How Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen, and Alex Lahey Are Reviving Rock

The future of indie rock isn’t a skinny dude anymore: it’s a woman.  Three female rock artists Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen, and Alex Lahey, prove that rock isn’t an old boys club anymore. Move over, Kings of Leon and Black Keys: make way for these new rock stars. 

Courtney Barrett isn’t your typical glamorous female rock artist and she doesn’t want to be. She wears T-shirts and complains about her life with refreshing honesty. In songs like “Pedestrian at Best” from her latest Grammy-nominated album, Sometimes I Think and Sit, and Sometimes I Just Sit, she says, “Put me on a pedestal/ I’ll only disappoint you.’’ With a mix of Liz Phair snark in her Australian accent and blistering Nirvana-esque riffs, Barnett gives 90’s rock a modern Millennial twist.

Barnett says her self-deprecating humor in her songs is part of her vulnerability. “Singing is so vulnerable. Playing any kind of instrument is an expression of self, but the voice is a super different one. If it’s not, then you’re doing it wrong, ” Barnett said in an interview

Another buzzworthy young Australian artist who is reviving underground rock is Alex Lahey. Though she is sarcastic like Barnett, Lahey has her own sound. Her voice is more melodic on her EP, You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me. 

You don't think you like people like me/I know, I've heard this one before/Maybe I'm the one exception that can last forever/But that can only happen if you let us be together”, Lahey optimistically sings in the title track. The universality of the themes of her music makes her one to watch.

 “I think about some of the songwriters that I really admire – like Dolly Parton, or Bruce Springsteen, or Smokey Robinson and stuff – they write about stuff that they feel or felt, and they put it into music and people can relate to that. Love, or heartbreak, or whatever. We’re all human, we’ve all been through it before – that’s what’s so awesome about the fact that we
share music with one another,’’ Lahey said in an interview.

If Barnett is distant in her songs and Lahey accepts rejection, Angel Olsen wants to get close and won’t take no for an answer. On her latest critically acclaimed album, My Woman, Olsen wants to get up close and personal with her listeners. On songs like “Woman” and “Shut Up and Kiss Me,’’ Olsen demands attention. “I dare you to see what makes me a woman,’’ she sings on “Pops’’, a rebuke of the sexist music industry. The North Carolina native mixes country, pop, and rock to forge her own place in the music business.

I’ve had to explain that, while I have feminist values and, on a lot of this album, I’m talking about the struggles of being a woman, it’s not, like, the reason why I make music. Not everything I do is about my struggle as a woman. It just so happens to be something I understand a little bit, because I didn’t have any other option,” said Olsen in an interview

Courtney Barnett, Alex Lahey, and Angel Olsen are rewriting the rules of music and blazing new trails just being themselves. By being honest, persistent, and just being excellent musicians, they are proving indie rock can a welcoming place for women.