The European leg of her world tour complete, Alex Lahey is relaxing in a Boston hotel room, having just arrived from Glasgow the night before. After playing a handful of stateside gigs toward the beginning of the year, the 25-year-old Australian singer-songwriter is poised to hit the road for her first extended trip across America, and she laughs while reflecting on the “bizarre” reaction to her breakout hit, “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me.”
“It's one of those things you think about for ages and ages, when you're coming up, about how to get that break, or get that little bit of attention,” she explains, “but then the moment I stopped trying? The moment I stopped being so conscious of it? That was the moment it all came together. People were asking, 'how'd you get it on the radio?’ And I was like, ‘I recorded the song and I put it on the Internet.’ That was basically all I did.”
While the lyrics to “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me” read like naked testament to the heartache—“through your sleepy eyes, you tell me that I'm not for you”—of unrequited adoration, it’s buoyed by soaring choruses, an unwavering confidence, and a fervent pitch that’s more triumph than tears. Before winning Pitchfork’s Best New Track Award, the song received heavy airplay on Australia’s influential Triple J radio station, and Lahey quickly followed the song’s success with 2016’s B-Grade University EP. Then she never looked back.
“You’ve got to allow the music to just take on a life of its own, and I think that’s something people really struggle with,” she says. “A lot of people don't even get underway, they just hold on to songs they don't want to put out, because nothing is ever perfect, but there's an element of just letting go of what you make, and letting go of your ego. For me it kind of makes sense now that this song, and this music has a life of its own, and I'm kind of following suit.”
Lahey initially studied jazz, but ultimately, she pined for something more elemental than the music of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. "I don't think I ever really connected with jazz music, to be honest,” she admits. “I was playing saxophone, so it made sense for me to go into jazz, even though my heart, and what I was connecting with, were songs. It took me a while to realize that writing songs, it's a process in itself. And as soon as I figured that out, I just became obsessed.”
On her full-length debut, I Love You Like a Brother, Lahey’s obsession with stellar songcraft is on full display, as is her penchant for fearless honesty, and what she describes as her music’s “happy-sad” dynamic. “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself,” cheerily bounces along to a beat belying the self-destructive story arc, replete with mentions of drinking too much, weight gain, and acne. “Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder” is a sun-drenched stunner which captures the dichotomy of loving a city where memories of a relationship that left her heart “torn in two” still lurk around every corner. But there’s nothing mildly morose in the tight 10 tracks, and the title cut is a joyous romp which unabashedly celebrates the complicated bond between siblings. Taken together, the songs form a kind of exploded diagram of the human condition, set to a bevy of blazing guitar, pounding drums, and catchy vocal hooks.
In what Lahey describes as a “classic first album experience,” I Love You Like a Brother was written during the giddy days of her initial success, in the moments she could squeeze into her crowded tour schedule. And while she says being able to harness that momentum was wonderful, the pop-punk virtuoso is excited to have more time for her next effort.
“I’m looking forward to having the privilege, the comfort, and all the security of being able to say, 'hey, I'm going to take a few months off the road to make a record,’ and get lost in that process,” she explains, “because I love listening to records, and I love what they mean as a body of work.”
What that will mean for its sound remains to be seen, but given her sparkling talent, fans will likely be thrilled with more of the same.