By Heather McDaid
Alex Lahey sold her 1999 blue Corolla to make music. It was her first car, and it was a price worth paying to fund her debut EP, 2013’s B-Grade University.
In the summer of 2016, she won the chance to open Splendour in the Grass – a big deal in the Australian music calendar – sharing a bill with the likes of The Cure, The 1975 and The Strokes. She’s currently touring the UK alongside Tegan and Sara, who are outspoken fans of hers. Her confessional on rejection, ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me’, has been met with widespread acclaim, and B-Grade University is the quintessential capturing of the 20-something experience.
Alex wastes no time hooking people in. She cut her teeth in bands in Melbourne and has been honing her songwriting skills ever since. Going solo, her quest to write the perfect song became a bit of an obsession. She landed on a satisfying mix of indie rock and pop sensibility; making the everyday feel like something extra without loading her songs with unnecessary frills.
Her debut album is underway, and it was kickstarted by an unexpected heartbreak. “A big thing that happened to me in this writing process was that I got dumped for the first time. I’ve never been broken up with before, I’ve always been on the other side of it and I think the coming to terms with that gave me a lot of songs. So in the end it was worth it,” Alex laughs. “But at the time it was pretty shit and I wrote quite a few songs about it.”
Whatever form of heartbreak makes its way into the album will undoubtedly be tempered by a twist that is quickly becoming Alex’s trademark: witty, self-deprecating, with doses of the unfiltered everyday. It’s something that shone through in the EP.
“I’m a fairly normal person,” she says. “No, I’m a very normal person.”
The distinction is important. Alex is normal – that kind of listen-to-her-songs-and-go-holy-shit-this-is-my-life type of normal. “I just write songs about stuff that’s happened to me. Take ‘Ivy League’: I’ve gone to Europe for a few weeks, right? I come back home and although I told my job that this was happening, they kind of write me off the roster. It’s immediately after I finished my undergraduate. I got home, obviously no money, no job, and this useless degree. I’m like, ‘well, I’m kind of fucked now.’ I’m a graduate but I can’t get shifts at work and I’m worrying about living on the dole.
“I felt that sort of shaped the entire EP because it’s such a quintessential early 20s person problem. The EP came out with this accidental concept and maybe the album will too.”
Alex Lahey has her own corner carved out, but she’s part of an exceptional scene that people elsewhere are starting to discover. Melbourne has become one of the hotbeds of great new music, and with her obvious potential Alex is at the forefront of that scene. But there’s no hierarchy. They’re all in it together.
When the punchy ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me’ started to take off, it felt like a victory for the entire scene around her. “I mean, Melbourne’s a very small city so to whittle it down to just the music scene means it’s small. Everyone knows each other which fosters a real feeling of friendship and family. It really meant so much that when all this stuff started happening people were celebrating with me. It’s one of those things where a victory for anyone is a victory for everyone and I think that shows through in the more grassroots level.”
Melbourne is swiftly becoming the central hub of Australian music. The city’s numerous venues offer musicians the chance to earn their stripes, with a residency at the renowned Evelyn Hotel on Brunswick street considered the ultimate goal.
Over the last few years, Philadelphia has been the hotbed for exciting new music, but more and more frequently the names that are causing excitement are from down under. “Maybe the punk scene has just found the internet,” jokes Alex. “Because we have a lot of venues, which means there’s a lot of opportunities. If you saved up the money from gigs you could very easily independently release your music. I think that when you have that sort of independence in the very early stages it’s actually easier to get your music out to broader audiences around the world.”
That nurturing music scene has fostered incredible talent like Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett. In conversation, the bands keep coming – “Cable Ties are an awesome punk band. Eilish Gilligan writes really beautiful pop songs. The Football Club write really poignant songs about being queer and living in a suburb of Melbourne but remain universal and beautiful. Ceres write some of the best emo songs I’ve heard,” says Alex.
“I think in Australia in general, we’re in a golden age of punk,” she says, taking a breath. “That’s really, really exciting. Punk, the definition of what punk is, those boundaries have been broken here.
“There’s almost been this move from kids that were playing really shitty steel-stringed guitars in their rooms putting it into action and forming these shit hot bands. But the songwriting still remains – really sensitive writing but in this punk format. It’s really cool and exciting. I think there’s going to be a lot more of it going out to the world.”
Alex Lahey is at the forefront of a supportive scene that has allowed her to hone her craft and find her voice. Sometimes the simplest of combinations can prove the most enjoyable; honest and relatable, she channels the little things from daily life into songs that act as understated anthems for the mid-20s experience.
“Maybe there’s something that we – the listener and I – can share together, whether it be being unemployed after you finish uni, or being in love with someone or breaking up with someone,” she ponders. “Maybe just because I’m normal too, that’s something that can be shared.”