Alex Lahey: ‘I Didn't Connect With Those Rites Of Passage’

11 May 2023 | 12:02 pm | Mary Varvaris

"It's f*cking crazy to see how much vitriol is in the comments from people who aren't in the bubble.”

(Pic by Pooneh Ghana)

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“Living in a world that wasn’t made for you makes you pretty strong and adaptive, and you find the fun in it,” Alex Lahey said about her new album, The Answer Is Always Yes, upon announcing the record a few months ago.

She added, “It also makes you realise how absurd everything is. With The Answer Is Always Yes, I wanted to get weird because the world is weird and it’s even weirder when you realise you don’t fit into it all the time.”

This is the core concept that defines Lahey’s third album and first release since her pandemic-inspired 2020 EP, Between The Kitchen And The Living Room.

Everybody knows how it feels to be an outlier. It’s not fun; it’s often lonely and confusing, but also allows for building stronger relationships and beautiful kinships in our oddness. Lahey found her friendships within the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Answer Is Always Yes is packed with Lahey’s real-life experiences, observations and stories, soundtracked by journeys through post-punk, pop and indie-rock music. These are songs about identity and relationships and a feeling of not belonging – universal emotions no matter what’s happening in the music itself.

Lahey found inspiration in indie rock royalty, looking to songwriters such as Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley, The Postal Service) and Brad Hale (Now, Now). As a result, Lahey’s new album is distinguishable from her prior output, making it her most diverse and fascinating album yet.

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Lahey’s debut album, I Love You Like A Brother, and its 2019 follow-up, The Best Of Luck Club, take their focus from the lens of relationships, but with The Answer Is Always Yes, Lahey analyses her otherness through different lenses, from its isolating effect to the surrealism and humour that can be found.

Take Congratulations, which is about the strange experience of having two exes get married separately in a short time span. Or They Wouldn’t Let Me In, led by a propulsive post-punk bass line and a music video filmed in a Faulkner furniture store that resembles a Melbourne icon, Franco Cozzo. The latter track is about not seeing yourself as a queer person in media or in school, and the discombobulated feelings accompanying those formative experiences.

“I think it's a pretty universal experience, but the reasons differ – they vary from individual to individual,” Lahey says from Melbourne before heading overseas for a massive international tour.

“I remember growing up as a queer kid – I was very cognizant of my queerness when I was, you know, in kindergarten, and just coexisted with it,” Lahey adds. That was until she was a teenager and realised that she wasn’t sharing those common experiences with kids around her because she was different. “I remember not really thinking about it at all until I went on this tour a few years ago.”

Lahey was on tour in the UK in 2017 with a support band called Lazy Day, and the band leader, Tilly Scantlebury, has since finished her PHD in queer representation in art. “We were talking about our career experiences and identity, and I said, ‘I grew up gay,’” Lahey explains. “And Tilly was like, ‘Man, that’s such an interesting perspective to have.’ And I never thought of it like that.

“She asked me what that was like, and I was like, I never considered it to be something to reflect on. I never considered it as a lens to look back on my youth and growing up. When I did do that, I realised that a lot of feelings that I had at the time made sense.” Lahey remembered watching kids at high school going to parties and kissing boys, and “I didn't connect with that; I didn't connect with those rites of passage.”

However, Lahey found that the rites of passage that she did experience that at the time felt completely unique to her, were actually mirrored in the experiences of fellow queer kids. “Except that I didn’t know any of them,” she says, unable to share the formative experience of her secret first relationship.

“I couldn't share that with a lot of people when I was growing up, because they were having more conventional experiences,” Lahey continues. “And although I was never met with any sort of [hostility], I was always very open about my sexuality. I was never met with any difficulty about it, which is some sort of miracle. This was specifically in the late noughties; a lot has changed since then. There is still difficulty, but there was certainly more back then.”

Lahey notes that we – many in the creative industries – are in a “bubble,” and while it’s a lovely place to be in, it’s easy to forget that much of the outside world is outside the said bubble. “I was saying this to my managers today – we put out the song They Wouldn't Let Me In which explicitly talks about that and in the description that I wrote for the track, I said, ‘This is what it's about. It's about growing up queer and those things that I've mentioned.’

“And the label puts it on social media and boosted some post with the text in there, which is fine. That's what happens. But it's fucking crazy to see how much vitriol is in the comments from people who aren't in the bubble.”

The music video for They Wouldn’t Let Me In, filmed in Faulkner and inspired by Franco Cozzo stores, outlines Lahey’s wacky dance moves in a deliberate move to show a different side to the Every Day’s The Weekend singer.

Lahey admits, “To be honest, I really wanted to do a video clip where I danced. I had just watched Wednesday, which has that awesome dancing at the prom. I'm not a dancer by any means, but I have been really getting into the process of writing – doing the treatments for the video clips.

“I knew that I wanted to push myself a bit and try and learn how to dance. I had a friend of mine who's a great artist named Chela [Melbourne singer Chelsea Wheatley], and she is a dancer. I was like, ‘Can you choreograph some very simple moves for this song?’ And she did, and it was just a matter of figuring out where it would happen. Then this furniture store came up and I was like, ‘That feels really right to me.’”

Another thing that feels right to Lahey is the joyful Shit Talkin’. “Well, that whole song is inspired by a joke that my partner and I have where, if we go somewhere and see someone and observe a moment of like social awkwardness, or we see something that's not quite right, we’ll just go up to each other and say in very low volume, ‘We'll talk about in the car,’” Lahey laughs, calling those “we’ll talk about it in the car” inside jokes a “debrief” from the socialising.

Lahey clarifies, “It doesn't mean that you're bagging anyone or anything like that, you’re just unpacking. It's always a thing. Part of a social interaction is unpacking it afterwards – but then because you know that you do it, you get worried about what other people are saying about you when they inevitably [do it too]. It’s this vicious feedback loop of social anxiety.”

It’s part of being human, Lahey says, recalling a podcast she heard that focused on gossip [“I hate that I just said that!”] and how the episode stated that the practice of gossip is about “human survival”.

“It's something that we've evolved to do,” she explains. “But it's still a relatively primitive characteristic of being human. I think that gossip – the gossip from when we were in high school was considered bullying. I think that if you start rumours about people or spread information that was told to you in confidence, that's not cool. But the concept of gossip specifically, which is sharing observations about something, I feel like that's a part social interaction in a way.”

Back when The Best Of Luck Club came out, there was a song on that album that at the time, was Lahey’s coolest song to date. Misery Guts, a punk rock banger, opened a whole new world for Alex Lahey, expanding her fanbase to anyone who owned the 2020 reissue of Tony Hawk: Pro Skater 1 & 2.

She’s on the game soundtrack alongside Anthrax & Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, Bad Religion, Millencolin, Baker Boy, The Ataris and many more. “Oh, my God. My brother and I grew up on Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2,” Lahey shares. “I remember finding out when the game was being developed and we had to approve it. We couldn't tell anyone – it had a code name. It was very under wraps.

“If you're not like into it [Pro Skater], it would seem really over the top,” she continues, “But as someone who was into it, I was so into buying the whole drama of it all. It’s one of the proudest moments of my career. I feel like I'm in a special group of bands and artists who are a part of that. The canon of Tony Hawk: Pro Skater, which is pretty sweet.”

The Answer Is Always Yes will be released on Friday, 19 May, via Liberation Records. You can pre-order the album here.