“Before you release a record, that period between finishing it and it coming out is usually pretty long, especially when you’re pressing vinyl. You do what I call the ‘sine wave of self-doubt’, where you have these peaks and troughs of worrying whether it’s good, then occasionally that peters out and you just end up feeling excited. I’m so close to it coming out; I’m just at the excited phase right now.”
Alex Lahey has good reason to be excited. Her second album ‘The Best of Luck Club’ is out this month, and it’s brimming full of earnest, punky, alternative rock.
“The Best of Luck Club is kind of like a pseudo-society that everyone is welcome to. It stemmed from the fact I was going back over the songs on the record and felt like there was a huge spectrum both sonically and emotionally,” she reveals. “I wanted to find a way to put them all in one spot and find a common thread through them all. The way that I did that was making them all part of this Best of Luck Club.”
“When you talk to a stranger about an experience you’re having," Alex continues, "regardless of how good or bad that experience is, the phrase ‘best of luck’ as a response can normally apply. So that’s a way that I kind of brought it all together in this little club, in which everyone can have a seat at the table.”
The new album combines the urgent rock singalongs of Alex's earlier work with some new diversions, including the piano-led ‘Unspoken History’ and the tongue-in-cheek whimsy of ‘Isabella’. Single ‘Am I Doing it Right’ acts as a bridge, spanning where Alex has come from and where she’s heading, the punk roots of the song garnished in arena-rock guitars.
“That song was written to myself,” she admits. “I wrote that song coming out of a long stint of touring and feeling tired. The thing about being an artist, especially under your own name is that you’re so hyper-conscious that you only get one go. And for me, coming out of a long period of touring and looking back and going, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?’"
“You know, it’s hard and challenging, but also pleasing and fulfilling," she explains. "It’s such a game of mixed emotions that it makes you feel like, am I doing the right thing? ‘Cuz everyone else is doing it their own way, does that mean that I’m doing it wrong, or…? It’s that thing where even though we try not to compare ourselves to others, it is hard when people are basically shoving their story in front of your face both literally and figuratively.”
While Alex's lyrics deal with an element of self-doubt, the music they’re set to is growing in confidence, with producer Catherine Marks (St Vincent, The Big Moon) encouraging the Melbourne-born singer to shake up her usual formula.
“I tried to deviate from things that I’d done before; find different song structures, tried to play in different keys, tunings, different styles. I just want to do different things. I would hope that every record that I make and that I put out is different from the last one, otherwise, why would I keep making new music? I have my comfort zones, but I don’t feel restricted to them.
“For me, the bottom line is that song in its rawest form has to hold its own, and then the arrangement can kind of do what it wants. Because of that, it makes it way more fun. My challenge going into the studio is making sure the songs at their core are the strongest they can be, ‘cause that means that I can go in with someone like Catherine, we can kind of run riot and the safety of knowing that the foundations of the songs are good.”
With Marks also originating from Melbourne, it made sense for the two to convene there to lay down the record. “The Australian dollar is really shit, so yeah, it was way more cost effective. The pound just fucks us!”
Before recording the album in Melbourne, Alex took a week to visit Nashville and soak up some songwriting inspiration. Why there? “Because I like the TV show, and because why wouldn’t you?”
“I feel Nashville is way more diverse than people give it credit for,” Alex argues. “And there’s a great DIY punk scene there that no one talks about. Three of my favourite musicians of all time are based there: Julien Baker, all of Paramore and Alicia from Bully. Alicia actually put me up for part of my time there, which was really kind. I felt really inspired by that.
“So although it’s heralded as this country town it celebrates other genres and doesn’t try to pigeonhole people. It’s that real American Dream kind of vibe, you know? ‘If you’re doing well you’re alright, keep it up!’”
During time back at home in Melbourne between tours, Alex also took the opportunity to attend therapy after a painful breakup.
"Everyone should invest in therapy at some point; it’s really good to talk about shit. It got me thinking about the benefits of talking to other people and looking out for yourself. And that there’s no better time than now to access tools to help yourself do that.” She laughs, “I feel like the Headspace app should give me some sort of fucking sponsorship because I’ve told so many people to use it.” It even gets a namecheck (kind of) in ‘Interior Demeanour’.
“Just taking five minutes of your day to get out of the world and do a little bit of mental recovery, it goes a long way,” Alex says of trying to practice self-care while on a hectic touring schedule. “Being conscious of it is the first step. Yeah, the job is weird, there’s such weird routines or lack thereof, and the first step is to be conscious of that.
“This isn’t a 24-hour party, nor should it be. How can I do my job right, make myself feel worthwhile, good about what I’m doing and my sense of purpose, while also having a good time and being able to blow off steam? It’s this juggling act.”
Catherine Marks’ encouragement to explore new sounds in the studio led to what is surely the album’s standout musical moment, a rip-roaring saxophone solo on the superb single ‘Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself’.
“I have massive saxophone PTSD from playing at uni because when you apply yourself to something and are continually told you’re never going to be good enough, that’s the nature of learning music at university. It would be pointless to go to uni and them be like, ‘You’ve done it! You’ve mastered the saxophone!’ So the messaging can be a bit harsh, and when I think of saxophone, I think of inadequacy or the need to always be better."
“At times I find that really uninspiring,” she confesses, “because who’s to tell you you’re not good at your instrument? What does that mean? I just happened to have it in the studio and Catherine was like, ‘Pull it out, what can you do?’ We recorded it as a bit of a gag, and then we were like ‘It’s not too bad’. We sent it to a few people, and the response was unanimous: ‘Keep the sax solo’.”
A wise decision, that section transforms a solid punk-rocker into a transcendental moment of E-Street magnificence. While Alex is fond of that solo, she doesn’t necessarily agree when we put it to her, that’s its best this century.
“Fuck off, man! It’s ok; it’s not the best.” Either way, after years of touring her debut Lahey is ready to embark on a new chapter with a new band, new sounds and re-energised to take on the world. Here’s wishing you the best of luck, Alex.
Taken from the June issue of Dork. Alex Lahey's album 'The Best of Luck Club' is out now.
Featuring Carly Rae Jepsen, The Amazons, Better Oblivion Community Center, Yonaka, Amyl & The Sniffers, Whenyoung and loads more.