In the first season of her podcast, To Rebel In The Times, Jack River looks to make sense of this era we're living in with the help of fellow musicians. The latest episode featuring Alex the Astronaut is no exception.
A physics student turned singer songwriter, Alex the Astronaut isn't afraid to write what's real. Likewise, she's not afraid to talk about it.
In the episode out today, Jack River (real name Holly Rankin) and Alex the Astronaut (AKA Alex Lynn) speak on politics, identity and artists' responsibility in times of change.
Read our exclusive excerpt, below.
Alex the Astronaut on predicting presidential elections …
Holly Rankin: I’m going to start with the big questions... The first time I ever heard your song Already Home, the lyric that stuck out to me in so many other people was “there’s billionaires for presidents and parking fines in hospitals”. And I just thought from the very beginning. You're not here to mess around. This is your first song that's been publicly released and you're kind of capturing the times.
Did you do that on purpose?
Alex Lynn: I don't know. I think I remember writing the line. I remember I was on the way back from my cafe job on a bus, and I was just exhausted and angry at the world. And I think Donald Trump had just started his campaign and I was sick of his shit … But I guess when the song came out, Trump had been elected and so people felt like had predicted his election. And I didn't think oh, I hoped that it would have been the opposite and that he got forgotten about. But yeah, yeah, yeah.
On coming out in song …
HR: … On Not Worth Hiding. Obviously, that was another huge, huge song for you and the country. For anyone who hasn't heard it, the chorus is: “it's not hiding. If you've got something to say and it's not worth smiling if you're feeling in pain and it's not worth hiding if you think you might be gay, or different in another way”, had to sing the words, but this song is about being honest, about your sexuality and who you are. And consequently, it became like an anthem for the same sex marriage vote. And in turn, you've kind of written a piece of Australian history, which is pretty amazing. Did it feel really important to you when you're writing it?
AL: Yeah, I wrote five versions of it.
AL: Kind of going between what perspective to take because when Already Home came out, it was insane.
… I loved it. It was awesome. So I started like thinking about what other songs I want right to write and was like ... Oh, I have to write about being gay, like I've been messaged by people, you know, asking if I want to go out with them … boys. And I was like, Oh, people think [I’m] straight, like, I can't I can't play that game. I kept thinking about, like, what if I could put how I would do pronouns in my song? And I was like, OK, I don't want to do that and not say anything. And then I kind of went between … I was like, Courtney Barnett didn't say anything. And I was like, Oh, yeah, but you think that you need to. Alex Lahey didn’t say anything... But fuck.
And then I was like, just do it. And so I sat in my dorm room for about six months and I was like, let's just shout at politicians. And so I wrote the first version that was, like, trying to explain it to a politician, which is a really weird one … I was just like, it's me trying to justify myself to another person. And I was like, ha, that's not quite it. And then I went through a couple of talking to a few different people. And then eventually I was like, you need to talk to yourself when you were 15, 16.
HR: That's so beautiful.
AL: It wasn’t about, will this go to the Grammys? It was more about what will this do for kids to hear someone talking about it and not in an arrogant way or anything. It just I remember what it was like being 16 and being in school and kind of when something like Same Love ... comes on the radio and, you know, in the back of the brain, and you think something's up, something's going on with you. And you think that there's something up and you might be gay and you hear something like that and you get a little bit of a tear … But yeah … it was something I understood would be significant. And I think when I started playing it in live shows it, I think I had to play it at a show when my aunt and uncle, my cousins were and they didn't know yet. And I remember being like on the stage and about singing and just getting a bit of a like butterfly legs, like just you think, Breathe, and then sang the song.
HR: So to write this song and release it and take on the voice of a generation pretty much and the voice of such an important moment. Like whether you felt that or not, like it's one of the most beautifully literal songs about coming out that's been released in Australia. So I feel like, yeah, you've impacted so many millions of listeners and young people.
AL: Oh, thank you. I didn't want to – I think one of the main things I wanted to put in this song was your story might not be at all like mine … My story of being a privileged white girl from a private school in an area where my parents accepted me and I was lucky enough to kind of not have any major repercussions from coming out. I think that was where I was like, you need to put that in. That was the only thing.
On creativity versus the internet …
HR: So being that real in this digital age where there's a bazillion stories going on around us - for you to tell your own story, amongst the noise is pretty important. Do you agree?
AL: Yeah, I think it's really hard to tell your own story when everyone is trying to do it. Everyone is trying to be heard on the internet. Everyone is trying to be authentic and then also be liked, which is, it's just impossible. You cannot tell your authentic story and then want to be liked at the same time.
HL: Yeah. It's like heartbreakingly confusing and hard. And for me I just feel myself like really intrinsically from the core coming up again. So hang on. What was I doing this for? Because I wasn't born to be an Instagrammer. I feel like a writer at heart. And the things that I know are great, that come out of my brain and heart are like, long form. I spent a while writing them. I've written them in a cave away from the world or it's a song that I've written when I feel like I'm on another planet. And to have the legacy of creating, in inverted commas, this is open to interpretation, ‘real art’ which is for me an act of true originality, like to have that come against a daily expectation to be relatable. Likeable. Yeah.
AL: ... I struggle with it because I think when I started doing social media, I was in college and I was having a lot of fun and all my friends were having a lot of fun. And it was a lovely, lovely world we were living in. But as soon as I left, it got a lot harder for me. And so these funny persona that I kind of had created for myself, almost turned on me and I was like, I feel that funny at the moment. I don't feel like being silly or I don't feel like doing a funny video or whatever. ... And like especially with Instagram, they feed you all these statistics and they're like 50 people unfollowed you cause you posted a photo of you at the Big Banana or something. Oh fuck. Oh, I've messed up my whole career just because I posted that stupid fucking photo!
HR: Me every day. Upload. Delete. Upload, delete.
On music's power to cut through the noise ...
HR: I mean, we’re both in music, we both have a lot of passion about societal change, economic change and empowerment by information. But we're both in music perhaps to contribute some kind of cultural or emotional reimagining. So what role do you think music plays or for you, what is that purpose in being in music right now?
AL: I feel that we our job is to look at our own feelings and portray them honestly so that when people listen to music, they can identify with something else and then feel like there's there's a sense of unity or belonging in their in their crazy, crazy, disconnected world. Yeah, somehow we have this connection to sound. And we need to tell our stories in a way that's more than words, because words are getting lost and there's so much shit out there that's just noise. And I think that music is the way to kind of cut through that.
HR: mmm I think that when we know the impact of music on a societal level, we've seen that throughout history. But I feel like with the kind of state of pop music I definitely have forgotten over the past ten years, I'm like, what is this music doing? What are we shifting? Where are the 60s and 70s?
AL: I have had a tendency to just look at things that have affected me personally, like gender and the planet and things like that. And I think it’s yeah. If you're a man researching feminism, if you're a white person researching race, if you. Yeah. Only watching movies with people that look like you in it, you need to kind of branch out. And that's where it's like, okay. As artists as we have this deep responsibility and we have to kind of look at what we're looking at as well as kind of
HR: What we're putting out.
Listen to Jack River and Alex the Astronaut on To Rebel In The Times, here.