It was only a few weeks backed we tipped Melbourne’s Alex Lahey for big things in 2017, but already she’s coming good on that promise. Hot off the heels of her biggest UK dates so far, supporting Tegan & Sara, Alex has gone on to become the darling of SXSW, earning rave reviews and even a high-profile session for Steve Lamacq on 6 Music.
All completely deserved of course for the Dead Oceans signed songwriter, whose debut EP B-Grade University is one of the years most exciting releases. Last week, ahead of her slots at SXSW, Alex took some time out to answer our questions, tackling subjects including the rise of Australian musicians, bespectacled drummers and listening to a lot of Dolly Parton.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Alex Lahey?
Alex Lahey is a twenty-something year old songwriter from Melbourne, Australia who is currently typing up answers to interview questions while tucked in to her hotel bed in Austin, TX.
FTR: You’ve just released your EP, B-Grade University, what can you tell us about recording it?
I recorded this record around the end of 2015 with my friend and producer Oscar Dawson. After writing and demoing all the songs at my mum’s house, I took them to Oscar and we properly recorded the EP in his small studio in Abbotsford, Melbourne.
FTR: You take in a lot of styles on one EP, do you think it’s important to be versatile as a musician?
I think it’s just important to be yourself – if that means being/seeming versatile, then so be it. If you have a small bag of tricks you’ve perfected and like to stick too, then that’s cool too!
FTR: You’ve said a lot of the songs are about your time at University, what was it you didn’t enjoy about University life?
All of the songs on the EP are about experiences that I had during my university years, but not necessarily about uni. They’re just about someone in their early-20’s sorting their shit out. That said, I didn’t have the best time at uni, but I think that’s because I chose the wrong course (I ironically dropped out of a music degree and finished with and Bachelor of Arts).
FTR: Do you still play the saxophone?
Every now and then! I definitely don’t work on my chops as I used to, but every now and then I get a call to do a session or play a couple of songs at a gig with some friends. I always jump at the chance!
FTR: We’ve seen your songs described as being about, “millennial problems”, do you think that’s fair? Do you think people are too dismissive of the challenges facing younger people?
Well, I guess “millennial problems” are the problems of the world now – we’re a generation that is creating change. I think the challenges facing younger people are being acknowledged but not addressed – things like unemployment, debt, mental health and identity in all its forms.
FTR: There seems to be a lot of yourself in your lyrics, do you find it easy to write about personal issues?
I feel that’s the only thing I’m able to write about – in fact, I would find it hard to write about something that wasn’t personal to me.
FTR: There seem to be loads of great musicians coming out of Australia at the minute, Courtney Barnett, Julia Jacklin, The Goon Sax, what do you think has caused so many bands to emerge?
I think there have always been great bands in Australia, but there definitely seems to be a more focussed eye on what’s coming out of Australia from other countries now more than ever. There could be a few reasons for that – the internet, US and UK labels investing more in overseas artists – whatever it is, I just think it’s awesome that Australian acts like the ones you’ve named are getting the attention they deserve!
FTR: You’ve just signed with Dead Oceans, how did that come about? Do you think labels are still important?
I have and I am very excited about it! Dead Oceans came into the picture around the time Pitchfork covered my song, ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me’, along with a couple of other labels. After chatting to many people about the future of my releases, I decided to partner up with Dead Oceans due to their commitment to their artists and belief in their creative process. I think labels have their place in the ecosystem of the music world, it’s just about how you position them in your own set up. For me, I’m a proudly independent artist in my home territory of Aus/NZ, but I’m also really privileged to have the support of a label in making my music available to people outside of that area.
FTR: Who are your musical influences? What were you listening to when you wrote B-Grade University?
My musical influences are many and varied! To speak specifically to the B-Grade University process, I was listening to a lot of Haim, Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton, Mac DeMarco, Best Coast and heaps more.
FTR: What about influences outside of music? Do you have other outputs for your creativity beyond music?
Not really, to be honest. I love reading, watching tv shows and having really focussed listening time to other music. I’m a budding record collector – it’s not good for the bank, let me tell you…
FTR: You’ve just finished a UK tour with Tegan & Sara, how was it playing such huge venues?
It was such an amazing opportunity to travel to the other side of the world with my music for the first time and be playing to at least 1,500 people every night. I’m so grateful to Tegan and Sara for the opportunity and can’t wait to hopefully pass something like that on to a young artist when I’m further along in my career.
FTR: What can people expect from the Alex Lahey live show?
Distortion pedals, lots of chit chat, a girl in shorts and a bespectacled drummer.
FTR: Do you enjoy touring? Or are you happier in the recording studio?
It depends on what the major projects/deadlines are at the given time. Right now, I’m so happy to be on the road – it’s my first time in the US playing gigs and the fact that I’m at SXSW right now is a dream come true! That said, I’m going to be really stoked to be home because that means jumping into the studio to finish my album. I consider myself lucky to feel positive about all the processes involved in this job. Except doing my taxes. I hate that.
FTR: We’ve really enjoyed your videos from the EP. Do you enjoy the aspects of being in a band outside of music? Photo-shoots, videos, interviews etc?
I enjoy interviews because they give me a chance to sit back and nerd out for a bit! To be honest, I really don’t like being in front of the camera, which is probably why my videos are super playful and tongue in cheek – it’s my way of relaxing while standing in front of the lens.
FTR: What are your aspirations for your music? How would you define success?
Big questions! I think my overall aspiration is to write songs that fulfil me and allow me to have an outlet for my feelings and memories. I would define success as having a balanced life that always makes you happy
FTR: What’s next for Alex Lahey?
Surviving SXSW and the rest of my US tour, finishing my album, more touring, learning how to cook, buying more records and guitar pedals, and reading this Murakami novel my bass player lent me.
B-Grade University is out now via Dead Oceans. Click HERE for more information on Alex Lahey, and all upcoming tour dates.