Going South: Alex Lahey
In the lead-up to South By Southwest, TMN is profiling four Aussies heading to Austin for their first crack at the sprawling festival. So far we’ve caught up with muso-run Melbourne startup Everywhere Roadie and artist manager and label rep Eva Trifonas; next up is beloved Melbourne garage-indie-pop larrikin Alex Lahey.
Alex Lahey had a bit of a dream run in 2016. While she’s been around for a few years in Melbourne bands, including avant-pop outfit Animaux, last year saw her brand of forthright, funny songwriting and droll delivery really take off: the exhilaratingly catchy You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me caught her a Best New Track ribbon courtesy of Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly and squeaked her into the triple j Hottest 100 this past January, and she released the acclaimed EP B-Grade University, which spawned further singles Wes Anderson and Ivy League.
Lahey caught up with TMN to talk SXSW plans in a brief, jet-lagged break between returning from her first international tour, in the UK and Ireland, and jetting off to Austin and beyond.
TMN: When did you first decide you wanted to be a musician? How long have you been doing it in your current incarnation?
Alex: I’ve been playing music pretty much my entire life, thanks to my parents who, although aren’t musical themselves, really encouraged me to give it a go as a child. That said, I distinctly remember playing saxophone in my high school jazz band when I was about 13 or 14 and thinking “this is it”. It’s kind of funny how I have absolutely no formal training in the two things I make a living out of now: singing and playing guitar. I started my solo project about two years ago after playing in other bands around Melbourne for many years before that. I guess things just kind of fell into place with this one.
What’s made the biggest difference for you — the biggest bit of luck or hard work or serendipity or support from a community that’s given you that crucial bump?
I think I’ve been extremely lucky to have been surrounded by such encouraging role models my entire life. From my mum to my high school band teacher to the team around me now. I also think that being a part of the grassroots Melbourne music scene has been crucial to my development by literally giving me a stage to be an artist and work with so many awesome musicians.
I also think that being a part of the grassroots Melbourne music scene has been crucial to my development by literally giving me a stage to be an artist and work with so many awesome musicians.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Is it important to you to have a solid international presence? Do you feel you need to have a bit of overseas buzz to get the industry or audiences in Australia to sit up and pay attention?
Yeah, it’s important to me, for sure. The world is a big place and there are a lot of people out there to share your music with, so why not try to see how far it can reach – that’s one of the most exciting things about doing what I do!
I don’t think you NEED that buzz to get people paying attention in Australia. One of the cool things about the Australian scene being relatively small in the global scheme is that word of mouth is still such a strong form of generating hype. A band can play one shit hot gig in a small venue and if the right person sees it and tells people about it, it can become real game changing stuff!
Going to SXSW is obviously a major step. How have you been preparing, particularly as an indie artist?
Luckily, my band and I have a bit of momentum going from one international tour to another, so we’re in a good mindset going in for it. I’m very lucky in that I was able to give up my day job in the latter half of last year, so I don’t have to request leave or anything! I think my game plan is to really take in every second of it – enjoy the chaos, be in the moment and have fun with it.
What are your expectations and goals for Austin? How many shows will you be playing? What are you most excited about?
I expect it to be pretty crazy! I hear SXSW is a bit of a vortex that kind of spits you out at the other end with some of the best memories for life. I think we’re playing about five or six shows at this point, but it honestly sounds like anything can happen over the week.
I think I share the same sentiments as a lot of people making the journey to SXSW: that the thing I’m most excited for is to slay some authentic Texan BBQ.
Have you been to a major music conference-industry-festival thing like this before?
The only other music conference-industry-festival thing I’ve been to is Bigsound. I love Bigsound. It’s so good. From the weather, to the bands, to the parties, to the old friends, to the new friends – I always have a blast.
Are there any artists and/or industry professionals that you are particularly excited to meet?
Not particularly – my agenda at SXSW isn’t about conscious networking. I just love meeting people and nerding out about bands. I’m looking forward to crossing paths with anyone and everyone while I’m over there.
What’s next after SXSW?
We’ll be wrapping up my US tour with dates in Chicago, NYC, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington DC, before heading home for another run of shows in Australia. Lots of hard work, good times and in-flight entertainment ahead!