Guitar Strings and Life Things

14 min read
Australian indie rocker Alex Lahey’s punk-tinged power pop takes on life’s heavy stuff with a spoonful of sugar. In 2023, she released her third album, The Answer is Always Yes, showcasing her telecaster’s classic alternative crunch and her uncanny knack for soaring pop hooks. Prior to making the journey to Fairbanks, some 8,000 miles north of her hometown of Melbourne, she made time for a chat.

Phil Hokenson: First, I just want to say I’m a big fan. Love your music and had the opportunity to see you at Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge in Washington in 2018.

Alex Lahey: That was a really special show. I remember it very, very fondly.

PH: I thought you blew the lid off the place. I was watching your set with an Alaska musician, Matt Hopper, and he had never heard you before and was really impressed with your songs. In general, how has touring in the US been for you?

AL: I love touring in the US. It feels like such a different pace from touring in Australia, which is so exciting. It just feels like you’re on a massive adventure. Getting in the van and driving across and around this enormous country is wild. It’s incredible to see all the diversity of people and places and culture. Compared to Australia, where, for one, you have to fly everywhere because everywhere’s just too spread out, it always feels really special to come and tour here and it’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s awesome.

PH: I really like your guitar tone—takes me back to 90s alt rock—and your songwriting is just really great. What are some of the bands and musicians that influenced you?

AL: Two of my favorite bands ever are Paramore and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, so I guess there’s a lot of that sort of influence, but I grew up listening to the Ramones and Pearl Jam and a bunch of stuff like that. Also, I feel like there was a real golden age of songwriters in Australia at the time that I was coming up and playing and learning how to play guitar. One name that you guys might know is an artist named Missy Higgins. I guess any songwriter who’s coming up in Australia right now has debts to pay to Missy Higgins. She’s so enormously influential, not just for me, but for so many other people. I feel really lucky to have grown up in a time with that sort of music around me. It was really good.

PH: The Answer is Always Yes is another fantastic album that just came out last year. Do you already have something else you’re working on now?

AL: I’m sort of starting to find myself in the embryonic stage of another record. Sort of starting to think about that, which is nice. I’d like to have a bit of time between putting The Answer is Always Yes out and thinking about something new, but for the last few months I’ve been doing a whole lot of writing and producing for other artists, which I always love doing as well. But now I’m just starting to have those inexplicable moments where ideas come and maybe it’s time to start thinking about the next thing. I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying ‘yes’.

PH: Why a telecaster?

AL: I was drawn to the telecaster really initially because Bruce Springsteen played one, but my first ever real electric guitar, like a lot of people, [was] a Mexican telecaster. I’ve played a few of them—I’ve played some really nice ones, I’ve played some that leave a bit to be desired, but still that first guitar that I bought when I was eighteen is still kind of the one for whatever reason. It’s nothing fancy, but I feel like with those you get one that has the right neck or feel or whatever and it sounds really solid. I’ve run the gamut with a few other types of guitars, and I’m sure I will continue to forever because it’s important to see what else is out there, but as far as live stuff goes, the tele serves me well. They’re also, as we would say in Australia, built like a brick shithouse. [laughs] They are completely indestructible. So that helps on the road as well to have something that’s pretty sturdy and isn’t going to get dented up too easily.

PH: I got a telecaster when I was younger man. For me it was Joe Strummer, but I always figure it’s Strummer or Springsteen for a lot of people.

AL: Joe Strummer’s a good one. I like that.

PH: One of the things I really like about your music is that regardless of the subject-matter—and sometimes it might be bleak—usually it sounds like you had a lot of fun making it and I think that’s a rare quality. Is making songs that take on heavy topics, but sonically have this kind of optimistic bounce to them something you strive to do?

AL: Not really, I mean the only thing I really, really strive to do is to have fun. I think in this line of work, it’s the only thing you can guarantee. And if you can’t guarantee that, then there’s not really much else in it for you. Everything else is so tenuous, from income to scheduling to whatever it may be. For me, as long as I’m having fun and I do what I need to do to make sure that that happens, that keeps me in the game. I don’t know if that sort of subconsciously or consciously affects my creative instincts… It’s like any sort of relationship with anything that you have in your life. You’re like ‘is it working for me?’ For me, as long as I’m having fun doing what I do and writing songs and making music and it’s not causing me agony, even if sometimes it does, I’ll forever be doing it. I just feel so lucky and I can’t believe that my job is to do what I do. It’s ridiculous. I feel like I’m in a simulation or something… And I really like it when people say to me that it’s a song that sounds happy, but it’s actually about something that’s heavy or tragic or whatever—the happy-sad thing. I kinda like that. That’s not deliberate, but I think it’s cool.

PH: One band from Australia that I’ve listened to in the last few years is the Dune Rats and they have this really joyful bouncy punk sound that you don’t really hear in the US a whole lot and I was wondering if it’s maybe something about the attitude of Australians, like the music is more free to embrace this realm of joy there.

AL: I wonder. I think that there is a part of the Australian music market for so long that has been so rooted in festivals. That’s historically been such a huge part of the live music market and so a lot of people have their live music experiences as fans at music festivals and the types of music that really connect at those sorts of events is kind of like what you’ve described. I wonder if that’s a product of that. Like it’s sort of formed the way things sound, perhaps. People like to have fun and it’s fun music.

PH: Even bands like AC/DC and the Bee Gees. That’s still kind of fun music.

AL: Yeah, and I think a big part of Australian identity and what Australians like to celebrate about themselves is this idea of not taking yourself too seriously… You get that fun, no worries feel… and just being comfortable with the simplicity of it all.

PH: Years ago, I was reading an in-flight magazine on Alaska Airlines and they were interviewing a TV producer for the Discovery Channel or some channel like that and this producer said all she had to do was set a show in one of the “big A’s”, Alaska or Australia, and she knew it would be a success. Both places are these big land masses that have this kind of magical aura to them and often people have preconceptions about what it’s like to live there; like here in Alaska maybe people think we all live in igloos. Is there anything people in the States get wrong about Australia?

AL: Oh yeah, it’s so funny. The thing people get really freaked out about Australia I find is just like there’s spiders everywhere and that is not entirely true. I sort of freak them out by saying it’s the little ones you can’t see that actually kill you, which is true. [laughs] So that always gets them, but I think the tropes of ‘do you ride a kangaroo to school?’ and that kind of thing are not really what you hear as much anymore. But I think the spider one is certainly a myth that I both dispel and lean into.

PH: I had the opportunity to go to Australia about 15 years ago and I was struck by some of similarities with the US, but one thing I will say about the spiders is that I saw a ton of those redback spiders, which…

AL: Oh whoa, they’re scary.

PH: …which freaked me out a bit. A couple things that surprised me were the love of country music and cowboy culture and the devotion to a form of football nobody else in the world plays, so that was similar to the US. It felt really comfortable to me. I wonder if it’s a similar experience as an Australian coming to the US.

AL: Yeah, maybe. The thing about the US is that everywhere you go there’s different cultures and I feel like in Australia the differences from one place to the next culturally are kind of marginal. They’re there, but they’re not enormous, whereas I feel like in the US, Midwest culture is really a thing and California culture and Pacific Northwest culture and East Coast culture—they’re all very different. I’m in Nashville at the moment but I’m usually in East LA when I’m in the US and they’re two very different places even though East Nashville and East LA kind of parallel in some ways, but, at the end of the day, the South is different from California… that’s the thing, to come full circle, I really enjoy about touring in the States. There is that duplicity. Australian culture is… I’m a big footie fan. I’m from Melbourne which is the home of footie, so that’s something that I do miss when I’m out of Australia, but those observations you made are pretty astute. You kind of hit the nail on the head with those things.

PH: You once sang a song titled “Alaska” and in it you sang “if I could if I could go anywhere, I’d leave here for Alaska.” Prophetic words at this point! Fairbanks is 140 miles from the Arctic Circle—as someone from the Southern Hemisphere, did you ever think you would travel this far north to play music?

AL: I always hoped so. It was always on the bucket list. I’m really pretty stoked. It’s crazy telling my friends in Australia that I’m going to Alaska and they’re like, ‘That place actually is real? That’s crazy!’ And then I tell friends of mine here in the US and they’re like, ‘What the hell?’ It’s a pretty sweet flex to say you’re going to Alaska, so it’s not lost on me how cool it is and what an amazing opportunity and experience it’s going to be. I couldn’t be happier and, like I said, I always thought I’d come to Alaska, but, to be honest with you, I didn’t think it was going to be to come and play music. [laughs] I never really got a feeling that there was a demand for my music in Alaska, but one thing leads to another and the next minute you book some shows in Alaska and you can’t wait.

PH: How did you link up with Fairbanks own Emily Anderson for this Alaska tour?

AL: We actually met at a wedding, which is funny, and we share a very close mutual friend and that was how we met and then Emily was telling me about “Parlor in the Round” and really painted this awesome picture of live music in Alaska, which is so rooted around community and just bringing people together. When she suggested that I should be a part of this run of shows, I jumped at the opportunity.

PH: Well, Fairbanks is pretty much the end of the musical road in the touring world. Aside from the rare visit from Frank Turner and the Screaming Females in the last few years, we haven’t had many indie rock bands or musicians come visit, especially post-COVID, so I just last wanted to thank you for coming up. I think it’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to it.

AL: Oh dude, it’s my pleasure and really the shout out goes to Emily and Kevin and Michelle and all the crew over at Parlor. They’ve got such an amazing thing going in [Alaska] and to have been brought into that, I feel enormously privileged and honored to be part of it, so I can’t wait to get up there and play some songs and have a really awesome time.

PH: Awesome. Well, we’ll see you soon!

AL: Hell yeah, dude. Thank you so much for the chat.

PH: Thank you!

Picture of Phil Hokenson

Phil Hokenson

Phil has loved the music of Fairbanks since the Army brought him here in 2007. He co-hosted a show on KSUA 91.5 FM called "Atlas Rocked" with his brother, Nate, that won a national Radio Star award for best music show in the spring of 2013, and has written about rock music for KSUA's blog, the UAF SunStar,, and in New York's Hudson Valley.

Picture of Phil Hokenson

Phil Hokenson

Phil has loved the music of Fairbanks since the Army brought him here in 2007. He co-hosted a show on KSUA 91.5 FM called "Atlas Rocked" with his brother, Nate, that won a national Radio Star award for best music show in the spring of 2013, and has written about rock music for KSUA's blog, the UAF SunStar,, and in New York's Hudson Valley.