ahead of her album’s release, Alex gave us a large chunk of her precious time to chat the touring lifestyle, collaborating with her producer Catherine Marks, The Simpsons, expanding her artistry and more.
Hey Alex, how are you? Where are you right now?
I’m good, thanks! I’m in central-west New South Wales at the moment funnily enough, but having a nice time.
Middle of nowhere! So, let’s talk your upcoming sophomore album, The Best of Luck Club, which is out May 17th. You smashed it out of the park with your debut album, peaking at #15 spot on the ARIA Album Charts, and now you have to follow that up! Is that nerve-wracking?
Not anymore because I’ve made the album. I feel like the scariest part of all of that is just making the thing, and that part of the process is long behind me now, because we made the record in October last year which is a while ago. I think in a way I had a pretty nice time making a second record, like I didn’t get too hung up on that. And, I wonder if the sophomore pressure comes from existing fans of the project and they’re like, “Oh I like this, I hope they… you know, I’m worried they’re going to f**k it up this time!” So, the more I think about it, I think the sophomore fear comes from people who love the music.
So that’s been an interesting thing to consider but, you know, I feel like I went into the studio and the album process treating it like a clean slate and making the record that I want to make – what I wanted to make at that particular time – and I think that I’ve done that for myself and I hope other people enjoy listening to it too.
For sure, and you recorded a fair chuck of it in Nashville – tell me about the influence of the scene there.
Yeah parts of it were recorded in Nashville by default. A lot of the takes I did on the demos when I wrote the songs have been lifted in and put in to the final product that everyone hears now which is cool. It gave me an incredible confidence boost as someone who’s becoming increasingly interested in producing and engineering and that kind of thing. So with Nashville, I wrote a big chunk of the record there and because of that, all the demos I made there, there’s a lot of stuff that I recorded that is now in the album.
Okay so it’s got some pretty raw aspects to it then.
It’s funny because a lot of the recordings in the record are so… raw is a good word I suppose, because, for example, all of the vocal takes on the record, except for “Misery Guts”, are the demo vocals which means up to know, it’s the first and only time that those songs were ever sung which is kind of interesting. So, it’s almost like they’re in their purest form.
That’s pretty special. And “Misery Guts” – while we’re chatting about it – that song’s pretty angsty for you I found when I was listening to it! Where did that one come from?
It’s a pretty angry song, huh. I sort of wrote it in the middle of last year. Well, the riff of “Misery Guts” I’d had for years and it’s one of the few things I’d had sitting there and didn’t…
Well usually when I write a riff of a lyric or something, I use it pretty immediately, but for some reason the “Misery Guts” riff, I had it for so long sitting in my iPhone on my Voice Memos and just kind of didn’t know where to put it, but knew that it was something I wanted to explore.
In the middle of last year, I had a bit of a hard time. I’m sort of the type of person who finds their boundaries by touching them. My mum has this phrase that’s like, “Some people need to touch the fire to know why it’s hot.” Like you can get told and told and told like, “don’t touch the fire because it’s hot,” but there are some people who need to touch it in order to know that.
Yeah, you need to make the mistake to learn from it.
Yeah, and I’m a diligent person in that way, but when it comes to work and when I love my job as much as I do, I will just keep pushing and pushing and pushing until I’ve had enough and can struggle to stop before then and “Misery Guts” was written when I’d had enough.
I was just tired. I was tired of touring and I was tired of the rhythm that I’d found in my job and in this thing that I love and among people I love. It makes you so angsty when you love something so much and it gets to the point where it just pisses you off and it’s all down to yourself. Like it’s a very complex kind of relationship, but that’s sort of what that song was about.
That’s a hard one to navigate and jumping ahead, you’ve got a couple of tours coming up back-to-back very soon, so maybe we’ll get another “Misery Guts” straight out of that.
I think one of the beautiful things and also the challenges of being a musician is that no one gets it right. There’s not one person who’s like, “Oh, I’ve figured out how to tour! I’ve figured it out!” If that was the case, you’d stop doing it. If you’d “won” music, then why would you do it? That’s the reason why we keep doing it for the rest of our lives. So, I think it’s like a constant balance, it’s a constant search for balance. I think there’s always going to be challenges along the way.
And it’s not a cookie-cutter path like, for example, you go to medical school, you graduate and be a doctor. There’s no set way to do any creative industry career so navigating it always comes with dark periods of the unknown and instability and things like that.
Getting back to the creation, so you took it back to Melbourne to work with your co-producer Catherine Marks who’s worked with the likes of The Wombats and Wolf Alice. What was that experience like? Had you worked with her before?
No, we hadn’t worked together before – we’d had coffee together before… So, the way that that all worked out is that I’m… People always ask, “How did you and Catherine meet?” and the story is that I was, and am even more now, a huge fan of Catherine and her catalogue. I’d heard about her a while ago as this enigma as, “Oh there’s this chick who grew up in Camberwell in Melbourne and is now engineering Foals records and stuff,” and I’m like, “Who the f**k is this person? I’ve never heard of her!”
Then, a couple of years ago, I got really into this record by a British band called The Big Moon and I went and researched it and looked at who produced it and it turned out it was this person, Catherine Marks, and upon Googling her further, I discovered that this was, in fact, this woman who was from Melbourne who’s now producing records in the UK and did a deep-dive into her catalogue and absolutely loved the way that she produces.
You actually can’t tell what record is a Catherine Marks record because she’s so artist-focused and she can kind of like leave… she leaves her ego at the door and can fit into any project that she is asked to be a part of. So I asked my manger to get in touch with her people because I felt like she’d be a good fit for this record I was starting to write and it turned out she was in town for a wedding or something and we had a coffee and I opened up a bunch of my demos and flat out said to her, “I think we could make a really great record together. Would you like to do it with me?”
And yeah, it all worked out and I was under the impression we’d go to London to do it, but then she was like, “Oh you know what, I wouldn’t mind a month at home with the family. Is that okay?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” So, it was just her and I in the studio the entire time, making this record. It was literally just two chicks, in a studio, making an album for four weeks and I love Catherine dearly. She’s a friend for life and I think we both feel that we made one of many records that we could potentially make together. She’s a genius.
So, there’s more work to come! What a sweet collaboration team. And that’s another thing – a female producer as well. I don’t know if it’s just my ignorance, but you never some across that sort of duo anymore and it’s really nice to see.
Yeah, the way we look at it is like, yeah, we’re two women making a record, but I don’t think that that’s like… We don’t want to own that. We’ve obviously spoken about it a lot and we feel that this record, and her and I working together, isn’t about two women working together, because we don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t then do that themselves.
Two women working together isn’t exclusive to Alex and Catherine – anyone can do it, and anyone should do it and we don’t want to make it a part of the story because we don’t want to own it and claim ownership of it. It’s just a normal thing that should be happening all the time. But we are very proud of ourselves and I think it’s cultivated a really wonderful relationship both creatively and just as mates.
On your Twitter, I saw that you teased that the album has an ‘Yvan eht nioj’ moment from The Simpsons – are we going to have to listen to this album backwards for a secret message?
If you do, that’s the first I’ve known about it! Nah, that was just a bit of a joke. I was sitting on this – I’m sitting in on an album recording at the moment for another artist – and there was some point where there was a big delay moment in the recording and I was like, “Oh my god, you have to do the ‘Yvan eht nioj’ thing!” and everyone was like, “What?” and then I tweeted that. I was like, “I’m going to do ‘Yvan eht nioj’!”
Not going to lie, I did have to Google it, then I was like, “Oh, I remember this episode!”
It’s a deep Simpsons reference.
Deep, man. Are there any Easter eggs in your album or pretty straight ahead?
I feel like sonically there are some certain things in there that are pretty close to me. The vocal thing I think is one of those things that I mentioned before. There are a few weird things about the record, so that’s one of them. The other is that I played everything on it except for the drums which is kind of strange, because it sounds like a band, but it’s not.
That’s so impressive!
Yeah, it’s kind of weird… And then I feel like another one, there’s sort of these characters that come in and out of the record. One of them is this old guitar that my uncle has left me and it’s sort of this 12-string unusual guitar and it’s kind of beyond me how he came to get it because he doesn’t play the guitar himself and the person he bought it off doesn’t play guitar. And now it’s ended up with me and it’s this mint condition vintage guitar that hasn’t been used and that’s on the record quite a lot which is a nice personal touch but also something a bit different.
Almost like an heirloom that’s made its way through your music. Is there a song on the album you’re most excited for fans to hear?
Look, track one, “I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore” was written as a first track and so I’m excited to see if… There are so many records out there that you put on and you expect it to be something and then it turns out to be something else and I hope that this will have that effect on people who put on this record for the first time and it’s just like, “Oh shit! This is not what I expected!”
And that one has some sweet guitar as well. I’ve listened to the album and as a starting song, it really launches you straight in, I really enjoy it.
So, you’re heading off to the UK in a matter of weeks, then back here for an Australian tour and then over to North America to spread the love there! You’ve got a very busy couple of months coming up and I guess you’ll be living out the message of “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself”, right? The stresses of touring?
It’s funny, coming out of the last touring cycle, I came out feeling like what happens to a lot of people. You know you finish a long stint of touring sort of thinking “how can I make myself excited by this again?” after spending so much time away from family and not being able to go into a studio and make another record in that time and that sort of thing. You think, “How am I going to get excited about this again and give myself over to it?”
But, I think just with time, I can’t wait now! I’m just so excited to get on the road, I’m so excited to take these songs with me. I’ve expanded my band which I’m so excited about. I can’t wait and I think that the “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” message, I suppose maybe I should remind myself of that every now and then. But you know, I love the challenges of touring, I love how much self-awareness it gives me and awareness of others and meeting new people and having these super f**king weird experiences that come with it that you wouldn’t have anywhere else. It’s a very one-of-a-kind experience and I can so confidently say I am so excited to get back on the road.
And I guess it’s cyclical as well – you tour, then you create your next album and while you’re in one phase, you’re dreaming about the next.
Yeah it’s all part of it, I think you’re right. It’s all a part of the vibe. You need to have a push/pull relationship with it or it’s not going to work.
Exactly, and no one likes monotony either, so it spices up your life.
Is there anything else brimming on the horizon? Or after that are you just going to take a bit of a rest and put your feet up?
Just keep touring, man. At this stage, I’m just going to keep going and keep going until the next record is done and we do it all again. At this stage, I have no desire to stop or slow down. If anything, I want to speed up. But I also want to expand myself into different parts and myself as an individual, as an artist. I feel like the Alex Lahey Project is one slice of me that I have to give, and I feel that the time to explore outside of that is here.
So, I’m excited to delve into other projects and do some different things and find other identities within my own creativity. It sounds a bit “hocus pocus”, but I think it’s important to not find yourself siloed into this one perception of yourself and I think one of the challenges of having a project that is your name and is so personal is that you do run the risk of just getting locked in there and getting stuck. So, I’m looking at different ways to express myself and put on different hats and play different characters and different roles and fulfilling those things. So, my project as Alex Lahey is like itself as possible and not trying to be too many things at once.
So, would that expand outside of music? Would it get into some sort of visuals area?
I feel pretty connected to music. I think it would take more of a form of… I’ve been doing heaps of co-writing lately which has been a big part of developing at this stage and working with different artists as well is something that I’m really enjoying exploring. So it’s that sort of stuff I’m talking about more than an alternative medium.
Cool, coming from my point of view, I’d love to see some more saxophone – maybe a whole EP of solos. Put on that hat and have an alter-ego of a suave sax player. Bring back the sax solos!
Noted! Done. Thanks, man, I actually dig it. It’s nice.
Well Alex, I’ll leave you to get back to this recording session with your pals but thank you so much for chatting with me and hopefully I’ll catch you on your Australian tour.
It’s a pleasure, thanks for giving me a buzz and I’ll see you there hopefully. You’ll know where I’ll be.
And Alex, Best of Luck, I guess.
Oh, thank you!
The Best of Luck Club is released May 17th via Caroline Australia. To pre-order the album head HERE. To catch Alex Lahey on her Australian tour (dates below), head to the Handsome Tours’ website for tickets and more information.
UK fans can head HERE for more information about the UK tour which kicks off next week in Brighton.
The Best Of Luck Club Tour 2019 Australian Dates
June 6 | Adelaide | The Gov
June 7 | Perth | Rock Rover
June 13 | Brisbane | The Tivoli
June 14 | Canberra | The Basement
June 15 | Sydney | Metro Theatre
June 22 | Melbourne | Forum Melbourne (18+)
June 23 | Melbourne | Northcote Social Club (U18)
This article was originally published in the AU review.