The Sydney singer-songwriter is back with another heartwarming song, “I Think You’re Great”, an ode to friendship and supporting others through the good and bad times in life.
There is a radiance and sense of warmth that comes from Alex the Astronaut’s songs. She delivers sentiment and relatability in her storytelling which has set her as a fast rising star in the music scene.
First introduced in 2016, she took the last few years in stride with the release of her first singles, “Already Home” and “Rockstar City”, accompanied by two EPs, To Whom It May Concern and See You Soon– all while also studying mathematics in America and playing for Long Island University’s soccer team. Her third single, “Not Worth Hiding”, shared a more bare all and personal side of Alex that defined her as one of the strongest and most important songwriters in Australia. She explains the song as a letter to her 16 years-old self. Released at the time of Turnbull’s same-sex marriage referendum, “Not Worth Hiding” became an anthem for self-acceptance.
The past two years have been nothing short of busy– touring Europe and all across Australia, playing festivals around the globe, and releasing three singles. Her latest, “I Think You’re Great” offers the same heartwarming essence she is known for: an ode to friendship and the importance to tell your friend they are great.
We caught up with Alex the Astronaut before she flies over to North America for South by Southwest (SXSW), where she shared her thoughts about friendship, adapting to life after university, and living as a musician.
First off, your new song, “I Think You’re Great” is really good. I love that it’s a love letter to a friend. What was the inspiration behind it?
Being a songwriter, you often have many people in your life asking for songs about them. Mostly as jokes, but my friend Curtis was quite persistent with it and so, I caved! Laughs
I decided that Curtis really deserved a song. I definitely had the feeling of friendship and a whole bunch of different people who I think are great, who I care about, who have changed my life. I really wanted to express that, to have a song where I'm telling my friends that they mean a lot to me, and I think they're really, really great.
Is there something that happened that made you write more about him specifically?
Curtis and I were probably going through similar times. We'd both been at university in America together– he stayed in New York and I came home. I had my music career, and was adjusting as a musician in Australia, playing shows and learning. I think Curtis went through a similar thing of going out into the wild world in New York and trying to get a job, and not having the group of friends that you have when you do have all the same places to go to and all of those fun things. That's a common experience for a lot of people. When they finish school, suddenly they're out there on their own. It's a big life change, and that's why the chorus says "You don't always have to smile / You don't always have to cry at night". I just wanted to let him know that through this strange adapting time, that I was there and I was experiencing a similar thing.
You’re so right in saying it does feel strange. You mention coming back after your bachelors in New York. How was your experience graduating from Long Island University and moving back to Australia?
It was pretty strange. I was on the sports team, so I travelled with people and saw everyone of my team everyday for meals, training, and for games. We really spent three years together in each other's pocket. To go around of that, it's like losing your safety blanket, and kind of like losing your family. I felt a real sense of loss when I came home.
The cool thing was, at the time, I didn't really know if I was going to keep loads of the friendships that I had because I came back here, and some people were from other places. I didn't know if I'd see them, but people like Curtis and a couple of other of my friends, we stayed really close and we still always talk so, the feeling of loss wasn't as deep as I first thought it was when I first graduated.
Do you feel as if you rebuilt this sense of family through time, within the music industry?
Yeah, I definitely feel that. When I was in America, I started releasing songs, and my first few songs got put on Triple J Unearthed, but the first big Triple J song was “Already Home”. That took off when I was still in school and had a year to go to graduate. With that, my managers came on board and all the rest of my team members.
For me, my team was the people I talked to every day. They became my little family. There's so many people along the road in the music industry who've become my family by accident. You see them at festivals and at shows, and they support you. Everyone's a bit scared of the music industry and how it works, but I've been lucky to have people that really support me.
Since your bachelor's was focused on maths and physics, do you also use a science methodology when it comes to writing music?
I've definitely noticed that I look at it as a puzzle. I'm very particular about what I fill stuff in with knowing exactly how many syllables I need, what sounds I need or what consonances, what doesn't work and what does work, what sounds cocky and what doesn't. I think over the past 15 years of writing, I've slowly started to see there is a method to it. I think the mathematical aspect of it does come into it to me.
You have a really nice post on Instagram about your time working with Ball Park Music's Sam Cormack and Dan Hanson. Did they impact the way you write or do things in some ways?
The cool thing was I came in with songs and we made those songs real. We took the bare and bone of what I'd written on bits and paper and we brought them to life. It was a really fun experience. I've always been quite intimidated by the studio but they made that fun and they were great. Every time you see them, it's inspiring. To be in the studio with them, it meant for me, I had the confidence to say to these people who I was inspired by– who'd I really deeply admired, “these are my ideas” and they said "yep, that's great. That's really cool. This is what we could do with that, these are some really cool lines there”. They gave me the confidence to write more me.
Another big and important song of yours was “Not Worth Hiding”, which has an important message about accepting who you are. How did it feel to release that song at the time of the 2017 referendum on same-sex marriage? Was there any hesitation about writing, or just releasing the song at that time?
Yeah, heaps of it! I wrote this song when I was still in school, going to math classes, doing my thesis. I had lots of time to think and I realized that I needed to tell a proper story. I had to tell something that I thought had deeply affected me, because otherwise I didn't really know why I was doing it.
I finished on a version that was a letter to my 16-years old self, what I needed to hear when I was in Year 9 or 10, and couldn't talk to my friends or anyone else about it. If I put the radio on, and I heard that song, would that have helped? That's how I went about writing that song, and the hesitation was there the whole time. I knew I had to do it, but I didn't know how other LGBT+ musicians expressed themselves. I didn't hear many female musicians on Triple J– who I knew were gay - using 'she' as a pronoun, I didn't hear them talk about being gay, so I was like “ok, well is that the benchmark, is that what I'm supposed to be doing as well? should I not do this?”
Eventually, we went into a big meeting with my team family. We went through the list of songs and “Not Worth Hiding” was going to be the third single. We kept going back and forth about how to protect it– and how to make sure I didn't get any backlash. If we are to protect it, we might as well say what we wanted to say, and be bold. And so we did. About a week or two before we had already planned to release it, Malcom Turnbull got up and said we're going to have this referendum, it's going to be in a month's time, and everyone's going to vote yes or no, and everyone's going to get some money to fund their advertising campaign to both sides.
Everyone said it was going to be fine, but I’m the one who’s grown up being gay. I knew that some people were not okay with it. I knew that I was going to be on a radio station that broadcast to millions of people that may or may not really be supportive. So the day before, I was devastated, I was terrified, and I didn't really want [the song] to come out. I was just so nervous and overwhelmed and scared that someone would want to hurt me or something. It came out, nothing really happened. It was a lot of hesitation, but in the end, I was really really lucky that people were overwhelmingly positive.
How do you feel about the song now that has been out, and received such a positive reception?
It feels settled I think. I'm a few years older and that helps. When it was released, it was still raw– I only came out when I was 19, and the song came out when I was 21/22. It was a lot. The overall outcome was very positive and I can look back and [see it] was really cool I got to that and released a song that really helps people.
Looking back at the last couple of years, it’s pretty incredible seeing how much you’ve accomplished. From doing tours, festivals and releasing more music. Do you feel like there’s a difference in how you tackle things like shows or recording music, now that you’re a seasoned pro?
I'm definitely a lot more confident, I think that's the main thing, I’m deliberate about things.
I started playing shows when I'd never really had experience. Now playing shows, I've had three years experience, and I can get up there and I can know what's going to happen.
I can deliberately plan what I'm going to do and what I'm going to sing and be really conscious of what's happening.
I notice the little moments that are exciting and when the crowd gets pumped. I guess there's not so many huge highs and huge lows which is what I experienced when I first started performing. When you're new to that experience of performing, it's a huge adrenaline shot, you don't really get that with many other things– I played a lot of sports, but even that, it's a completely different experience, you're with other people. Being on stage, it's a unique experience, and it takes a lot of time to adjust to actually doing, then it's a lot of time to adjust. I can go to shows now and feel more stable, I go into recordings–which I've done with Sam and Dan, feeling more confident and feeling like I can make calls and even if I'm wrong, not feel embarrassed.
You've got a brand new band supporting you now! That's awesome. What can people expect from an Alex the Astronaut concert?
It's really exciting! I've got Luke, Kaleah and Vlada. Luke is playing the guitar and keys, Kalia is going to play the drum, and Rad is playing the bass. I chose these guys based on the fact that they're so hard working, so kind and so funny and clever. We had two shows together so far and it just seems incredible. I played so many shows by myself, but playing the two shows with them, it was a completely new experience of being on stage. [There’s] more fun and more energy and I think we get to express the songs how they were made in the recordings and how people have listened to them, which is really cool.
Lastly, what future adventures can we expect from the astronaut in the near future?
I think you'll have to wait and see! Lots of good fun things, good astronaut adventures. laughs