Alex Farrell-Davey is waiting for his lunch outside of Prego, an Italian restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand. It’s a 10 minute drive from Henry Street, where he lives with his Alae bandmate Allister Meffan. “[Making the album] was kind of centred around that street for a while,” he admits. The street was so central to developing the New Zealand indie-pop band’s debut album that they named it Henry St. But, really, Henry St is about the people in that house; their lives, families, loves, losses, and growing up.
The foundations of Alae began nearly a decade ago when Farrell-Davey and Meffan met in high school and bonded over music. “One day, Alistair walked in to the music room and he said while I was playing piano he’d never heard anybody who wasn’t trained in piano use the sustain pedal so well,” he says. “I just thought, that was very nice; he really listened to what I was playing and I respect the hell out of that. It was a really well thought-out compliment,” he beams.
The name Alae has a few meanings for the duo: it looks like a new word or an amalgamation of their names. “It could also mean Allocated Loss Adjustment Expenses, which kind of also makes sense,” jokes Farrell-Davey. The word has Latin origins, meaning a pair of wings. “It’s kind of a metaphor,” he explains. “When we joined up we were a duo, and when we started getting the ball rolling with management and stuff like that, I was like, ‘It really does take two wings to fly’.”
After their 2016 debut EP – which won the Taite Music Prize – the duo added extra wings to their flock. They recruited bassist Marika Hodgson and drummer Jayden Lee to the fold. “I guess we got to a point where, from a live performance perspective, we couldn’t do all the things that we wanted to do,” he says. “It was just a bit of a bummer singing our songs sometimes. When you strip them back it just gets a bit boring and we wanted to flesh them out and make them interesting for people.”
The expanded group began gathering at Henry Street to work together on the new songs. Helping flesh the album’s sound out is Jol Mullholland, who co-produced the album with the band. “He just had these nifty little ideas that gave us a bit of an edge that I’m really keen to capitalise on,” he says. “He brought to us some really interesting synthy stuff, but not New Age synths. He played a bit of electric guitar and acoustic guitar, and it was awesome to be able to sit down and record some live double-guitar takes and capture really beautiful intricacies behind them.”
The heart of Henry St is Farrell-Davey’s lyrics. The album opens with “Back In Town”, which the pair wrote when they were 17 and also acts as an opening chapter to what could be described as a diary. “The first half of that album, for me, thematically reads like a bit of a story because it’s initially about my parents’ separation. But, the next song [“Sunrise – Sunfall”] is about appreciating my mother’s love for me, and the next song [“Super Imposition Projection Boy”] is about a kid who superimposes his problems and projects them everywhere, and learning to deal with the things that concern you and learning to identify when you’re acting like a bit of a dick. Then the next song, “Home”, is about being comfortable with that, it’s about being ok with who you are and just identifying the fact that you can be a dick, but that’s ok because everyone’s a dick, but at the same time that’s ok.”
He continues: “The album in itself is all about learning and looking at those things as individual feelings and emotions that I’m just trying to figure out as a young person. It’s quite intimidating. I think all of those songs are there to justify each of the other songs to some degree.”
The band are currently touring their home-country, and discussing an Australian return for the first time since taking music industry conference BIGSOUND by storm in 2016. They’ve also begun work on following-up their debut album with two wildly different projects; one further exploring the funky neo-soul sound of Henry St’s “Stone Cold”, and the other a very ambitious concept album. ““We want to call it Polyrhythms And The Nature Of Everything. It’s going to be 12 songs, with each representing a month and in the quarters with the seasons we’ll start playing with the time-signatures that’s supposed to represent the change in everything around us.” At this rate, their world is going to expand from Henry Street, but they will always have Henry St.