Those who love Dino’s, love Dino’s. And Alex Lahey loves Dino’s.
Opened in Nashville in the ’70s, the neighborhood dive is as unassuming from the outside as they come, a squat brick building nestled between a Sherwin-Williams, a dry cleaners, and a craft cocktail bar — the latter necessarily indicative of the changes that have swept through the surrounding neighborhood of East Nashville.
Inside, there’s wood paneling, a back patio with long picnic tables, and a makeshift stage watched over by a portrait of Dolly Parton. Older locals who’ve patronized the bar for decades rub elbows with art degree’d 20-somethings in bands and professionals seeking refuge from the downtown honky tonk crush. Everybody probably doesn’t know your name the moment you walk in the door, but inside, the living is easy. It’s a no-frills, pretense-free dive, its status as a paragon of no-bullshit authenticity solidified by an Anthony Bourdain co-sign in a 2008 episode of Parts Unknown.
An indie rock songwriter from Melbourne, Australia, Lahey found herself in Nashville after wrapping an American tour on the back of her 2017 debut album Love You Like A Brother. She had a bit of time on her hands, and figured she would spend it somewhere she hadn’t been before.
“I thought, ‘You know, I really want to go and check it out, and why not indulge the cliché while I’m there and write some songs?’” she says. It was during her sojourn in the city that has long served as the epicenter of country music that she discovered Dino’s — and its “very tongue-in-cheek take on brunch . . . My partner and I would usually go as soon as it opened and have mimosas and the fried chicken,” she says. “It’s such a cult classic. I reckon that chicken is the best to be honest.”
But Dino’s “everyone’s welcome, no questions asked, no bullshit tolerated” vibe resonated with Lahey beyond brunch and straight into the songs she was penning at the time.
“Getting to Nashville I was able to open the valves and write and write and write,” she says. “I was really lucky that was the case because I had my studio time booked and everything for the actual record, so if I didn’t write anything while I was there I would’ve been really fucked.”
Lahey channeled it all into this year’s The Best of Luck Club, her second album and a punchy collection of frenetic pop-punk ruminating on the mania of being in your mid-20s, burnout, hard therapy sessions, opening up to deeper connections with people, and crawling out of breakup on your hands and knees. She gleaned the title from how conversations with fellow bar patrons ended — “best of luck.”
Granted, Lahey doesn’t need it. The term ‘slacker rock’ gets tossed around in reference to her music relatively frequently, although it hardly reflects her work ethic. (“The window open on my laptop at the moment is a fucking spreadsheet. I don’t think any slackers do that,” she says with a laugh.)
Born to a British immigrant father and an Egyptian refugee mother who migrated to Australia in the late ’60s, Lahey grew up playing saxophone and guitar, then netted the coveted Josh Pyke Partnership grant and critical acclaim with her initial releases. She wrote her debut and The Best of Luck Club alone, bringing in Catherine Marks to produce the latter.
Lahey, who identifies as queer, also spoke freely against the Australian government’s reluctance to legalize same-sex marriage. Parliament eventually voted it through in December 2017, but such a milestone hasn’t curbed her personal crusade.
“What’s frustrating is why is the attention being put on these meaningless things like gender and sexuality when the really meaningful things in the world are being pushed to the side. Stuff like global warming and the political discourse at the moment, where power lies,” she says. “People getting married to each other is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It seems so trivial that my future is up for discussion in that way. The things about my future that should be up for discussion is can I continue to live a kilometer from the ocean at home in Australia? How long can I do that for? At this rate, not very long.”
Like the record she made, Lahey feels suspended between the strange joy of being alive and anxiety of the most pressing issue facing the species. Over the course of our conversation, she gushes over My Chemical Romance, extolls the virtues of inclusivity and gender-neutral bathrooms, and bemoans the latent sexism of her industry.
“If a woman has some sort of success, people are immediately looking for the man who made it happen,” Lahey says. “It’s always looking for the guy that can validate the quality of the woman’s work when the woman is doing the hard yards.”
As for Dino’s? She still counts herself among the devotees. During her tour stop in Nashville last month, she went twice.
“My band had never been before. We went before the show and they were like, ‘This is awesome!’ And then we finished the show and we were like, ‘Let’s just go back to Dino’s!’” she says.
This time, she went for the classic Dino’s meal: a burger.
Alex Lahey, with Kingsbury,
Thursday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m., at the Independent, 628 Divisadero.