Am I Doing It Right?11 June 2019
Front-man Georgia Maq closed Camp Cope’s Falls Festival 2017 act demanding that 2018 be the year that minorities take to the forefront of the music scene. As I stood on the grass field, surrounded by hundreds of fans applauding this controversial statement—their song The Opener takes aim at the exclusionary nature of the industry with lines such as “yeah just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota” and “it’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me”—I found myself wondering about the experience of being a gay woman in such an environment. I immediately thought of Alex Lahey and the bravery she expresses by relaying her experiences through her music, while rarely explicitly referencing the double whammy of discrimination queer women are subjected to.
The first time I heard of Alex Lahey was 2017. My then-girlfriend went to the launch of her first album in Melbourne and told me about this gay female rock artist who absolutely shredded on the guitar and held the audience in the palm of her hand. As a British-born-New-Zealand raised lesbian, I knew embarrassingly little about either the Australian music scene or LGBT representation within it. But from the first time I heard the titular track of her record, “I Love You Like A Brother”, I fell under Lahey’s spell.
I got the chance to speak with Alex Lahey recently, and we discussed what it’s like for her as a gay woman to navigate an industry notorious for its sexism. She told me that at first, she was worried about the press pigeonholing her.
“I think that being a woman in any industry is really hard. That’s just the world that we live in,” she began, before recounting a conversation she had with Sara Quin from Tegan and Sara when she toured with them earlier in her career.
“I was saying to her, ‘you guys have paved the way, you guys were doing it in the late nineties when publications were calling you like, ‘menstrual pop’ and all sorts of derogatory stuff like that!’ And she was like, ’yeah and you need to keep paving it. We’ve paved the way to point, and now it’s time to hand it over to other artists like you.’ Then she said something along the lines of, if you practice what you believe the norm should be, then the norm will follow. And I feel like that has been my attitude towards being a woman and being a queer woman professionally. It shouldn’t fucking matter, and I’m not going to temper the decisions I make to appease those things.”
It’s been a long and slow road, but we’re gradually seeing more diverse artists gaining recognition within the entertainment business. That’s certainly not to say we don’t have a way to go—but with each stand against conformity, a path is made for more to follow.
When it comes to being a role model for other gay women aspiring towards straight-male-dominated careers, Alex is passionate about the effect that minority representation can have for people of all demographics. She recounted an encounter she had while playing a show in the US:
“This woman came up to me, and she was like ‘it’s really good to see someone on stage who looks like me.’ And we didn’t look anything alike, but I loved that. It wasn’t about looking like someone; it was about identifying with someone. When you and I were growing up, there wasn’t any gay people on TV, and if there were, they were super stereotyped and usually men. I feel like now, kids are able to have those people in front of them on the telly, and it’s changing the norm. And if I can contribute to that, that’s a really big part of my mantra achieved.”
To some extent, Alex chalks this success up to her ’gay experience’ being different to that of the common LGBT experience. Alex explained that she never really “came out.”
“I just got a girlfriend when I was sixteen. Which is where [my] naivety comes from. I was like ‘oh yeah, so you know so-and-so who’s been staying over? Well …’ and everyone was like ‘oh we had no idea …’” She laughed.
Alex revealed that when she had her first real confrontation with homophobia in her late teens, she was mostly surprised, rather than upset. “I was like, oh my God, people actually think this? Like, this is ridiculous! Of course. we’re still the outsider,” she noted, “but all that I know is that I was born like this, and I’ve been lucky enough to be raised in an environment where that’s never been questioned, and it’s always been accepted.”
Yet she feels strongly that her sexuality isn’t the focal point of her personality or music. “It’s funny, because whether you do or don’t define [yourself by a marginalised identity] they’re both very empowering things to do. But I just don’t want anyone to ever feel that they have to limit themselves in a certain way because of the way they identify.”
Alex wants to break the barriers by placing the emphasis on her craft and talent. However, in “There’s No Money” from Alex’s first album, there’s a particularly powerful line that references the fact that Australia didn’t have marriage equality yet: “we can’t marry even if we want to.” I asked her what inspired her to put that line in, considering her music doesn’t usually contain explicit references to what she believes has “almost become a secondary part of [her] story.”
She explained it was the irony of her situation—her younger brother marrying someone he hadn’t known for very long against the backdrop of the debate over marriage equality—that influenced her to include the lyric. “They’re still together and I love them very much,” she said, “but it was a kind of social reflection on the basis of personal circumstances.”
Like many LGBT people at the time, Alex felt the effects of the debate and referendum keenly. When I asked her how it impacted her sense of identity, she was upfront that for her there were positive and negative aspects.
“The results of the marriage equality vote going through opened up a whole new world for me in terms of what I could see in my future,” she remarked, before expressing concern over the far-reaching consequences. “The only thing I felt during [the survey] was a huge amount of fear for young queer people. I thought that the survey was a real cop out, especially on Malcolm Turnbull’s part, and I think that he should be ashamed that he put that through in the first place because it put so many people at risk.”
When I asked if she had any advice for young gay artists coming out and starting in the music industry, Alex reiterated the importance of paving your own path, but also not being afraid to confide in those with more experience. “When you have another agenda going alongside your craft, then it does get conflicting,” Alex reflected. “And sometimes you get asked things, or asked to do things, that you don’t quite know if that feels like that’s the right thing to do, and it’s okay to feel conflicted about those things and okay to talk about it.”
When I pressed her on how she dealt with this, she explained: “You challenge things when you don’t think that’s the way it should be. At the end of the day, what do you think the world should look like? And I don’t think people’s gender or sexuality should come into defining who they are as an artist on anyone else’s account other than their own.”
And her advice seems worth taking. Since the release of her 2016 EP B-Grade University, Alex has continued to attract success with her first full length album, I Love You Like A Brother in 2017. Now she’s back, with her upcoming album The Best of Luck Club due out in May. Recorded in October of last year, Alex co-produced the record with Catherine Marks, a producer and sound engineer.
“I think I look at every album as somewhat of a growth, you know. I can tell you that the process in which [this album] was made is drastically different to anything that I’ve done before. The songs kind of really encompass a specific period of my life, as opposed to be[ing] a collection of songs from my whole song-writing life, which people’s first albums tend to be.”
What makes this album special is the insularity of the creative approach she and Marks took. Alex played most of the instruments on the record, save for the drums and her partner on the keys. “It was pretty much literally just Catherine and I in the studio the whole time,” she said.
Not only that, but Alex disclosed that almost all the vocals on the new album were raw takes she recorded as she wrote the song. “It means that what you’re hearing is actually the first time the words have ever been sung. It wasn’t a conscious thing, that’s the way that it went, and that’s kind of special and meaningful.”
There is no doubt that Alex Lahey has a bright future of paving new paths, from which one day a whole new generation of female and LGBT musicians will be able to forge their own.