Content warning: this story contains discussion of domestic violence.
With her dexterous songwriting and earnest folk-pop croon, Alex The Astronaut has a knack for capturing the human experience. Through her music, the 25-year-old traverses a constellation of love, loss and laughter – trying not to lose her childlike wonder to the cynicism of adulthood in the process.
With her debut studio album, ‘The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing’, Alex – known off-stage as Alex Lynn – cements her position as a troubadour for modern times, though she’d be the first to tell you otherwise. NME catches up with the singer-songwriter on release day, finding her giddy with excitement but also resolutely humble. “I look back and I’m embarrassed,” she says of releasing music, “then when people like it, I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you!’” She lets out an incredulous giggle.
‘The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing’ is an impressive showcase of Lynn’s erudite songwriting – not that Australia wasn’t already familiar with her powers of observation. In 2016, she released ‘Already Home’, on which she incisively pointed out, “There’s billionaires for president, and parking fines at hospitals.” Four years on, she’s continuing to document her growth into young adulthood and the realisations they entail. That sounds like it means finding an anchor between childlike and grown-up, trying to ascertain a self that is not only acceptable to her, but to society as well. “That’s like, the nail on the head,” Lynn confirms. “I think it’s kind of reflective of the age I am, what I see around me.”
Lynn’s songwriting process can be, she admits, as convoluted as life’s journeys. “It’s all over the place,” she says candidly. “Sometimes you [just] have an idea and sometimes it’s more planned.” But Alex The Astronaut songs are the opposite of careless. She tackles themes both weighty and mundane on the record, handling them with a light, deft touch and, sometimes, grave contemplation. In ‘Loss’ – which Lynn wrote in her car on the side of a highway – she explores the impact of abortion and unplanned teenage pregnancy, the pro-choice Lynn wanting to talk about those life-changing moments that signal growing up too fast.
“I think I’ve grown in confidence but at the same time, I’m wary I’m writing for more people”
The idea for ‘I Like To Dance’, on the other hand, stemmed from a chance meeting with a judge who told Lynn about a domestic violence case, and encouraged her to write a song about the issue. “He told me, ‘She kept telling us how great the guy was, and in the middle of a sentence she said, ‘I just wish he’d stop hitting me’.’ That hit me at the time,” she said.
Mindful to treat the subject with care, Lynn did her research and spoke to domestic violence liaison officers. “It’s a very sensitive thing to talk about, which is why I spoke to DV liaison officers – I felt like they were really good people to answer the questions that sometimes people have for DV survivors.
“I wanted to tell the story really accurately because when you’re talking about trauma that is a very, very important thing. It’s not just like any other love song. It’s someone’s deep, psychological wound.”
On ‘Split The Sky’, Lynn asks rhetorically, “If I sit here and watch ‘Harry Potter’, will I be all right?” The singer had revisited the beloved films, withdrawing into her untroubled childhood, during a particularly heavy period in her life. “Last year I was a carer for a loved one – it was a really difficult experience,” Lynn says. Her voice has steadily grown calmer, and she’s not nearly as animated as the beginning of our conversation.
“When I wrote ‘Split The Sky’, the Harry Potter thing came up because whenever I was having a really hard day or in the hospital and doing those hard things, that’s the thing I went back to – cartoons, reading books that I wrote as a kid. That’s how I wrote that song.”
Writing ‘Split The Sky’, Lynn says, was the time she felt the most alone in the songwriting process, and when she sometimes found herself at a loss for words. “Things like love and heartbreak and death and grief, those things I think they’re well-written about. Whereas for me, being a carer, that didn’t feel like an experience that I had an understanding of as a young person,” she says.
“I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But for some reason, I still feel optimistic about the world”
Lynn’s love of Harry Potter has, unfortunately, been recently tainted. “It’s been really hard recently because [author] J.K. Rowling has been making repeated transphobic comments,” she says. “I think for any young LGBT+ person who went to Harry Potter as a refuge or found a way to go back to that childhood place, that was devastating.”
Lynn might burrow back into the comfort of childhood every once in a while, but she’s definitely grown up – and had to reckon with the responsibility that comes with a growing platform. In 2017, she released the single ‘Not Worth Hiding’, which became an unofficial anthem for the “Yes” campaign for legalising gay marriage in Australia. “I think I write songs from a very personal place and [‘Not Worth Hiding’] was one of those songs,” she says. “I think I’ve grown in confidence but at the same time, I’m wary I’m writing for more people.”
She offers, “It’s sort of like if you were to sit down and write a letter to your best friend – you’d write it, you’d go over it a few times – for me, writing a song like ‘Not Worth Hiding’ and ‘Going Home’, that’s what it felt like. It felt like I was writing it to a few people, a few close people. I was conscious of the listener but not as conscious as maybe I am now.
“I think I’m learning so much, that’s why I called the album ‘The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing’, because this time, recording this album, every day you realise how little you do know and how much you have to learn. You’ll probably never get to learn everything. It’s a humbling experience.”
Speaking to Lynn, one comes away in awe at her level-headedness, the groundedness of her character. It’s also remarkable how she remains ultimately optimistic about everything. “I don’t know why,” she says, “There are horrible, horrible things happening in our world.
“I think there is a way to get people on the same page and to be more united in change, and I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But for some reason, I still feel optimistic about the world.”
It would be wonderful to rely on Lynn as a voice of reason and empathy as we navigate the chaos in the world, but she doesn’t see herself as a guide. “I think I’ll always write songs about what I see in the world, so I think they’ll always be relevant to what at least I’m experiencing,” she says.
“I can promise to keep telling stories I think are important and I’ll tell them as truthfully as I can – but every truth is relative.”
Alex the Astronaut’s ‘The Theory Of Absolutely Nothing’ is out now. If you are impacted by domestic or family violence, 1800RESPECT provides confidential 24-hour counselling. Call 1800 737 732 or find out more here