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Meet Alex Lahey, The Melbourne Musician On The Rise

From uploading her music onto social media and playing gigs around Melbourne to opening up for Jimmy Eat World at a sold-out show at the Brooklyn Steel, Australian musician Alex Lahey has had an insane year of nonstop touring. On stage, she’s an explosive, kind of kooky but endearing rush of energy. Offstage, she’s genuine, down-to-earth, and has a calming and comfortable presence. And although she seems to carry within her two contrary demeanors—one on stage, and one off—everything about her feels genuine and sincere, musically speaking and otherwise. With a catchy, energetic sound and intimate lyrics, Lahey’s music has resonated and spread on a global scale, garnering attention from music media outlets like Rolling Stone and Billboard.

Before her show, we caught up with Lahey to talk about the Melbourne music scene, being a young queer musician, and touring.

What was growing up in Australia like?

I’m the child of two migrant parents—my mother was born in Alexandria, Egypt and my father is from London. My father migrated to Australia on his own but my mother came with her family and they’re Greek Egyptian so I grew up with a very strong Greek culture. That’s not so far-fetched because, after Athens, Melbourne has the highest population of Greeks in the world. So it’s not unusual.

What is the Melbourne music scene like?

The Melbourne music scene is really awesome. Melbourne is obviously a much smaller city than most cities in the world, especially in America so people always ask me, “If it’s so small, does it get super competitive?” And the thing is that it doesn’t, at all. I think that’s really cool, it’s a very fostering and warm and supporting environment.

Have you found community through your culture? Or through the music community?

A little bit of both, but more so from the music community. At the end of the day, you’re playing gigs and going to shows and you make friends with people doing the same thing and it’s insane. Not in a shit way, not in a cliquey way, but in the way that people enjoy and support the same things.

What do you think are the values young creatives share?

I think if you’re working hard, no one can dispute what you’re doing. If you’re working hard and doing it genuinely, you can tell when someone’s not doing something because they have to do it but because they want to. I think for people who really really want to make music, they don’t even think twice about working hard because up until recently, the tangible reward for being in this industry is quite minimal and that certain point is a long, long way where most of us are. I think the values come from that. If you really really want to be doing it, you’re going to be doing it. I think that for people in the scene, even if you don’t like their music but you still see them working really hard, you can’t deny that. And you’re rooting for them.

Your songwriting is very personal. Have there been moments where you were nervous about putting your entire personal and vulnerable self out there in the public? If so, how did you come to terms in owning it?

I remember initially when I was about to release my EP, and I was like, “Shit, I’m actually giving a lot of myself over.” But then I very quickly came full circle and was like, “No that’s cool.” And also there’s nothing in there that I’m ashamed of, you know? We’ve all really gone through the same shit more or less, just in different packaging. That’s really humbling and it also puts a lot of your shit in perspective as well, both as a writer and as a listener. The beauty of releasing music is that it’s always interpretive and I would hate to lose that capacity of my music being able to be interpreted by someone.

I think that’s the problem of becoming a musician-celebrity, like Kendrick Lamar. It gets monolithic and heralds these people—who are all very human—as perfect role models and spokesperson when it’s also a harrowing experience to suddenly be put in this position and have to always be on point.

Definitely. It’s hard but for me, I’ve always been inspired professionally and creatively by Tegan and Sara. I think they identify a lot of the responsibility that they have, especially among the queer community, to connect and make a difference. I think it’s cool they go beyond their music to do that because like with the Kendrick Lamar thing, he’s not going to always say what people want and why should he? Tegan and Sara, they have become an incredible touchstone for queer artists but they don’t wanna sing about being queer all the time, you know? It’s just a tiny part of their identity and it’s cool to see them spread their influence and start their own foundation for supporting that community.

Do you have any other inspirations?

I like to read. I get a lot from reading and watching movies when I’ve got the time. And also being with my friends and conversing with people. You know, there is something about meeting new people, it’s always really exciting and makes you think in different ways. I’ve been touring for quite a while—since February and I haven’t had proper time off in about two years—but in that time you meet so many people and you have so many little interactions with people. But I’ve kind of come to find recently that there’s something to be said about familiarity and the depth that that gives you and what you get out of them and what they get out of you. Now, it can be kind of a fleeting experience when I’m on the road, so I really savor these deeper connections and find it quite inspiring.

What do you do for self-care when you’re on the road?

I think that when I first started touring, and because now I’m touring with other people, I kind of used to get troubled by people going out and having to do things and me kind of tossing up whether or not to do it because I don’t wanna be left behind or I feel like I want the group to stay strong and I wanna keep the vibe. But I’ve realized that if I wanna stay in and be by myself, or not wanna be by myself, I should just allow it. I think that’s been a very important lesson for me to learn, to just accept and enjoy my own space. I think it’s a really good thing and I try to relish that time because it is actually super rare to get when you’re on the road.

Also just trying to eat better and not trying to sleep in.

When did your music career become real to you? Was there a moment where you were like, “Wow, this is my life now.”

I think when I quit my day job, it literally was like, “Oh, this is my life.” And the reason for that is because I was touring so much. So acknowledging that and being like, “Oh, I need to do that,” there’s no better way to immerse yourself in something than touring. It kind of was already happening at the time, so it didn’t feel like I was stepping into something new. It was more symbolic, I think.

Did you get your start by putting your music on social media? Or through playing shows?

Sort of a bit of both. I used to play in this other band that was kind of like a party band, and I met a fun network through that. And then when I started this project, I was doing small gigs with my band. But then I started uploading my music on this Australian site called “Triple J on Earth”. It’s effectively like an independent radio in Australia. And from there, there was an organic spread of my music.

Your music is so energetic but catchy, relatable, and lyrically very clever. What are some of your musical influences?

All sorts of stuff. I’m definitely a listener of songs but I’m also trying to develop an ear for production so when I go into the studio, I’m more able to articulate what I want. But at the moment, I love Kacey Musgraves, she’s awesome. There’s a band called Now Now who’s record is really great. I’ve been going back and listening to a lot of Arctic Monkeys; it’s something that I missed out on but I’ve been re-listening to it and digging them.

It’s your second night opening up for Jimmy Eat World. How’s that been?

They’re really cool, it’s been great. We played Boston the other night. They’re super nice guys and lovely and warm and their crowds reflect that. It’s insane, the Boston crowd was out of control. They were all so nice and so eager and it’s awesome to open for a band whose fans genuinely love music because they will get there early and engage. They’re going to stay for your show, they’re not going to talk through your set.

How do you keep up the energy?

Playing in new spaces is always exciting. I think trying to find something new in every experience and every show to get excited about is really cool, whether it’s starting a new tour or your playing with someone different or you’re playing in a new city. Just finding something to be excited about.

Do you ever get into a certain headspace when you’re performing?

You know when you’re watching a movie and you have the laughs and you turn away from the screen and then you’re out of it? It’s like when you’re in the movie. That’s what it’s like.

Any pre-performance rituals?

Just this thing my band and I do called kissy-kissy. We give each other a kiss on the cheek before we get on stage.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m going to start recording my new record in a couple of months!

Stay tuned to Milk for more music stuff.

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