Published May 13, 2019When it came time for Alex Lahey to record her new album, The Best of Luck Club — the followup to her debut album, 2017's I Love You Like a Brother, on which she was assisted by a slew of musicians — she considered the ten or so instruments she could play herself, and made an easy decision: why not just do it all herself?
"I think I was just allowing myself to do new things without reaching a roadblock and thinking, 'Oh, I need to get someone else in to sort this out for me,'" she tells Exclaim! in an interview over Facebook Messenger video chat. "When there was a challenge coming up, I would try and figure out what I could do with what I had available at that moment. Whether it was a tricky guitar part, drums or a lyric, I thought, 'Okay, what can I do with my lacking skillset to get past this challenge?'"
With the exception of the drums, Lahey performed all of the instruments herself on new album, The Best of Luck Club — and co-produced alongside Catherine Marks, who had previously worked on records by PJ Harvey, St. Vincent and Foals. For Lahey, it was an opportunity to push herself and see what could happen.
"There was a personal goal to become more self-sufficient as a musician," she says. "I've collaborated with others my whole life, and I think it's a real strong suit of mine. But this time around I wanted to do more myself and explore more of me. That being said, I worked really closely with Catherine. She's based in London now, so we only had x amount of time to make the record because she was literally leaving. The circumstance of that is that things get done quicker when you're not waiting around for other people. It was very empowering and exciting, as well as a great way to get to know someone."
Having Marks aboard added some much needed energy to the sessions, which took place in Nashville, Tennessee — nearly 15,000 kilometres away from Lahey's home in Melbourne, Australia. Although she proved how entertaining she could be on the power pop-heavy I Love You Like a Brother, Lahey sought Marks to give it even more verve.
"Catherine and I got on really well, and I think it's a really fun record, despite being heavy lyrically in parts," she explains. "I don't think that that same energy would have come through if Catherine and I didn't become friends like we did."
The two of them introduced a tradition of "Double Denim Thursdays" in the studio and during breaks went out to sample Nashville's selection of dive bars. Lahey says that she and Marks also played "dress-up" for fun, but not in the way one might expect.
"The concept is this whole thing about The Best of Luck Club being a place where anyone can go regardless of the day or experience they've had, and have a seat at the table and be able to be open about it and receive support from other people," she explains. "I tried to manifest The Best of Luck Club in this dive bar setting. When I explained this concept to Catherine I told her I viewed every song as a character in this bar, and working on it feels like we were playing dress-up every time we go into a new song. It was like method acting in a way."
One way in which they dressed up lead single "Don't Be So Hard on Yourself" was with Lahey ripping a killer solo with her alto saxophone, an instrument that she studied in university. Although she used it sparingly on I Love You Like a Brother, she fully embraced the instrument this time around.
"Because I was the only person playing, I just brought in all of my shit to the studio, including the saxophone," she says. "And it was sort of this joke that I had brought it with me. We were recording 'Don't Be So Hard on Yourself' and Catherine wanted to have some fun, so she told me to pick up the saxophone. I don't think she knew that I actually played it, so she was like, 'Just give me whatever.' And I gave her this solo and I don't think she was expecting it. She actually started to cry with laughter, and it became part of the song's energy. From there we just committed to using the saxophone. I remember Catherine calling it one of the most absurd production decisions she's ever made."
Lahey is no stranger to using her music to bring laughter. Her songwriting style leans heavily on sarcastic anecdotes and witty one-liners, which is evident on both of her albums. And while The Best of Luck Club may lean a little more towards heart-spilling confessions, she still finds time to drop a zinger like, "You're an old Hotmail account that will never be renounced." For Lahey, it's a tricky songwriting tool, but an effective one when you nail it.
"It is a fine line," she admits. "My sense of humour is pretty dry, so sometimes people can't tell if I'm joking. Maybe that comes across in the music as well. I also think that the actual music itself plays a role in it too. If the music doesn't play into the joke too much you can get away with it."
"A great example is 'Every Time the Sun Comes Up' by Sharon Van Etten, where she sings, 'I washed your dishes / But I shit in your bathroom.' It's a very abrasive image: someone taking a dump in your house. But it's the most beautiful song ever. How can a song be so beautiful when it has a line about someone taking a shit in someone's bathroom? It's amazing!"
The Best of Luck Club is out May 17 courtesy of Dead Oceans.