It doesn't feel like Alex Lahey has only been around for three years.
Her musical mumblecore—stories of apathy and ambition, weird crushes and sticky social situations —struck a chord with listeners from the moment she released "Air Mail," her first single way back in 2015, and from there, the amount of acclaim she's received has been staggering: Best New Track on Pitchfork, triple j Unearthed’s J Award, and the Levi’s Music Prize, as well as sold out national tours for her debut album I Love You Like a Brother and a slot performing on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Having audiences all over the world has revealed to Lahey the ways that genres become blurred and indiscrete, depending on where you are. At home, she notices herself being described as a “Melbourne rocker”; in the UK, her sound is characterised as “grungy,” In the US, where she toured extensively at both ends of 2017, she receives her most beloved label: pop-punk. “I feel really connected to that! I just went and saw Paramore the other night, I love that shit,” she says—despite the fact that it would be “the kiss of death” for an independent artist in Australia.
“It’s just so funny that here you would never fucking put “pop-punk” on a press release, but there are so many bands in Melbourne that I would classify as that: Ceres is pop-punk. Even Smith Street Band—all these bands that are classified as punk bands, I would say are actually pop-punk as well. Which is awesome.”
Before she heads off on a UK tour in March to become grungy again, Lahey is releasing a video for "I Love You Like A Brother," the title track from her debut. The rollicking, punchy track chronicles her relationship with her brother, and she describes it as “a pretty classic narrative of brothers and sisters”, one that traces the way that the shaky relationships between teenage siblings suddenly transform into friendships with a shared history. “As you cross the border of adolescence into young adulthood, the shape of relationships change.”
To accompany the video for “I Love You Like a Brother”, which we're premiering below, we spoke to Lahey about siblings, self-awareness, and Australia's postal plebiscite.
Noisey: It’s been a while now since you wrote and recorded this song—what prompted you, at the time, to write a song about your brother?
Alex Lahey: I feel like there are a few songs or ideas for songs that I have in my head that I want to do at some point in my, like, career or my creative life. And writing a song about my brother has been one for a long time. But I feel that with a lot of those topics—you know the pretty sentimental and personal ones – if you’re going to sit down and do it, just by default it runs the risk of turning into this slow like ballad-y thing.
I was sitting at my desk once and I was listening to the first Vaccines record and playing around with three power cords, and the Ramones-style two-minute-song thing. I like ended up singing, I love you like a brother, just like I oughta. And it was like, ‘It’s happening!’
The lyrics are really interesting because it’s like a platonic love song, which doesn’t really exist in a lot of pop culture.
I think the reason why I always wanted to write a song for my brother is because I’ve never heard it in like a literal, ‘We have the same mother and father’ kind of way.
Something else the track goes into is the gender norms that I don’t know if parents are aware they’re kind of prescribing onto kids, like "girls do this and boys do that." Were you guys challenging those kinds of rules as kids?
My brother and I have been like super lucky with our parents in that we were never encouraged to subscribe to a certain way of expecting ourselves to be. I remember having these conversations with my mum when we were little where she [would phrase things] like, "If you decide to get married one day," or like, "You and your partner"—it’s never been like “husband-and-wife” things. You know, the line in the song "you don’t like sports, and I don’t like dresses"—we were never made to do those things; we’ve always been encouraged to find our own way. I think that’s a credit to our parents for not really having the fear that if we didn’t fit into certain norms, then we were going to be ostracized or not have friends or something like that. We were so encouraged to just be ourselves all the time.
It’s a compliment, for sure! I remember hearing you talk about the moment you found out that your brother was getting married. It was before the same-sex marriage bill passed here and it felt like … it’s not just that he’s had the benefit of being a man in a patriarchal society, but there was also this added layer of things that he was born to have that you had to fight harder for.
Totally. And you even see those things in more symbolic moments of life, like when our grandfather died my brother was one of the people that carried the casket and I wasn’t. You find yourselves in different parts of rituals and traditions purely on the basis of gender. It’s been a funny thing because … the marriage thing didn’t really affect me directly until the time where I thought, maybe I will get married in the next five years or something.
Yeah, it’s like a hypothetical thing that’s like … you don’t need to want it to know that you should be able to have it.
Exactly! And I was touring when the whole plebiscite was announced, and also when legislation got passed, so I was removed from the thick of it, which I am pretty deeply saddened about. I wish I was here. And when the plebiscite got read out I was kind of disappointed by it. Like, even though it was a victorious result, I didn’t feel like it was enough. I just felt really dissatisfied by the whole thing.
My mum, Vicky—I talk about her a lot—she said to me, "The irony of the whole process is that the people who were against it have effectively had to come out,” and I thought that was a really interesting way of looking at it.
Oh my god, Vicky. So wise.
Yeah, I know! She’s coming up a lot in this discussion.
I’ve heard you describe the record as tracking a process of figuring out how to love yourself, love others, and allow yourself to be loved by other people. How do you put those things into action when you’re physically away from people for so many months of the year now?
Well, I think self-love and self-awareness are things that I’ve really had to come to terms with and figure out through a lot of trial and error. One of the things with touring is that in order to get through it you have to have a pretty big level of self-awareness, and one of the biggest things that I had to learn – as someone who loves working and loves being around people all the time and has a bit of FOMO – is learning how to set my own boundaries and being comfortable with that. Because otherwise you just burn yourself out.
Alex Lahey is on her Huge and True national tour throughout April. Find dates below.
Friday April 6 - The Factory, Sydney
Saturday April 7 - The Triffid, Brisbane
Thursday April 12 - Sooki Lounge, Belgrave (SOLD OUT)
Friday April 13 - The Waratah Hotel, Hobart
Saturday April 14 - The Rosemount, Perth
Wednesday April 18 - 170 Russell, Melbourne
Friday April 20 - 170 Russell, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
Saturday April 21 - Barwon Club, Geelong
Find ticket info at Alex’s website.
Brodie Lancaster is a writer and editor from Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey AU.
This article originally appeared on Noisey AU.