Alex Lahey Talks Touring With Jimmy Eat World, Upcoming Album & All Things Australia

Alex Lahey
Giulia McGauran

Alex Lahey

If you’re still sleeping on Alex Lahey, a bona fide Australian national treasure, there’s time to change your ways. Lahey writes, records and performs songs that are so relatable, they will shake you to your very core upon first listen, provided you have a heart and two operational ears. “It's been really fun just doing a bunch of different shit and then finding my voice within doing that,” she says matter-of-factly.

Lahey released her debut album I Love You Like A Brother last October, pairing everyday topics with dry wit, breezy vocals and a sick guitar solo here and there. Jams like “Every Day's The Weekend” and “I Haven't Been Taking Care of Myself” will help you coast through summer, too, and Lahey’s already gearing up to work on her next effort, as she told Billboard after her eventful set at Firefly Music Festival on Saturday (June 16).

Below, Lahey details her Melbourne beginnings, opening for Jimmy Eat World on a few recent tour dates, and more.

First, I need to know: who was the little boy who came out at the end of your set just now and played guitar?

We've had this really wonderful crew on this tour and one of the things that's made it so brilliant for me is that we've had this even split of men and women, which has been awesome. That is so hard to come by in this industry, especially in touring. Anyway, Josiah, who is a six year old boy, who featured in my set today, is the nephew of our bus drivers. They were like, "You won't see him at all, it'll be like he's never there." And now it's like we're raising this child. It's been this like bizarre family road trip kind of vibe that this tour is taking on.

It was a great set -- you always look like you’re having the best time up there. Now, let’s take it back a bit. How did you start making music?

I've always played music. It was one of those things that I was so interested in doing as a young child, and my parents were supportive. Learning music is a privilege and I'm lucky to have been granted that opportunity. I learned how to read music, took piano lessons and started playing the saxophone in high school. I fell in love with playing the sax and I did that at University for a bit, but I was also teaching myself to play guitar from the Internet. I enjoyed making my own rules and learning on my own.

What about songwriting?

Writing songs was also kind of a vehicle to learning how to play guitar. I never thought of songwriting as a skill or as something to develop or something that I was passionate about until I started performing when I was 18, with my old band [Animaux]. Something clicked and I was like, wow, songwriting is like an artform in itself -- it has so much value. I fell in love with it and just wanted to keep getting better and better at communicating and articulating myself both verbally and musically.

I stumbled upon the Animaux cover of Passion Pit’s “Little Secrets” that turns into Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” which is when I realized you play sax.

My best friend Olly and I were in that band together. I've been calling him once or twice a week about it. He's gonna lose his mind [that you brought that up]. We were listening to this DJ remix once and they did that, and we were like, we should just do it.

Do you ever pick up the sax these days?

It's kind of in my past. I have a little bit of a fear of it because, you know, being graded on something and all that sort of thing. I did it at Uni and I did have a great time there [but] I felt like it basically shattered my confidence of the instrument, which is really a shame. But, I don't know, recently my partner and I have been talking about me picking it up again.

When you were first starting out, who were you listening to or looking to as influences?

The first song I ever learned was "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Missy Higgins. That record [The Sound of White] was huge, and it was the first time that I realized what songwriting was. Especially as a young woman who had this broad Australian accent and short brown hair, from Melbourne.

That’s interesting that you cite those artists, because I feel like you’re more rock these days.

At heart, I've always been a rock kid. I had Pearl Jam and Ramones posters plastered all over my walls!

Once you decided to go solo, what were your early memories on the scene?

I totally sucked. This guy came to my gig once, and afterwards he said, "That was pretty...Battle of the Bands,” and I was like, "You're not wrong, it wasn't great." It's funny because now he's my distributor in Australia, so he kept the faith. Anyway, when I first started this project, I already had a good understanding of the local scene, which is great because it meant I got to hit the ground running in a sense of creating opportunities. The Melbourne music scene is such a supportive network of people. If someone gets up and hits their stride or whatever, people celebrate it. Everyone's rooting for Courtney Barnett; I think she's a great example.

Do you remember your first show in the US?

I'm pretty sure the first one was at The Echo in L.A. It was in March of last year, so not that long ago. It was one of my favorite shows ever. It was really, really special and bizarre.

Did anything about the scene here surprise you?

Gigging here is so different than gigging in Australia. For one, people go to shows on Wednesdays and shit, which is awesome. In Australia you pretty much only tour on the weekends. There's just stuff happening all the time, and that's just because there's more people. In Australia there's actually not enough people to populate anywhere. There's just so much going on here, it's great.

Fast-forwarding a little bit, you’ve been playing shows in the US for a few years now, and you have another headlining tour this summer. Will you change it up at all?

We're coming back to play all the places we missed this time around, which is exciting. We've been slipping some new stuff into the set. I'm going to basically perform my next record…

Next record?!

Yes! I'm gonna record my next album in September/October. I've been touring for so long, I'm so excited to do it.

What’s the vibe so far?

It’s good. When I did the first one, I sort of did it between touring and a lot of things. I remember saying, “That was great and fun, and I enjoyed that and I'm happy with the outcome,” but I don't want to [record like] that again. I'm ready to sit down and immerse myself in something different.

Can we expect a similar sound to your last album?

I don't want to lock myself into a physical genre or something like that. I think that the last album was kind of nice and varied in a decent way, and I want to keep doing that. There are certain aspects that I want to retain, but I don't want to do the same thing again.

I want to grow and develop, to feel like I've developed as an artist, because that’s why I fucking do it, you know? That's what fulfills me.

So what you're saying is, there will not be any saxophone on this record.

There might be! There was saxophone on the last one, on "Backpack.” It’s good, it's like it's free. [Laughs]

What cities are you looking forward to on tour this summer?

We love coming to New York, and especially to play with Jimmy Eat World the other week, that venue [Brooklyn Steel] was so good. We're also playing Bowery Ballroom in August. I'm so excited to come back.

How was it touring with Jimmy Eat World?

It went so good. We played 3 shows with Jimmy Eat World, who are some of the nicest people I've ever met. So lovely and accommodating. They've been doing it for 24 years and they get it. They know what it's like and they are so understanding and generous. I felt fortunate to get those shows.

Who's still on your wish list to go out with?

Well, Bruce Springsteen, 100 percent. [Laughs] And I hope that they hear this, one of my favorite bands of all time: Paramore. I saw them the other week at Bonnaroo and a couple times before then. They've got five records, and each one is amazing and they're all varied and they're all shown their development and personality. I look up to Hayley Williams a lot as an artist, and as a person as well. So, yeah I love them. They're super inspiring. Paramore, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That could be a good three-way tour, actually.

I think you opening for Paramore is very achievable.

Let's make it happen. That can be our pact.

This is random, but it’s been on my mind because Best Coast is doing a children's album. Would you ever do something like that?

I was just having dinner with Bobb from Best Coast and he was telling me about Best Kids. That’s the coolest thing ever, man, I would love to do that. That would be sick.

What would be a lesson you would teach kids? You have to educate them with the music, too!

I know, it’s molding minds. All I'm doing is getting kids on the stage, playing guitars. I need to do more. I need to do something more retentive.

Catch Alex Lahey on tour.

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