Interview: Alex The Astronaut talks her new single, Stella Donnelly, more
After launching into the stratosphere with a pair of EPs last year, Alex The Astronaut is back in business and ready to take on the world.
Header photo by EVO.
Sydney's Alex The Astronaut has had a big two years. In 2016, she seemingly appeared out of nowhere with her debut single Already Home but following that, she's been one of Australia's busiest newcomers. Last year, she released a pair of EPs – the Rockstar City-featuring debut To Whom It May Concern followed by the Not Worth Hiding-led See You Soon – and between her relaxed, guitar-backed indie-pop and the comforting vulnerability she shared (particularly on Not Worth Hiding, which became a bit of a same-sex anthem during the plebiscite last year), she well and truly shot into the stratosphere.
Written for "for 16-year-old Alex and for anyone who’s struggling," Not Worth Hiding brought a side of Alex The Astronaut that was long-teased but never really fleshed out, and although it may have been hard for Alex to welcome us in her personal life and show her vulnerability on such a large scale, it really solidified her place as one of Australia's best – and most important – songwriters. "It's to let you know that you’re absolutely perfect just the way you are."
In 2018, she hasn't slowed down. July's Waste Of Time was a warm, welcomed return from Alex that paired her summer-soaked, strumming guitar melody with lyrics discussing letting go of control and living life a little more free, while Happy Song – her latest – continues her run. She went on an unmissable co-headline tour with Stella Donnelly (more on that in a minute), played everything from Splendour to Spain's Primavera, and is just generally crushing it right now – and there's no one that deserves it more.
Arriving with a national tour that'll take her around the country this November/December, Happy Song is a bit more of a down-tempo track from Alex, with her gleaming optimism and sunny chords reduced to just a shading as she sings of relationship ends and finding comfort in music. "I wrote this song at the start of the year about the awkward middle part of a breakup when you don't really know what you're doing," she says. "I recorded it with Sam (Cromack) and Dan (Hanson) from Ball Park Music (they both sing on the 'da-da-das') and it took us about nine months to get it right so it's pretty much a song baby. I'm really proud of it and I'm so excited for people to hear it."
Ahead of the tour – which you can find the dates to below – we caught up with Alex The Astronaut to recap her turbulent 24 months, touring with Stella Donnelly, Happy Song, and what to expect from Alex The Astronaut in the future, as she continues to blast off into space with every release.
So to kick things off – Waste of Time, which was released back in July, was your first single since the pair of EPs back in 2017. The time in between is pretty brief, but how was the time in between releases spent for you?
Hello!! I went to South Africa and saw a baby giraffe and an elephant in the wild which was insane. I’ve been writing a lot of music, probably more than I ever have. I played Splendour In The Grass which was one of my favourite shows ever even though I was so nervous I almost peed myself. More recently I’ve been in England recording at Rak Studios with Jonathan Quarmby and playing shows. I learned how to make chicken noodle soup which is a great achievement for me.
One of the big things you did was a national tour with Stella Donnelly, who is incredibly amazing in her own right. You both have quite a close relationship – what is it that draws you to Stella and her music?
Stella is incredibly amazing indeed. I think we get along well because we’ve both got a pretty honest sense of humour so we can always laugh together. We made a lot of trouble on tour. I guess the honesty in her music is what drew me to listen to her songs as well. She’s an inspirational performer and artist and someone that I think is a great role model for young girls and women.
See You Soon’s lead single – Not Worth Hiding – is obviously one that affected a lot of people. A year after the single’s release, how do you feel about the track and the reception to it now?
I still can’t believe it. If you were to tell me when I was 15 that I was going to write a story that personal and share it with others, I would have never believed you. The reaction I got made me feel so warm and happy that I could maybe make a difference for young people experiencing what I went through.
It’s obviously quite a vulnerable and personal track, is there any ever hesitance writing and releasing pieces like that, or do you find it more of a cathartic experience?
Definitely. I was terrified. For a performer, I am pretty introverted and like everyone, I get worried about what people think of me. I was worried that people would say things about my sexuality that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with. They didn’t, and so when that happened, I think it became a cathartic experience because then I could sing the song without being scared.
You mentioned that Waste Of Time, which arrived earlier this year, touches on being a very particular and controlled person – how does that impact your music, and how do you go about letting go of that side of yourself, especially when it comes to music?
Well, it's a constant battle haha. I’m slowly learning; I’ve started doing meditating and yoga, two things I’ve been strongly against up until this time. I think music has always been a private thing so when I started writing at about 14 that controlled crazy part of me didn’t encroach on my music. Now that some people are listening to my music it tries to come in and I have to just learn to relax and take some deep breaths.
Happy Song is your latest track – can you tell us about this song and how it was created?
I think this is the longest running song I’ve ever written. I started writing it last year the 'da-da-da-da' part. I wanted to make a story that ran through really well about a messy breakup. I wanted to capture the middle part where no one wants to cut the cord, but you both know it's over. I put a phone call as the bridge early on because I think that's where a lot of messy breakups end up; phone calls when one of you is out.
I recorded it with Sam and Dan from Ball Park Music; they are the greatest humans ever and sing in the 'da-da-da-da' part of the song. It took about nine months to finish so it is a song baby that is coming into the world this week and I am so excited.
Are the two singles apart of a bigger project coming up soon? What do you have on the cards for the rest of 2018 and into 2019?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that yet, but this week I did record four new songs in four days. There’ll be something coming up that I’m working really really hard on. For the rest of this year, I have my Space Tour coming up in November. It’s the biggest tour I’ve done so far and I’m working on making it the most out of this world Alex the Astronaut show experience so far. I played at The Factory in Sydney on my first tour with Lisa Mitchell and Dustin Tebbutt so it’s really exciting that I get to come back there and play my own show I can’t wait.
Finally, I know a lot of people talk about there being a scientific or mathematical approach to writing music, which I always find interesting from a scientific background. I know you’re from a scientific background yourself – have you ever found any overlap between science and music? Even if it’s as simple as things you’ve learnt doing music that you’ve been able to transfer into science and vice-versa?
Sometimes there’s a word or line missing in a song and filling it with something that is good and rhymes and fits with the number of syllables required feels a bit maths-ey or science-y. To me, I make sense of my world around me through writing music and I guess scientists do the same.
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