Fortune favours Alex Lahey
“Fortune favours the prepared mind,” says Alex Lahey, quoting 19th century revolutionary scientist Louis Pasteur.
We’re seated at a table in the green room of the Triffid in Brisbane, surrounded by guitar cases and gear; bandmates and staff whizzing past – a sign of the transient life the 24-year-old Melburnian now leads.
The Pasteur quote, she explains, is a sage piece of advice from a friend’s father that has helped keep self-doubt in check at times when the path to success wasn’t terribly clear.
“It basically means, to me, from a songwriting perspective, if you write 10 shit songs, the good one’s coming soon. I’ve had that happen to me before. I’ve written a bunch of shit and then all of a sudden I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and record a voice memo. That’s how I wrote Let’s Go Out, which was a really significant song for me. He wasn’t wrong.”
It’s been a massive year for Lahey, whose lengthy list of achievements includes winning the Triple J Unearthed comp to play Splendour in the Grass, releasing debut EP B-Grade University, a glowing Pitchfork review, inking a publishing deal, performing at Bigsound, scoring a spot at SXSW, nominations for The Age Music Victoria Awards and National Live Music Awards, and embarking on her first national headline tour.
Oh, and that huge endorsement from Canadian indie stars Tegan and Sara. (We can thank Lahey for the fact that the duo are now familiar with the term ‘quokka selfie’ after she told them she was playing at Rottofest.)
— Alex Lahey (@AlexLahey) September 5, 2016
It’s not surprising, then, that Lahey has had to quit her day job.
“I was working in comms for a not-for-profit and it was the best job for someone doing what I do,” she says.
“The people were great. They were really supportive. But it got to the point where I was looking at my calendar and it was like, okay, I’m out of town Friday to Sunday every week and then I’m supposed to be working and potentially writing a record. Luckily I had a bit of savings and my mum was like, ‘Yeah, maybe you should do it,’ and I was like, ‘Alright. That’s the seal of approval. I’m out.’”
Plans are in place to record more music but what form that will take remains to be seen.
“Oscar Dawson – who’s my producer – and I are just really excited to go back into the studio. Whatever happens happens. If we come out with a really solid EP then we’ll put out an EP. If we come out with a single, then we’ll put out a single. If we come out with a double album then we’ll put out a double. We’re just excited to make music.”
If we come out with a single, then we’ll put out a single. If we come out with a double album then we’ll put out a double. We’re just excited to make music.
Lahey is remarkably cool-headed despite all the hype.
“I think that’s a good headspace for me to be in at the moment – just not having that pressure. I can definitely see how some people who maybe get a bit of buzz or whatever can just freak out and just have a blank page in front of them. So I’m just trying to be reasonable about the expectations on myself.”
Lahey’s music has captured the hearts of many because, well, it’s so damn relatable.
“Art is a reflection of life and I just write about what I know and things I’ve done and people that I’ve been involved with in various ways,” she says.
“I think that’s maybe why people can relate to it because they’re just normal people as well. We’re all just figuring it out. I just happen to write music about it.”
Although she insists she’s “not trying to be be relatable at all”, there’s a hint of something in Lahey’s music that’s stopping listeners in their tracks. She namechecks a few of her own influences, giving us a clue to what that something is – or might eventually be.
Exhibit A: Dolly Parton.
“At the time, this woman in country music, who people were second-guessing in the early 70s, would write songs about taking her toothbrush when she goes out because she’s determined to stay at someone else’s house. You know, that’s so brave and cool. I’m not saying I’ve done that, but it’s like, ‘Yeah, girl. I get it.’”
And on Courtney Barnett:
“I don’t know Courtney personally but I remember hearing her first EP when I was about 18 or 19. I hit play on Lance Jr and heard the line, ‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote,’ and I was just like, ‘You can say that in a song?’ That’s really brave.”
I hit play on Lance Jr and heard the line, ‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote,’ and I was just like, ‘You can say that in a song?’ That’s really brave.
“The songwriters I love and that really speak to me are really brave songwriters and I think that’s something to aspire to. I think I try to be brave in my songwriting as well.”
Lahey has released just one EP to date but music has been with her for a long time.
“I’m a saxophone player,” says Lahey.
“The sax is back,” Music Insight jokes.
“It never left,” she responds, deadpan.
“When I was 13 or 14 I started playing in big bands in high school. That was my first experience of playing in bands and I couldn’t get enough of it. I was like, ‘I just want to do this forever’. Three or four years ago I got really conscious of my own songwriting, wanting to be a better songwriter and understanding what it means to be a songwriter.”
So when it comes to songwriting, what’s the end goal?
“The songs that really speak to me or resonate with me are like songs that I come away from them almost learning something new about myself or seeing an interpretation of a situation that I’ve been involved in and learning about my experience of that in a different way, through someone else’s words,” Lahey says.
“I think that’s why people like Bruce Springsteen are so popular. He presents these situations that we all experience and you learn something about yourself from listening to them. So maybe one day I’ll write a song like that. I don’t know if I have or ever will. But I think the ultimate thing someone could take away from listening to my music is just being like, ‘Yeah, I get it.’ That’s the beauty of music to me. So if I can give that to someone else then I’ve done my job.”
Lahey is touring the country throughout October and November in support of her B-Grade University EP.