At a glance, Alex Lahey’s third studio album The Answer Is Always Yes could seem like a drag.
The first line of the record states “everyone’s a bit f–ked up, but they think they are okay,” on opener “Good Time,” before the Australian singer-songwriter jumps into songs about two exes getting married separately in a short time span on “Congratulations,” the gentrification of her hometown of Melbourne for “Permanent,” a tumultuous breakup on “You’ll Never Get Your Money Back” and feelings of isolation on growing up as a queer kid in the ’90s on “They Wouldn’t Let Me In.” Then there is the confusion of too many weed gummies on “The Sky is Melting” and all the s–t talking on, well, “S–t Talkin’.”
But Lahey — who broke onto the scene in the mid-’10s with charming queer love songs like “Wes Anderson” — doesn’t consider herself a pessimist or an optimist. “I quite like the gray,” she says. “That’s why, even amongst all those [topics on the album], my default is to stay positive.”
Despite the “vignettes of discomfort,” as Lahey puts it, peppered throughout the album, her positivity breaks through with fuzzy guitar riffs, playful pop tunes, angsty post-punk tracks and her ever-present sense of humor. On “Congratulations,” Lahey jokes that she’s happy for her ex, but there’s just something in her eye — or, on “You’ll Never Get Your Money Back,” she admits to seeing what another ex is still watching on her streaming account.
“There are these sorts of discomforts that happen throughout life — but if you look at them with a certain lens, you find a lot of the time the humor and the color in it,” Lahey tells Billboard. “That will sustain you and will keep you in the game of enjoying life.”
The album, after all, is titled The Answer is Always Yes, a rather idealistic phrase that Lahey found in her notes app. She can’t recall when she jotted it down, but recalls rediscovering it after a harrowing Uber ride in Los Angeles — where she spends half the year now. As her driver was speeding at 85-90 miles per hour on the L.A. freeways, she couldn’t help but find the humor in the idea that she felt she was about to die in this vehicle “marketed as good for the planet.” When she arrived safely at a writing session, the phrase and the crux of the album became apparent to her.
Amongst “the things that are not on your terms, that life throws at you every single day, there is something primal within us as humans to persevere and to find the zest for life,” she says. “The only way you can do that is to say yes to life.”
In many ways, The Answer is Always Yes feels like its predecessors — with upbeat, guitar-driven pop songs and the Melbourne native’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics — but Lahey stepped out of her comfort zone by collaborating with other songwriters for the first time on the album, out today via Liberation Records. The risk of collaboration for Lahey was the possibility of losing some of the authenticity and specificity that made her first two albums stand out. But over the last few years, she has collaborated on other people’s work, and now recognizes the responsibility of the artist to maintain their vision throughout a project that bares their name.
She doesn’t consider herself a control freak, but likes to “feel a sense of control” (e.g. not enjoying a high-speed car ride from the backseat of a Tesla) — and, after close to a decade of creating music, she felt she could steer an album even with other people in the room.
“I was finally at the point where I was able to let [the other writers] do their job and I wasn’t so precious about it,” she says. “I was able to let them do their best work and they were able to let me do mine and that’s why it worked. The songs maintain those certain characters that make up an ‘Alex Lahey’ song, whether that’s melody or those specific details in lyrics. That’s why they are still there, but maybe dressed up a bit differently.”