People

Angie McMahon on finding her voice, life on the road and releasing her debut album

“It’s those simple moments, human connection moments of my audience and a particular song, or my band and a particular song, that I end up taking the most from.” Angie McMahon is, for lack of a better phrase, the real deal – with a voice that really goes places, proficiency on both the keys and guitar, a deep personal affinity for pasta and lyrics that touch deftly on our innermost desires, her true self is split between the comfort of home and being onstage. As her debut album, Salt, hits the stands we chat with the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter who confessed, “I’ve kind of always made up the rules.”

“I became attached to the sound of voices and how they were used like instruments.”

Do you remember when you first realised music was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

I never really had the realisation, but I never really had anything else I wanted to do, so I guess in terms of a career I wasn’t really thinking about it but in terms of playing music and visualising myself playing music and being on stage – that’s what I always really wanted to be doing. I was always listening to other musicians and being really drawn to it … but I was never realistic about it, in terms of a career, until much later on.

Your voice is such a marker for you – how did you develop your singing voice?

Around 13 or 14 I was listening to other female singers that I wanted to be like, and I was trying to replicate what they were doing. I was covering Missy Higgins and … I guess it was through replicating other people that I developed a real love for it and then it became this outlet that I kept turning to. There’s this singer called KD Lang, we had this CD of hers, and I just became obsessed with singing like her. Every time we played it in the car I was singing over it so loudly that it was probably really annoying – I was that person singing over everything so you can’t here the actual song … I was just obsessed with different sounding voices. Ray LaMontagne is one, Adele was one. I started getting singing lessons as well when I was 16 and I didn’t really commit to it, so my technique isn’t very good. I’ve kind of always made up the rules.

“I don’t expect everyone to love this album but for those people that do get something out of it, I just want it to be a sense of relatability and satisfaction.”

“It’s all kind of a highlight. Basically I just get to sing for a living and that’s my dream.”

Was there something specific that inspired the album, or did you already have a group of songs and you felt like it was time to release them in one record?

It’s more the latter. I did want to release a record … and it kind of got to the point where I had enough songs to have an album. It felt like a natural progression. It’s pretty much songs about me growing into a young adult and going through those first experiences of intense attachment and maturity experience. For me now the songs seem quite old because we started working on the record two years ago, and [they] were all written pre- that time. Looking at it now I just see it more as a documentation of those experiences of coming into 20, 21. I guess that’s what inspired it – wanting to have an album and wanting to document that period of my life.

How does it feel to have this album that you’ve sat on for the last few years to be out in the world?

So many feelings involved. I feel relieved, I feel happy that it’s coming out, I feel like I’ve very much made peace with those songs and I want to write new ones. It’s nice to release them and have support around that. It feels like something I get to give away and at the same time retreat and work on my own stuff. It’s a really big milestone to be able to put out a record so it feels really nice. I have had mixed feelings about the record since we finished it because I put so much effort into it and then came away and sort of hated it for a little while. I just thought, “I can’t believe I put so much effort into this thing, it’s so juvenile and I’m so over and I don’t like it at all”. But I think that’s just a part of the creative process, pouring yourself out into something and looking back at yourself with this disappointment. Now, a couple of months away from it, having finished recording ages ago, I just look at it and I’m like really happy that I had the opportunity to make something like that and its now my job. So, I feel really lucky, I guess.

You’re going to be touring the album in October. Can you describe what the tour process feels like?

There’s so many things involved with it. It’s a full time job as soon as you leave home. Even when you’re sleeping, it’s just for the sake of being ready for the next day which is full – it does feel 24/7. The best part is being on stage; you get to do that day in, day out. It’s just so good for my soul and my wellbeing to be able to do that performing thing. But it’s interesting, when you come off stage or when you come off tour or when you’re halfway through a tour, it’s like your wellbeing can actually crash as well. It’s a full on rollercoaster, health struggles, moving so quickly. I’ve been thinking about the way that moving around affects your body and mind and I don’t know if humans are meant to fly that much. But it’s basically wonderful and I’m so grateful to be doing it. But … I’m also very much a homebody so it’s interesting to have this dream of performing … I also really want to be at home, writing songs in the dark. I’m just trying to balance that.

You’ve performed as special guest for some big names – The Pixies, Father John Misty and Alanis Morrissette – has there been a career highlight for you?

Oh my goodness, I don’t know. Those things have been wonderful … but the best experiences are probably the simple ones – when it’s my own show and I’m playing with my own band. With support shows … it can feel like a bit of a whirlwind because you’re involved in this big shot production and you’re just kind of there to do your job. But when it’s our own headline show, I feel with my band we’re really relaxed and you have an audience that is there for us and sings along. Those moments are special because they feel really connective.