Like many musicians, Angie McMahon’s musical path started with the youthful stress of piano lessons.
The pressure of knowing that you should practice between lessons is something that has haunted many a teenager in their quest to justify their parents spending money on a musical education whilst also wanting to play music like their idols.
“My parents put me and my siblings through piano lessons and I was the one that stuck with it,” explains Angie. On the topic of practising, she admits, “It’s how I was introduced to my own anxiety! I had the nicest teacher, but I was terrible at practising.
“It’s that weird dichotomy where you know that you want to be doing it and you know that you love music, but for some reason in the last six days you didn’t practice, and now it’s the day of the next lesson!”
Playing set pieces of music from a book was never going to be the path that Angie took. “I was developing my ear a lot. My teacher would play the songs and I would basically try and copy her as opposed to reading the music, which she knew I was doing – she was smart!
“I started doing pop songs, like those websites where you look at the chords, like Ultimate Guitar. You find the chords for the pop songs you love and the lessons became a little bit more contemporary. That was cool, it was the beginning of me playing pop music.”
It’s a smart teacher that recognises the talent they are helping to develop. The even smarter choice was that her teacher asked Angie to play her pop music at her own wedding. Smooth move, teach!
If we add on Angie’s talents in trumpet and guitar, well, you have a musical genius. She is more modest. “The guitar was just self-taught. It’s got a long way to go [with] the guitar playing.” If there’s a trick to making it look like you know what you’re doing, Angie has mastered that too.
We get onto the topic of melody vs rhythm. The singles that have been released so far utilise more rhythmic themes than a melodic edge. It provides a solid base for a vocal that has been described as “deep” and “plump” as well as masculine in timbre.
It’s an interesting observation, but there’s a whole lot of soul in that voice, even if her solo music is not ‘soul’ music per se. (Check out her soul band, The Fabric, for that!)
We also discuss how important her voice is, especially in a year of so many shows and how the occasional voice breaking is something that she uses.
“I really love putting those cracks in because I feel like an emotional punch, but technically I am sure there are singing teachers, who might come across that song, and go ‘What are you doing, you’re going to ruin your voice!’”
Having to cancel a couple of gigs earlier this year due to a lost voice has kicked Angie into gear to look after it. “Thank you for asking me about it, but it’s truly terrifying!” she admits.
Getting back to the topic of rhythm, Angie continues, “The singles that we’ve put out, they’re the most rhythmic things that I’ve written. There’s some on the album that we’re making which are definitely more… what’s the word… slow? I think that the reason they’re written that way is because I write on my own without the band. I guess you’re trying to create some movement and imagine the band.”
Writing comes naturally to Angie. “I think I get into a weird headspace if I don’t do it,” she admits about songwriting. “I haven’t had that much time to do it and I’ve kind of been feeling a bit frantic and muddled. I sit down to write something and I’m like ‘Oh, I haven’t been using the outlet.’”
With the album in the works along with multiple decisions to make, Angie is finding it hard to find time to let those inner-voices out. It’s a catch-22 of a musician’s life. Separating the creative output from the DIY planning that so many artists have to do nowadays, can be a tough balance, but Angie works around it.
“I feel like I’m talking to myself all the time, I need to writing this stuff down!” It feels like there’s a lot of thoughts and ideas in Angie’s head that are just dying to get out. “I like having notepads. I’ve got a whole bunch of notebooks. I write stuff on my phone. If it’s a small lyric idea, like if I feel like I’ve good really good words that might turn into lyrics later on, I’ll write them down. Usually, I go back and read them, and they’re total shit…. I hope no-one ever reads them!”
As Angie prepares to embark on a capital city tour, we get to talking about the music that she’s been listening to. “I tend to obsess over people for a long time. I’ll discover someone and then six months later still be listening to their songs.
“The main ones this year have been Big Thief, Angel Olsen and Leif Vollebekk. He’s this wonderful songwriter from Canada who’s actually joining us on the tour. The point of obsession was so high that my manager emailed him and was like ‘Hey, we love your music, would you like to come to Australia?’ That just came from me really loving his album.”
With just three singles released at the time of the interview, it’s easy to reflect on how each song reflects Angie’s personalities.
Slow Mover, a song about taking your time in a relationship, reflects Angie’s own personality. “I think that’s the thing that I like about that song is there’s a layer of it that is like a romantic story, but it’s also just a general expression of personality.
“I think that’s the idea – wanting to take things slowly and being ok with it. Even with releasing music, I still feel connected to that song because there’s pressures from everywhere – things feeling like they should be rushed and I think it’s a good message for me to meditate on. It’s okay to take it slow and chill out.”
The lyrics in Angie’s song create an imagery that pull you into her world. We get to talking about how important these words are to her and how I have been reading through transcriptions of the words on lyric websites. As we talk, she peruses the words for Missing Me on lyric website, Genius. “Oh God, they’re wrong! The second verse is cooked! Fair enough though, I’m just mumbling.”
After talking to Angie, I feel there’s a calmness and level-headedness that surrounds her, but also a strong drive. Without an album released, Angie has created such a buzz that she will be sharing a stage with Paul Kelly, D.D. Dumbo, Mojo Juju, Angus and Julia Stone and Alex Lahey at the end of the year, an occasion that will make sure everyone knows who Angie McMahon is by the end of the year.
Angie McMahon, along with Leif Vollebekk and a special support act at each show, commence their tour on Friday, September 6.
Thursday, 6 September – The Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday, 8 September – The Metro Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Friday, 14 September – Rosemount Hotel, Perth, WA
Saturday, 15 September – Uni Bar, Adelaide, SA