Alex Lahey's Answer Is Always 'Yes'

Alex Lahey's Answer Is Always 'Yes'

Having just released her third album The Answer Is Always Yes, we caught up with the beloved Aussie singer-songwriter to chat her new mantra, the importance of humour, greening out in the desert, getting hands on with music videos and more!

Image credit: Pooneh Ghana

As a successful artist working on their third album, you’d be forgiven for trying to recapture past magic, relying on tried and true tropes and just in general being a tad more closed minded when it comes to making music. When it comes to Aussie singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alex Lahey and her third studio record The Answer Is Always Yes, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

With the title of her third album also serving as somewhat of a new mantra, Lahey indeed said yes to new things, most notably being the invitation of other writers and producers to collaborate, marking the first time other people have been involved in Alex’s creative process of making an album.

The result is Lahey’s most diverse album to date, covering a wide range of sounds in the broader alt-rock and indie pop genres, while expanding on Alex’s personal and humorous approach to songwriting.

To celebrate the release of The Answer Is Always Yes, we caught up with Alex to chat album title, the importance of humour in art and life, the truth behind the lyrics of The Sky Is Melting that reference getting too stoned in the desert and Michael Bolton, her experience working with other people on the album and more!

I’d love to start with the title, ‘The Answer Is Always Yes’ - when I first read that I thought of the Jim Carrey film Yes Man, where he starts saying yes to everything, and then reading a bit more I found out that’s become a bit of a mantra for you, so how did you decided the answer was always yes?

Yeah, it’s one of those things where I don’t know if it’s the chicken of the egg, if I had this mantra or concept and then tied the line to it, or if it was a matter of finding this line and then sort of creating my own meaning to it. It's probably more the latter, to be honest. “The answer is always yes” was a line that I found in my phone when I was writing the title song for the record, which at the time was just sort of these series of verses that were like these vignettes of kind of discomfort or inconvenience, but also trying to find the humour and the light in them. And I just wanted the chorus of the song to be something that felt really like just a real statement, sort of something that was indisputable, no matter how right or wrong it was, and sort of juxtaposed with the deep detail of the verses. I was just going through my phone, I found this line that said, “the answer is always yes”, and I'm like “that's it!”.

I think the meaning behind it for me is about perseverance, and I think that one of the things that I've discovered through observing people and also through observing myself these past few years, is that I think that a really human, innate and primal part of being human is always persevering to find the zest and the positivity and the light in life. But, in order to do that, you have to kind of hand yourself over to it, and so “the answer is always yes” is kind of a part of that. It's a very human way of being and it gets you through those moments that aren't great, those moments that are a bit shit or just like a bit of a put out or really cripplingly bad or that whole spectrum. I think just leaning into discomfort and saying yes and trying to find the light is sort of what this record is about. I think that's why this record has a lot of humour and a lot of fun, despite what I was saying sounding maybe a bit wanky and profound. I don't know if that's necessarily in the music, but I think that that's kind of the point as well. So yeah, that’s the story behind it.

Well it’s funny you’ve mentioned humour a few times already, cos I’ve got a note here wanting to ask about humour in general in both your life and your art, and the juxtaposition with some of the heavier vibes. So how important is humour to you, cos yeah you’ve got the video for Good Time with the comedy themes too?

Yeah, I love humour. A big part of my communication style is humour. I don't think I'm necessarily a ‘funny guy’, but I like things that are funny and I like people that are funny. I think that a sense of humour is one of the most attractive things in an individual, whether it's a lover or a friend or someone you work with, or all of them, whatever.
I think that's something that really captivates me about other individuals and it's something that I'm really drawn to, so I think that naturally it's in the music because ultimately, songwriting is just a form of communication and naturally, that's sort of my style.

I love humour in music. I think it's awesome and it's equally funny when you get it and it's equally funny when you don't - then you sort of can read between the lines later. I certainly don't go out of my way to be funny in songs, life is just funny. Life can be really absurd and it does, like, every single day, throw this weird shit at you all the time. That is pretty funny and that’s one of the joys of living for me. It’s beautiful to have those moments where you capture them on your own, like  you sort of have when you're walking down the street and you see something, you're like, “oh, only I experienced that and I now have this story”. Or when you're with someone else and you experience something together and you have that bond and connection, I think that that's what humour gives us, so inadvertently, it kind of finds itself in the music.

Something else I was curious about with humour is if that relates to growing up the child of migrant parents, as well as being a queer person and dealing with that?

One of the cool things about having coming from a family that isn't so entrenched in the place that you live in is that you do get different perspectives and different styles of humour. I mean, I feel like humour shifts culturally depending on where people are from and I also think that queer humour is very particular as well, so it's kind of cool to have, despite having what I think is a really enriching life, by being sort of a bit left of centre in some facets.

It does grant you these different languages and sort of codes by which you can sort of see the light in life, and so I feel really fortunate that I've been granted those outsider perspectives throughout life in different ways. I don't take it for granted, and as I get older, I become more and more grateful for it. Yeah,  I've never been much of a joiner - I kind of enjoy being on my own path and I think when you're aware of being not the norm or sort of having your own identity, whether it's because of your heritage or because of your sexuality or whatever, you kind of enjoy occupying your own lane a little bit, and I’m so grateful for that.

You’re speaking my language, Alex! So humour also makes its way into your music videos, I’ve loved all the videos for the recent singles with things like open mic comedy, empty furniture stores… So yeah, where do these ideas for music videos come from?

I really decided to get super hands on with the music videos on this album cycle, mainly because it was a way to enjoy the process - I've never really loved making music videos, I'm not super comfortable in front of the camera, they're quite time consuming at the best of times and it's just not my happy place, you know? So I sort of decided. I'm like, “I'm going to fucking make this my happy place whether I like it or not” and decided to get more involved and start developing treatments and concepts with the videos. I felt like I had a bit of agency and can kind of direct it sometimes literally, and then just figuratively kind of direct it to a place that I feel good about the concepts. I watch a lot of film and television, so I guess I'm consuming stuff all the time and kind of getting a bit of -  I don't know, ideas come from that, but usually it's like one kind of gleaming detail that I sort of go in with.

For example, in the Congratulations video, I knew the concept had to somehow factor in me kissing myself, that was the one thing I really wanted to happen, and the narrative of the song itself kind of really lent itself to doing something like that. With Good Time, I thought the narrative of a sort of flailing comedian was something that could be fun in a bigger budget world. I kind of wanted this character to go through the stages of being in shitty bars and then in better bars and then going on, becoming part of SNL, then getting their own show, going into rehab, all this sort of stuff. But alas, we got their heads exploding instead, or whatever happens to them, they fall off. And then the furniture store - I just wanted to dance. That was the thing. I'm not a dancer and I wanted to challenge myself to dance and the location kind of presented itself and you don't knock that one back. It was pretty epic.

And I can’t help but feel like you getting more hands on with videos, making them your happy place, like you’re embodying the answer is always yes.

Exactly. My approach with this record was to really lean in, and since the last record so much happened in the world and so much was taken away for periods of time, and I think it kind of reinvigorated my enthusiasm for getting super involved. You just don't want to let anything pass you by, I guess.

Speaking of leaning in - and this might be a tenuous segue - but I have to ask about a particular scenario covered on the record that involves “greening out” in the desert and Michael Bolton!?

OK - everything in that song is true except for the Michael Bolton thing… So, Michael Bolton - the reason why Michael Bolton’s in there is because there’s sort of this weird trend in rap music to reference Michael Bolton - I don’t know if that’s a known thing, but there’s all these YouTube compilations of rappers saying Michael Bolton.

Have you seen the film Office Space?

A long time ago, yeah?

So there’s a character in the film named Michael Bolton, and there’s jokes about the singer, but at the start of the film he’s in a traffic jam, you know this nerdy white dude, like rapping along to hardcore gangster rap, so I don’t know if it’s like some meta reference?

Well there’s some sort of narrative or canon with Micahel Bolton in rap music. When I was writing the song with my friends and we were going through the records at this place, at the time when we were stoned I was like “what’s the name? What’s the story?” and my friend Oscar mentioned the Michael Bolton thing and showed me these videos and I was like “I guess Michael Bolton has the right amount of syllables - let’s put it in”.

I love it, and it works on a few levels and loops back to what you said about humour - it can be funny if we get it or we don’t. So you mentioned writing the song with friends, and I wanted to ask more about that - you’ve worked with other artists on songs before, but this album is the first time you’ve invited other people to come write with you, what led to that?

I think I wanted to freshen up the process. I'd made two records previously kind of proving a point to myself that I could ride it alone, and they were fine. I proved the point to myself and going into album three, I was like, “I just don't really want to do it again like that, I want to change it up”. Having now been sort of in the job for a little bit, I've met a lot of really talented people and met a lot of people that I connect with and I think who understand me as well, so I kind of had this really great list of collaborators who I got to work with on this record.

I think it made the process super fun, I kind of got to reconnect with making music in a super open way and it was great to make a record that from when I started making it, I didn’t know what it was going to end up being like, whereas I was sort of edging towards beginning the process of writing another record on my own, and I could kind of guess where that was going. That sort of predictability doesn't really excite me. Not to say that I won't write another record by myself again, and there'll be an element of unknown in that, and it will be super exciting, but just at that particular juncture it  just wasn't something I was interested in. I thought, “well, it feels like a great opportunity to start collaborating”, see what life is like on the other side, and be the artist in a collaboration.

And it could be a chicken and egg situation knowing that you worked with a few other people, but I definitely feel like this record might be a bit more diverse in sound than your first two records?

Yeah, I think it's easier to take risks when you have someone else egging you on, and I think that sort of I agree. I think that the record is a lot more diverse than the others, and I'm really proud of that, and I think I needed the push to do it. So I'm really grateful to the numerous people who worked on this record with me - it takes a village, right? It's just so lovely to now have this body of work that isn’t just a collection of songs, but a collection of people and brains and hearts and voices, and it's unreal.

You’re about to head off on a pretty epic US tour, and I’m curious about how the new record’s feeling live and if you’ve found a difference with how the songs on this record play out live compared to songs you wrote on your own?

Look, I actually don't start rehearsals until tomorrow, so I’ll report back. I'm a little nervous. I get so nervous about rehearsing. It weighs on me. I don't know why. My partner is like, “you need to figure that out”, but rehearsal or just the lead up to rehearsal, I get so stressed out. I think I feel a duty to be doing everything right. Everyone else comes in so prepared, and we have to work so hard, but of course it's never right - that's why we've rehearsed. We wouldn't rehearse if it was right. So I need to sort of accept that it's a process, but I think it's going to be really fun. I think we're going to play the whole record as well as some old stuff, so I reckon we'll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment, like figuring it all out and also letting the songs take on a life of their own as well. It's going to be super exciting.

Awesome, I’m keen to hear how it turns out - I’m also curious, what are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming tour?

I think the thing that I'm looking forward to the most is just picking up where we left off. Like, the last time I did a headline tour of the US was in 2019, which was four years ago now - it's a long time and we've always been so fortunate with having such generous audiences there and I'm really excited to reconnect and build on that. It just feels like there's so many people there. It just feels like the possibilities are endless and it's so much fun. It's a completely different style of touring than it is in Australia, just by virtue of the amount of places you play, like you're in the van the whole time, that kind of stuff. It's going to be awesome and I'm hugely, hugely excited and we'll finish and then I'll want to get back on it again. It's going to be great.

So finally, with the album out and a huge tour on the horizon, do you have any downtime coming up? Do you unwind and chill?

Downtime is behind me, man - it’s uptown *laughs*. No, you’ve got to have a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. I booked a flight to Mexico, I've got a couple of friends getting married and they're having a joint bachelorette party, which will be super fun. The flight time from LA to Mexico is like the same from Melbourne to Brisbane or some shit, it's just so close. I'm looking forward to doing that for a few nights and then coming back to Australia and just keep going. Hopefully the phone will keep on ringing. That's where I'm at. If the phone's ringing, then I'm happy, just every day, so grateful to get to do what I do and I never want to stop. I'll take a vacay every now and then to make sure I don't fry myself. but at this point in my life, I'm taking everything I can get.

Amazing. Thanks so much Alex, that was really great, thanks for sharing and digging deep with some stuff there!

Thanks Will, that was a really nice chat, I appreciate it.

Alex Lahey's new album The Answer Is Always Yes is out now via Liberation Records

Alex Lahey The Answer Is Always Yes cover art

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