ONElex Lahey is booked and busy. When NME meet her in a bougie cafe on the outskirts of Melbourne, a few blocks away from her childhood home, she has just come from training for an AFL game where she will play in front of around 50,000 players with her favorite team (St Kilda Saints) . In just one week, she will fly out to her second home in Los Angeles to prepare for a three-month tour of the United States.
For all the tension in Lahey’s diary, she’s not exactly an archetype of rock star excess. Dressed in a simple crew neck and sporting bed hair, she jokes about her order of sparkling water reflecting her “gigantic ego” (even though it’s the cheapest item on the menu) and interrupts our conversation to riff on her current obsession with Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
This carefree buoyancy has always been a cornerstone of Lahey’s art, from the blissful idleness of ‘Ivy League’ to the outright hilarity of her latest music videos, like those for ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Good Time’. Lahey wears her looseness on her sleeve like a badge of honor, but she doesn’t do anything. Especially not her third album, ‘The Answer Is Always Yes’, out today (May 19). “I’ve never worked so hard on a record,” she declares proudly. “I hope people can hear that it really was a labor of love and that I really made an effort to push my [artistry] forth.”
The album’s story began with Lahey at his lowest. It was late 2019 – just a few months after dropping her acclaimed second album, ‘The Best Of Luck Club’ – and she was living in the pristine Northern Rivers region of NSW. A local art gallery let her have a room in their facility in an old converted fire station, where she promised to write her next record in a few months. “And then I sat in that room writing songs, every single day, and I didn’t like a single one… It was like pulling teeth.”
The problem, Lahey eventually discovered, was that she had tried to recreate the writing process for ‘The Best Of Luck Club’ (and its predecessor, 2017’s ‘I Love You Like A Brother’) which “just wasn’t doing it for me anymore “. So she scrapped the record she’d been working on and started from scratch, her modus operandi being the absolute lack of one. “I just threw myself into the unknown,” she says, “and it’s so crazy to me, what came of it.”
The album itself has an impressively broad palette with plenty to explore between the crunchy, Courtney Barnett-esque opener ‘Good Time’ and the shimmering and transcendent title track. The latter is one of two ballads on the tracklist, with ‘The Sky Is Melting’ being the other; both are a slow burn to a powerful crescendo – but where the title track is built around synths and atmospherically dense production, ‘Sky’ (which is about greening out in Joshua Tree) leans on rich, analogue acoustics and warm strings. Then there’s ‘Pavement’, a heartfelt acoustic tune about gentrification and the concept of home that ends with an explosive and emotional climax.
“I live a life of queer joy… but I’m not naive enough to say it hasn’t come with difficulties”
In the early writing sessions for ‘The Answer Is Always Yes’, Lahey made a concerted effort to empty his “bag of tricks” and shuffle them around into something new. “I tuned my guitars differently and started songs with the parts I would normally keep for the end,” she says.
‘They Wouldn’t Let Me In’ was one of the songs that came from this process: “Chris [Collins, co-writer] and I was in my little studio in Brunswick, and he said, “What do you want to do today?” And I just thought, ‘Hmm… I want to write a song on bass. That’s what I want to do today.’ I had never done that before, but I wanted to push myself to start the process more creatively – or at least in a way that I wouldn’t normally think of.”
‘They Wouldn’t Let Me In’ is also important for its themes: Lahey has long been vocal about her queerness – “I’ve always said that by default all my songs are queer songs because I’m a queer person and I seeing life through a queer lens” – but this is her first song that explicitly addresses her experience of growing up in a straight world.
When she wrote it, she had just finished watching Cardiac arrester and found himself moved by its depiction of queer joy. “But I remember growing up, every time I saw a queer person on TV, it was a problem—they were killed, or they had health problems, or they were in the closet, or they weren’t happy. . . . And it’s if they were anything more than a punchline at all,” she says.
“It’s really hard to see when you grow up as a queer kid – especially when there’s so much other crap you have to navigate differently. Especially as a teenager, you’re expected to go through all these rites of passage that just aren’t built for queer people: school formals, swimming lessons, going to your boyfriend’s house for the first time… I’ve had situations where some parents wouldn’t let me in in their home because I was gay. I live a life of queer joy – and that’s great, and I really hope that every other queer person does too – but I’m not naive enough to say that it hasn’t come with difficulties.”
Had she not radically changed her creative process, Lahey probably wouldn’t have written a song like ‘They Wouldn’t Let Me In’. She admits that when she first started gathering steam in 2016 off the back of her ‘B-Grade University’ EP, she was “really worried about being put at the bottom as a queer artist”. It was a chance meeting with Tegan and Sara – a “guardian angel experience”, she laughs – that spurred her to go her own way.
“I asked them, ‘I don’t want to be put in the ‘queer artist’ box so early, what should I do?’ And they said, ‘You just have to act as you think the norm should be, and the norm will follow.’ And the norm for me is that I don’t care that I’m gay.”
“Each record has its own sense of being attached to itself. And I’m really proud of the version of me that I put into this one”
At the same time, Lahey emphasizes that she sees her own queerness as a strength: “I think seeing the world through a queer lens is like one of the greatest gifts of all. Life is more colorful; it’s more fun.” She also “absolutely” wants to be a role model for young queer Australians.
“I think part of the beauty of being a queer person is the community,” she says, “and I think some of the most valuable people in our community are queer elders. I hope that one day I can become one of the elders in our community and have helped make it easier for the young people who come into it.”
Reflecting on her identity now, Lahey says she definitely changed as a person making The Answer Is Always Yes. “I think every record an artist makes is an extension of their identity,” she says, “but as an artist you don’t know what it is until it’s finished. I didn’t know who I was when I made it [this album]but I can listen to it and see everything that was going on – and it’s really nice to have that kind of earmark on my life.
“It’s almost like the whole Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ thing, right? Each record has its own sense of being attached to itself. And I’m really proud of the version of me that I put into this one.”