Sarah Saint James and Alex Lahey interview one another, celebrate new collab Heather
As one of the year's catchiest pop-punk collaborations continues to dominate, we catch up with the two forces behind it about how it came about.
There's a strong chance that you've heard Sarah Saint James blast through your speakers at some point over the last month. Her latest single Heather is a fiery collaboration alongside alt-pop-rock heavyweight Alex Lahey, and it's one of the catchiest homegrown hits of the year; a searing, three-minute blast of self-empowering brilliance that channels all the nostalgic glory of mid-2000s emo through to modern-day pop-punk, tied together with a reflection on high school culture that further reinforces Heather's nostalgic, backwards-looking qualities.
"It’s not about revenge…" introduces Sarah on the single, which as she explains, was written about a situation in high school when she was deserted by her circle of friends after her best friend at the time spread a rumour about her, leaving her to be bullied by the 'heathers' - the popular kids - at the school. "I actually feel sorry for her, because no matter what she did, she would never be okay within herself, and nothing she did put me six feet under."
It's a theme that comes to life through clenched-fists pop-punk, capturing the anthemic-like qualities of pop-punk and emo-rock's heyday while showing how the genre continues to exist and take new forms in the modern lens. It's something that feels like a long time coming for Sarah Saint James too, stepping up after her previous work flirted with the outer fringes of alt-pop and her underlying fascinations with the culture of the mid-2000s era; a combination of which now combining with ease on Heather.
As it turns out, seasoned alt-rock favourite Alex Lahey played a part in the breakthrough single, co-writing the single alongside Sarah Saint James and adding her distinct, Lahey touch in the process. Alex Lahey's influence on Heather is evident from the get-go; the earworming intoxication of the single feeling reminiscent of Lahey's own work, which has that special quality that allows it to weasel its way into your brain and set up camp for months.
Now, a month following Heather's initial release, we're stoked to witness the dynamite pair come together once again in interview form, as they reflect on the single's creation and chat about pop-punk and more in a little interview. It's a wholesome moment from the pair who have each experienced defining breakthroughs over the last 12 months - Sarah Saint James with her viral mad at god single; Lahey with the first taste of new material in the form of Spike The Punch a few weeks back - and we have no doubts there's plenty more in the pipeline.
In the meantime, take a dive into Heather below, and read the pair interview one another underneath:
Alex Lahey interviews Sarah Saint James:
Alex: What was the story behind Heather? Can you go more into what happened, how old you were, and how it made you feel to write the song in the first place?
Sarah: The story is a little bit of a rollercoaster. When I was 15, I got really sick with a bad case of glandular fever that affected my liver, and put me into the ICU. I had - what I thought was - a really tight-knit group of friends, so as I was being admitted I called one of those friends to let them know I wouldn’t be in, and she blindsided me with a comment that still sticks with me about a nasty rumour somebody had come up with. Being so ill, I didn’t get to use my phone while I was in hospital, and when I was discharged I logged onto my laptop to see hundreds of comments naming me, bullying me and saying that I would have no friends when I returned to school. I did nothing to deserve what happened to me.
I found out that it was all one girls doing, who had initially come up with a rumour about me, and spread it throughout my school, and online. This girl is who the majority of Heather is based on. I think it’s important to realise that with age comes hindsight, and that I can see now her own trauma and her own home life probably affected her, and caused her to lash out at others. I do truly forgive her and feel for her now that I can see the bigger picture, but this song was about processing the feelings I had as a fifteen-year-old - as I am absolutely sure there are others going through the exact same thing right now.
Alex: Why did you choose ‘Heathers’ as the movie to inspire our song?
Sarah: When I watched the movie, it immediately resonated with me. The one girl who craves the attention to be on her, and for others to be like her - that really stems from insecurity. It felt like it totally mirrored my life. I felt like Veronica straight away. I wrote down an idea for the chorus, to use Heather as a metaphor for my experience, and as you know when we went into the session together I mentioned I’d watched it the night before. It was super serendipitous that you had only watched it two days prior. It all felt very universal and meant to be almost haha.
Alex: Do you have any advice for people going through the same thing that you were growing up?
Sarah: YES. I know it often seems really impossible, and like a never-ending uphill battle - and I know this sounds cliche - but it does get better! It might take you one year, two years, seven years, but you will eventually get past it all and no longer have the fear and insecurity inside of you. It’s almost like one day you wake up, and look in the mirror almost as if to say “I am strong as hell”. These times truly mould you as a person, and make you grow into an incredible person full of resilience, and strength. Who knows, you might even be a role model someday too. That’s all I want to be.
Alex: What was your favourite moment from our session?
Sarah: I love the entire creative process, from our 45 minute round trip to get a good coffee and have a chat, to recording the demo. My favourite part I caught on video was when we finally recorded the bridge going into the last chorus where it blows up, and us both hyping up what it’s going to be like for me to perform live. I’ve never done a show, and I have to say this is the song that I’m most excited to play for the first time. I definitely burnt a few calories jumping around the room that day!
Alex: Who are your favourite pop-punk-emo bands?
Sarah: My favourite band of all time is My Chemical Romance, like to the point where I know what hospital Gerard Way was born in. I have been giving obsessed fangirl energy since I was 12. Growing up I went through a few obsessions after MCR - Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, A Day To Remember, Mayday Parade, Escape The Fate, All Time Low, The Amity Affliction & Bring Me The Horizon just to name a few of the biggest ones.
Alex: What’s next for Sarah Saint James?
Sarah: I’m currently putting the final touches on my debut EP! The next twelve months are looking to be pretty massive for me. I’m flying to Melbourne in a few weeks to film a bunch of videos - live & stripped versions of my songs, and music videos for my next singles too. I’ve had to cancel a bunch of shows (that I didn’t even get to announce) that are now rescheduled for next year too - so I’ll FINALLY get to play my debut show! 2022 is shaping up to be absolutely massive. I’m also already writing my second record, so who knows!
Sarah Saint James interviews Alex Lahey:
Sarah: What did you think when we met for the first time going into the session? Was what we created in line with what you thought we would make?
Alex: I always go into sessions with no expectations, especially when I’ve never met the artist before, so I had no idea what to anticipate would come out of it. In the first 15 minutes of us hanging out, it became apparent that I’d never worked with another artist with such an in-depth knowledge of the pop-punk music and scene that I grew up with more than you! It was so, so refreshing and made me so excited to come up with something that honed in on that common influence and history we share. We went from being total strangers to being a perfect fit in a matter of minutes.
Sarah: Who are your biggest influences musically?
Alex: That’s always such a hard question to answer because I feel like my influences are always in a state of flux. But some of the artists and bands that remain to be my “forever touchstones” range from The Ramones, The Clash, Paramore, Sheryl Crow, Haim, Dolly Parton, basically anything Justin Meldal-Johnsen has produced, Sharon Van Etten, The Killers etc etc
Sarah: You’ve been writing and producing for some incredible artists this year, how do you find being in the producer chair?
Alex: I love producing and writing so, so much, especially for other artists. I’m a firm believer that music is a true social phenomenon and that phenomenon extends to being in the studio. Whenever I write or produce for another artist, my goal is to get that artist to come out of the session feeling like they’ve done something that they would’ve never thought they could do when they woke up that morning. Whether it’s telling a story they didn’t think had a place in a song or playing a guitar line they never thought they’d be able to play themselves; it’s stuff like that that gets me really excited in sessions and I see it as my role to help the artist extend themselves in that way.
I just want people to feel empowered by their creativity and provide a safe space for them to explore how they want to express themselves in that moment.
Sarah: Your new single ‘Spike The Punch’ came out a couple of weeks ago. How did the song come about?
Alex: It sure did and it’s great to have that little fella out in the world. I got to write that song with my mate Gab Strum in between lockdowns last year - we were just hanging out in his old studio and wrote a song for fun and I was like “this is sick - shotgun!” I produced the tune up with my other mate John Castle before sending the stems to Carlos de la Garza to mix it. Carlos has mixed some of my favourite records of all time, so that was honestly a dream come true.
Sarah: How are you feeling about 2022 and the possibility of shows coming back? Are you planning anything for next year?
Alex: Mama’s getting back on the road and she CANNOT wait! Also, there’ll be a new AL album.
Sarah: What’s next for Alex Lahey?
Alex: The remainder of 2021 alone includes producing some songs for one of my favourite up and coming Australian bands, finishing my own record, getting back to rehearsing with my beautiful band, writing more songs and watching Succession. As for 2022 - lots of touring, lots of new music and hopefully there’ll be another season of The L Word by then.