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Working with Words: Alex Lahey

Read Monday, 12 Oct 2020

We spoke with songwriter Alex Lahey about streams of consciousness, Teddy Geiger and the forgotten cinematic classic, Dunston Checks In.

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What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?

Photograph of musician Alex Lahey

There’s a children’s book called The Old Man Who Loved Cheese by Garrison Keillor that I thought was a work of comedic genius when I was five years old. It has a lot of gags about stinky cheese and gastric/bowel movements. Apparently they turned it into an opera.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I started writing songs when I was about 14 years old. I was becoming truly obsessed with music around that time and the way I chose to learn to play what I was surrounding myself with was to teach myself guitar, which naturally turned into writing my own songs. The songs weren’t good. They were about things like being frustrated at teachers, how special I thought my small group of friends was and what I now identify to be intense crushes on girls.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing and music?

My first two jobs were working at a video shop (RIP) and a book shop – both giving me an enormous well of materials to engage with to inform my writing. I got to work with a lot of people who were older than me at these places and who encouraged me to watch and read things that I perhaps never would have considered as a 15–18 year old.

Beyond that, my only other jobs were ones I largely bluffed my way into without any formidable qualifications, but were entrenched in writing – they were all in either the public or not-for-profit sector, writing internal communications documents (aka ‘a means to an end’). Despite the bureaucratic nature of that style of writing, it did mean that I was always working with words and language, and I truly believe I’m a better songwriter for it. 

Despite the bureaucratic nature of that style of writing, it did mean that I was always working with words and language, and I truly believe I’m a better songwriter for it.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’ve always had this weird fantasy of managing a luxury five-star hotel. This could come from my childhood obsession with the forgotten cinematic classic, Dunston Checks In.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice: ‘just keep writing’.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?

Funnily enough, I’ve just started to do this thing where I write three pages of stream of consciousness text the moment I wake up. The practice is taken from this book called The Artist’s Way, which is about unblocking creative flow. Since I’ve started doing this each morning, I feel so much more alert and engaged throughout the day. I hope to keep it up for as long as I can.

Which classic book/play/film/TV show/album do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

Overrated: The Bible.

Underrated: The entire Teddy Geiger solo catalogue. 

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

I’m very particular about having to write in the same notebook until I’ve filled up every page. I recently jumped ship from Decomposition Books to soft cover Moleskines, which was a bigger deal to me than I’d like to admit.

Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

Not at this stage, but it’ll happen. I’m sure of it.

Which artist, musician, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with? 

This is an answer that changes so frequently, but right now, I would say Nick Cave. I’m fascinated by his capacity to be so prolific across so many mediums and disciplines. I would ask him where his confidence to do so comes from given no one is ever ‘ready’ to create. 

Alex Lahey’s new music video for Everyday’s The Weekend is out now – you can check it out here. The video was created when Alex asked her fans to send her videos of how they’ve been keeping themselves busy in lockdown, and was set to a stripped back version of the song, which Alex recorded herself, while in isolation.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.