ANCHR Magazine

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A Chat With: Alex Lahey

Last week we chatted with Australian rocker Alex Lahey, known for her infectious indie sound and relatable, narrative style lyrics. Currently on tour promoting her debut EP B Grade University, Alex has just wrapped up supporting Tegan and Sara int the UK. Soon she'll be heading over to America for her first tour over here, including a stop at Schubas Tavern in Chicago on Monday, March 20th. Before the start of her tour, we chatted with the down-to-earth singer-songwriter about her touring, SXSW festival, long haul flights, David Lynch films and more. Don't miss our chat with Alex Lahey...

The authentic Aussie, Alex Lahey (say that 5 times fast)  Photo Credit: Kane Hibberd

The authentic Aussie, Alex Lahey (say that 5 times fast)

Photo Credit: Kane Hibberd

ANCHR Magazine: I know you just recently toured Europe with Tegan and Sara, so how was that tour? Do you have any crazy stories from it?

Alex Lahey: Yeah, I mean it was short. But sweet. We were only on the ground for about 8 days I think. So very brief, but it was so much fun. Nothing really crazy kind of happened. We only came at the end of it, but they’d been on tour for three weeks. So they were already kind of over it...not over it, but like they were sort of in the rhythm of it and we got there like “Awesome!” while everyone else was just business as usual. It was still amazing. I think the craziest thing for me is that Tegan and Sara are world class, but like their drummer plays for Shakira, the keyboard player plays for No Doubt and Gwen Stefani, and their bass player plays for like Jordan Sparks and Sean Paul. Their production manager just came off tour with Rihanna, like she’s like “Rihanna is just such a sweet girl” and we’re just like what the hell? You know? It’s all this stuff, this weird world that you don’t actually think exists, but you know, it does. And so that’s probably the craziest thing that came out of it for me.  Apart from that, it was pretty...I think for us we were very much deer in headlights. We were taking it all in stride. We were trying to stay healthy and me in particular looking after my voice. When you’re doing four shows in a row sort of thing, like that’s something we don’t really do in Australia. Touring like that doesn’t really happen there. You sort of just tour on the weekends and you’re at home during the week. Whereas in Europe and the US because there are so many people and so many places to play, you tour through the week, and there’s always people there to see you. So that was sort of an adjustment for me in the way I manage myself in a way that was more sustainable. Which basically meant I just had to drink less. And sleep more.

AM: So that was actually your first time playing playing out of Australia, right? Then you’re coming to the States...are you here already?

Alex Lahey: No, not yet I fly out next Friday

AM: Cool, so what are you most excited to see while you’re over here? Any cities in particular that you’re looking forward to playing?

Alex Lahey: I mean SXSW is like a pilgrimage.  So that’ll be pretty special I think. It sort of seems like one of those things- have you been before, to South By?

AM: I have not and I keep meaning to go, but it’s such a long festival and getting the time to go-

Alex Lahey: Where do you live?

AM: Chicago!

Alex Lahey: Yeah, so you’ve probably heard some stories that it’s sort of like you go there and you have a schedule of things to do and you go there and all this other stuff happens. Like you just don’t know what to expect. I think that’s gonna be really fun. I’m really excited to play... Playing in New York is just a bucket list sort of thing. Playing in London is as well. I’m really excited to actually come to Chicago, I’ve never been there before. Yeah I think it’s gonna be really cold, but it’ll be fun. My mom’s actually going to be there! She’s scheduled in a holiday around the tour. So she’s going to be at the Chicago show and the New York show. One place I really want to play at, which isn’t on this tour, but hopefully will be on future tours, is Nashville. I’m a big fan of country music.  I would love to go and let alone play, so that’d be really fun.

AM: Oh yeah so you haven’t been there at all? It’s very cool, so much to do there!

Alex Lahey: Yeah I’d really love to. I got super obsessed with that show Nashville. It’s like a guilty pleasure...everyone’s like [whispering] “do you watch Nashville?”

AM: Yeah for sure.  So talking more about SXSW, are there any artists that you’re hoping to catch? I know it’s always crazy and things will change, but is there anyone you saw that’s showcasing that you’re a fan of?

Alex Lahey: Yeah to be honest I haven’t really looked into it all that much. I know that there’s a lot of my friends coming from Australia to showcase.  To be honest I haven’t really explored it all that much. I’m kind of looking forward to just letting it happen, but at the same time it sounds like you need to be pretty organized. So maybe that’s something I’ll do when I get off this call is just go through everything. Have you got any hot tips?

AM: Yeah I just made a playlist for ANCHR for some bands playing...there’s a couple bands from Chicago called NE-HI and then Post Animal. They’re really cool, check them out if you can!

Alex Lahey: Yeah cool. I just saw a poster of a gig, I think BANKS was on it and Sleigh Bells-

AM: Yeah I just saw that today! BANKS is really good live, have you seen her?

Alex Lahey: I haven’t, but she’s pretty popular in Australia. I’ll definitely try to catch her. Sleigh Bells are definitely a band that I grew up with.  I mean it just seems to be spoiled for choice really. That’s a good point though, I need to make the most of it. I’ve just been worried about playing and that sort of thing, but I should just be more in the moment and enjoy it a bit more probably!

AM: I saw you recently also announced an Australian tour. The flight between The States and your home is pretty huge, so how do you stay entertained on those long haul flights without losing your mind?

Alex Lahey: Well actually--I’m not too bad with long flights. The thing that I love about it is that in a job where there’s always stuff going on, when you’re on one of those long haul flights, you can just be like I’m supposed sit here and let people feed me and watch movies for the next 25 hours to London. And like that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. So just allowing yourself to do that is actually really nice. So I think having an attitude like that is important...taking advantages of the movies for sure. Maybe bringing a book.  As for jetlag, I don’t really have any tips. I think you just need to struggle through it. I was actually just talking to Tegan and Sara about the jetlag thing. I was like does it ever get any easier?  They were like, "you just learn how to manage it.”  It’s literally like, I think Sara said jetlag is literally your body thinking it’s asleep when you’re supposed to be awake. You know, you feel nauseous, you can’t shit, you don’t wanna eat. And you wanna go to sleep, but you can’t sleep and it’s like fuck, you just have to deal with it. I think just sort of trying to manage that a bit better is something I’m currently exploring. We’ve only done it once before so bring on round 2!

AM: So talking about movies, you brought it up that you like to watch them on flights...I really like your video for “Wes Anderson” and obviously you have the nod to Mulholland Drive in “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me,” so I’m guessing you’re really into movies then?

Alex Lahey: I’m actually not hugely into movies. I get a lot out of watching them, but I don’t watch enough or that many. I went through a phase a couple of weeks ago where I was plowing through a few movies. I find that for some reason when I watch movies I start making notes and things that find themselves into songs. A movie that I watched recently that I was writing a lot of notes was Reality Bites. I’ve never seen that before. You know the old Winona Ryder one? I just thought it was really interesting. It’s the first movie that I’ve seen ever, that actually had a sharehouse in it. That’s what sharehouses are like, people are in and know, everyone sort of  knows each other and has this weird relationship. I just thought that was really interesting, but I don’t watch a lot of films. You know, I’ve never seen Mulholland Drive. I’ve never actually seen it. It’s really funny, a family friend gave me a copy of it when the song kind of broke on radio on Australia. So I was like maybe I’ll actually finally watch it, and I put the DVD in the DVD player, and it turned out to be a wrong region code so I couldn’t actually watch it. I’m like maybe I’m never supposed to actually watch this movie. 

AM:That’s so funny, I’m a huge David Lynch fan... Have you seen any other Lynch films?

Alex Lahey: I don’t think so. It was really funny I was talking to my friend the other day and I made a reference to Twin Peaks. She was like “Have you actually seen Twin Peaks?” I have not... I know enough about it and the aesthetic is so iconic.  David Lynch’s and Wes Anderson’s’s synonymous with the name. I’ve never actually engaged in much David Lynch stuff and I know what it is. I’m not a huge a movie buff...I definitely enjoy watching movies, but I definitely haven’t seen any that have the Oscar nominations or anything like that. I do love going back and watching old shit and I love watching documentaries as well. That’s what I gravitate towards.  

AM: Very cool! Do you have an all-time favorite movie? Or a couple? I know picking a favorite is always the hardest!

Alex Lahey: I love Shawshank Redemption, [it’s] one I tend to come back to.  I think that’s a really good film. There’s an Australian movie called Muriel's Wedding, which is like a classic. It’s a very early Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths film.  Back when they were super young, and it’s just this incredible depiction of your lowest socioeconomic Australian culture. The story and the friendship that takes place, which is this beautiful, beautiful friendship which takes place between these two the core of it is a mutual love for ABBA. So there’s a lot of ABBA in it. I was reading this really interesting piece by Clementine Ford, who’s a writer in Australia and she was saying that the film Muriel's Wedding is a real centerpiece for feminist conversation because the nature of the friendship between these two women is so strong and they never hold being a woman against each other.  It was a really weird sort of reading into this film. Which is hilarious. And Clementine Ford is like actually it’s a feminist masterpiece. I thought that was really cool. I actually tend to watch more TV shows to be honest. Like I love Broad City.  I love, I grew up on The Simpsons. I love Seinfeld.  What else? The OC shaped me as a teenager. I love all that shit. Funnily enough when I was on the plane I actually watched the entire season 1 of Westworld.  It was pretty good! I think I actually watch more TV shows than movies, but I love film as an art form. I love what I can get out of film as a songwriter.

AM: Yeah, so speaking more about your songwriting, I love the sort of subtle humor and the realness and relatable lyrics that you have. So do you have any sort of songwriting habits or rituals? Or does it just kind of flow out whenever?

Alex Lahey: It’s actually been really difficult lately because of the touring demands to sit down and find time to write. Writing was always one of those things I just sort of did for fun, and it wasn’t one of those things like making time to do it. It was like I’m just hanging out at home, I’m gonna write a song. It’s happening less and less now because touring schedules and demands, which is a good problem to have.  But I definitely, I think most songwriters have the iPhone notes, snippets of stuff here and there.  That’s definitely something that I do. I guess writing collaboratively is something that I’m starting to play around with. Not necessarily for my own project, but just for fun.  I generally write on the computer. I write through Logic and I usually write entire arrangements. Funnily enough I usually tend to start with the drum beat, rather than the melody. That’s sort of the way I do it. Also just listening to good music. I think listening to good music is a skill in itself in certain ways. You know learning from other people is a humbling experience, and you do need to allow yourself to do it. I really enjoy it. If I really love a song by someone else, then the first thing I do is go and learn how to play it.  Because then you sort of understand it more.  That’s probably something that has seeped into my writing.

AM: That’s so cool, so are there any bands specifically that you’re listening to at the moment?

Alex Lahey: I’ve been listening to the new Marika Hackman song. She’s a singer songwriter from the UK and she just released a song called “Boyfriend.” Which is really, really cool. The film clip for it is awesome, and this great British band called The Big Moon actually back her on it. They’re really cool, they’re four girls from London. Big Moon is sick. Really cool, really great musicians. Awesome songs, really cool tones. Marika has got them backing her and the song’s really cool cause it’s… I remember I read this Pitchfork review of it. It said “Marika Hackman is out to steal your boyfriend,” but the song’s actually about hooking up with a girl who has a boyfriend.  So I was like wow, that’s an interesting take on it considering it’s so blatantly not that. I’ve actually been going back into some Tegan and Sara back catalog since doing that tour...listening to the So Jealous album and The Con and all that sort of stuff. There’s just some amazing songs on there. There’s an awesome band in Australia called Camp Cope, who are mates of mine. Georgia, who fronts it, writes amazing songs about cutting your hair or 911 conspiracies theories. You know, just the weirdest stuff, but she does it so poetically and beautifully. And so simply. I think that that’s a real art. Umm my girlfriend and I have been listening to a band called MUNA lately.

AM: Oh I love them!

Alex Lahey: Yeah which is really cool. My girlfriend is like these guys are like, there’s like this full on like HAIM and Prince thing going on, but it’s really ballsy and we’ve been listening to their record a lot. Umm and Margaret Glaspy, she’s awesome.  She’s really sick. Julien Baker is a friend of mine, who writes beautiful music.  The thing I love about Julien is she does something that I don’t, but that I probably wouldn’t...she does something with her music that I’m not really able to do with the way that I write my songs and the way that I express myself, but I connect with her songs so much. Which I think is like a really beautiful thing to have, especially as an artist.  When you really connect with something that maybe actually isn’t necessarily what you would do yourself. Julia Jacklin is also a really great Australian artist who I love. I’ve just realized I’ve just named all these shit hot women who are just like killing it, which is awesome. Which is great. That makes me feel really cool.

AM: Yeah these all really good bands! Last question, your EP came out last year. What has been the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do since it came out? Like a TV appearance or a show that you’ve played.

Alex Lahey: Oh, that’s a good question. So when the song ["You Don't Think You Like People Like Me"] broke on radio and just as the EP was about to come out, I won a competition to play Splendour on the Grass, which is like the biggest festival in Australia. It’s like 30,000 people, which is nothing compared to some of the festivals around the world, but in Australia it’s massive. Anyways I was really lucky and I got invited to open the main stage on the first day and it was incredible, so much fun. When I was at Splendour in the Grass, I met Tegan and Sara cause they were on the line up. We just met and they had no idea who I was. I was just a kid who went up and said thanks for teaching me how to play guitar through your records and I’m here now because of you guys, like I wouldn’t have learned guitar or how to write songs if I didn’t learn through listening to your stuff. And it was just this full circle thing. From there, they were like cool thanks and asked me to support them in the UK. I think that’s a really interesting and weird thing. I think it goes to show you just don’t know where one thing is gonna lead. I think that’s the most exciting thing about this job.  It just reminds you to always be grateful and kind and give people time. It’s something I’ll never forget.

Chicago, definitely go see Alex perform at Schubas in two weeks. It's guaranteed to be a night of great tunes and good vibes.  If you're going to SXSW, also check her out! See Alex's full tour schedule here, and stream B Grade University here.