“I love you like a brother”, as a phrase, sounds like a gentle way of letting a guy down – letting him know his state of adoration is unrequited.
For Alex Lahey, and for the eponymous track on her debut album, it’s something much more joyful: a celebration of real, beautiful friendship that’s so close it moves into kinship. “My best friend now, his name’s Olllie, and he and I have been friends since the first day of high school,” Lahey tells us. “When I was 14 all the girls had crushes on boys. I was like, ‘I like Ollie.’ I told him, and he said ‘What are you talking about?’ I was like, ‘Isn’t that what this is?’ I was so confused. Even though he was a 13 or 14 year old boy, he was just, ‘We’re just friends.’ He still stayed my friend and he didn’t read into it. He’s the best. If everyone had a bit of Ollie in them, the world would be a better place.”
He made me think more about the vocal delivery, and how that was reflective of the lyrics, and how that can create a mood.
There’s another dude whose presence has lately become paramount in Lahey’s personal and professional sphere: Oscar Dawson. The Holy Holy guitarist and producer extraordinaire was pivotal in the recording and producing of I Love You Like A Brother, including aiding Lahey with a pretty brilliant solution to how they were going to (cheaply) include vibraphone, xylophone, glock and other big-scale instrumentation to stand-out track Backpack (a song Lahey says she wrote while listening to the lush arrangements of Arcade Fire). “[Oscar] was like, ‘Yeah, but where the hell are you going to get that orchestral percussion?’ I said, ‘Let’s go to school.’ Oscar and I coincidentally went to the same high school, but 10 years apart. I rang them up and said, ‘Hey, we’re these two alumni who want to record part of an album together in the school,’ and they said ‘Sure, whatever.’ They opened it up for one weekend for us. It sounds like this whole orchestra but it’s really me; we set everything up in a circle and I just went around each instrument. We used the timpani, and those big cymbals, and tubular bells. It was really fun.”
Another clue to the merry time the two had, and their easy rapport, appears at the end of the title track: Lahey remarks “He’s a Derrison.” It sounds like a playfully disparaging term, like ‘nimrod’ or ‘dorkus’. “It’s an Oscarism,” Lahey laughs, and continues to chortle all the way through explaining a detailed in-joke which references two separate YouTube phenoms and ends with a few other examples of their improvised vocab. “This is such a long-winded story – oh my God, Derrison,” she smiles.
On the raw and expansive Lotto In Reverse, which includes little details like a feedback effect that sounds like water dripping into a cave puddle, Dawson encouraged Lahey to experiment with the timbre of her voice. Previously Lahey was playing saxophone and singing in “this seven-piece pop party band” called Animaux, and was used to “singing out”. “[Oscar] said, ‘You can whisper into a microphone and we can just turn it up, and you keep that timbre of your voice.’ He made me think more about the vocal delivery, and how that was reflective of the lyrics, and how that can create a mood. Then there are songs like There’s No Money… I thought ‘I’m going to move away a little bit, and sing out a bit more.’”
That track, There’s No Money, is the album’s gorgeously hymnal closer, and Lahey wrote it very specifically to be as such. “One of the best last songs on a record, in my opinion, is Every Time The Sun Comes Up, which is by Sharon Van Etten, and it’s on her record Are We There“, she says. “That song just totally blows my mind. It’s so removed from anything that I do and it just really speaks to me. I was basically like, ‘I’m going to write my version of Every Time The Sun Comes Up.’ I really wanted to get that sort of warmth… I used a telecaster, which is a very warm-sounding guitar. I’m really happy that the last lyric on the record is ‘I have nothing left to lose.’ To me, it’s almost like a bridging song into whatever comes next.”
I Love You Like A Brother by Alex Lahey is out Oct 6 via Nicky Boy/Caroline.