Interview: Angie McMahon

Interview: Angie McMahon

Figaro caught up with Angie McMahon at the Two Birds Brewery for a cold one, to discuss going solo, her new single 'Slow Mover, first festival line-up slots and iconic moments in Love Actually  Photography: Tianna Eger

Figaro caught up with Angie McMahon at the Two Birds Brewery for a cold one, to discuss going solo, her new single 'Slow Mover, first festival line-up slots and iconic moments in Love Actually

Photography: Tianna Eger

I first saw you perform with your previous band, The Fabric, when did you decide to go completely solo?

It was sort of a natural progression. I had been doing the solo stuff since I was a teenager but I never felt completely ready to release any music so I never put much pressure on it. It wasn’t in the spot I wanted it to be at either. So, along the solo project, we started The Fabric and were developing the band, learning a lot and playing fun gigs together, they were always two separate things. It was a wonderful growth process for all of us. At the moment the band is in hibernation cause we all have a bit going on and can’t give it the time and effort it deserves, and just being out of uni myself I had more time and started to feel more confident in the solo work.

So with that, how did you manage to allocate time and keep writing for yourself as a solo musician, as well as the band?

I think developing as a solo artist has always been my main interest, but also something I can do in my own time quite easily, as opposed to the band. This is the first time I’ve shown songs to a different band, it’s always been a very personal thing. Songs for The Fabric were usually co-written by the guitarist Ben and myself, so there wasn’t that much pressure on me to always come up with new material. They're different genres, it was different avenues to be exploring and I really like doing that now, to be trying different projects in different mindsets. It was a good way to learn to balance different genres and song writing styles, it never felt like I could only focus on one, it all was just kind of the right timing.

How did you develop your sound as a solo artist? Was it something that was always profound or something you had to pick and pull from different genres?

I think both! It’s been on-going. I look back on the last few years and see the different types of phases from myself as a songwriter and hopefully look forward and see more phases. Like, I’d love to be always developing and tapping into different genres, discovering new bands and songs and being inspired by them. New ways to write and new ways to think about things. But initially I was very folky and timid and over time just eased out.

Personally, I can hear elements of Amy Winehouse in your music, the way that you project to sing as well as your low pitch. Who do you take inspiration from or who do you keep in mind when your writing music?

Yeah! Amy Winehouse is a wonderful example of someone with a powerful voice and unique style of writing. She also did that thing we were talking about of taking all these different genres. People like that are the musicians who inspire me. Like, Bruce Springsteen has this massive catalogue of songs and styles. There’s a lot of artists to chose from, but ones artists that I’ve been mentioning lately are Angel Olsen, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell too. And she’s one who’s voice has dropped over time. She released this orchestral album of all her songs. I discovered it because one of the songs is in the movie Love Actually, in the scene where Emma Roberts doesn’t get the necklace and goes into the room, you know the one. But anyway, she has this song called ‘Both Sides Now’ and the first version of it is this very folky, up-beat, trebly sounding song and then she’s released however many years later as a whole new song in a way, to me that’s really amazing.

Can you tell me a bit about the meaning behind Slow Mover? As well as the production and creation process behind it?

The production I wanted it to be really simple and I think it’s a simple song. One one level it’s about a romantic relationship and being confused about the romance, but on another levels it’s about accepting that I’m pretty slow at making decisions which relates to my whole life. So it’s a song that’s quite personal and a bit fun. Out of all the songs I was singing in the past year it just felt like the most natural song to release as the first single, just because people were reacting well to it and it was a good band sound.

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I heard you say on Triple-J, that initially when you finished the song you sat back and thought it was just way too sad...

*laughs * ahh yeah…in the chorus, instead of “maybe we’ll get married”, it was just this negative, repetitively sad “we’re not getting married”. The day that I re-wrote the song, I was listening to a bunch of Alabama Shakes on this beach day, and they have a song called ‘When The Moment Comes’ and I had a female power-rock n’ roll moment, and decided I wanted to change the sound a bit and play with a band.

I completely understand that though. Making that decision to transition from solo to a band is a big step. You find you’ve gotta convince yourself to it in a way…

Yeah! Exactly! It took me so long to make that decision, it was a really personal big step but it got to a point where it just felt like the right move.

So after the release of your first single, what’s next for you and your music?

Well! We just finished recording the next single last week and it was a very emotional and wonderful experience. I made this track with my bass player Alex O'Gorman who’s a great producer, and he added a very organic feel to it. I went into the studio one day and he had made a basic mix of the mix after we tracked it live and I sat on the couch to listen and I was just left stunned like “this is it, you’ve done it”. But we spent some time playing around with it and trialling stuff out and the end product is so great. But it was really cool cause it opened my brain a lot to how we’re gonna make the album and what I want to do to each song, which we’ll do over the next few months in between a few gigs.

You'll be playing at NYE on The Hill which is so exciting! How does it feel to be playing your first festival slot at an iconic Australian NYE festival?

It’s such a beautiful festival! It’s a very exciting thing, in a self-obsessed way to see my name on the line-up, because it’s the first time it’s ever happened being my first festival. I’m just used to being really excited over seeing artist’s names that I love being on the line-up, so it was cool and very humbling to see my own name. I went to the festival last year and it’s just such a beautiful and wholesome place to be.

Who else are you excited to see play?

Japanese Wallpaper, Gretta Ray, Al Parkinson, Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird and Ball Park Music! Dean Lewis too! He's playng either before or after the sunset, but I think that’s just a perfect time cause either way it’s gonna be beautiful.

Having toured with artists like Father John Misty, Gretta Ray, Meg Mac and even Bon Jovi. What was that experience like of touring and playing shows? Especially with such a variety of genres and types of artists? And did you learn anything to help performing yourself?

Yeah! I’m really enjoying learning from the bands that I’m seeing lately and paying more attention to them than I ever have, just cause I’m now in a whole different job and want to learn from the people who are incredibly good and see what they do well ands how they do it. But I think being around different genres and different acts like that has made me feel really positive in the sense that I’m cemented in what I’m doing. Because you can’t compare yourself to those kind of acts when there’s so many different things surrounding you and it’s just showed me how to stay on my own path of doing my own thing. You’re given your opportunity to play these shows and be professional, and you’ve gotta own it.

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Being someone who’s been involved with music and has gigged around Melbourne venues for some time, what’s an important thing to remember being a performer?

I guess that there’s a few things to remember. One of the things I try to remember is that every gig is important, and to put a lot of intention behind the singing I think is important. I think if you feel complacent and bored then that’s how the audience is going to feel too, you gotta make an effort for the people who came to the show. Another thing, is just to not take shit from people. Most people aren’t shit, but some people are shit. You come across rude people, shitty sound or shitty venue people, and I’ve just kind of learnt that you can shut that stuff down, without being rude. Just to stand up for yourself and be respected as a performer, like if you aren’t’ being paid or you don’t feel safe than you should feel able to be able to stick up for yourself and say something. You’ve got to have a thick skin about yourself.

Do you believe that previous work with your band The Fabric have influenced your writing styles and choices now? 

Yeah for sure, with The Fabric I was around a bunch of guys that had different tastes in music that I never would’ve gotten into on my own, like Charles Bradley and amazing soul performers. I had never ventured into the world of soul music before being in that band, I never thought about what those artists and bands did on stage and I never had to sing that away. But now there are bands like that who I find to be most inspired by, like Alabama Shakes who mix so much rock, country and soul and pull from the genres and show that you can make an amazing record with a collection of different genres and techniques from those genres, which just follows to be an amazing goal to have.

So we do a monthly playlist on Spotify for Figaro, could you give us a few songs that either you enjoy or inspire you? 

‘Tea, Milk & Honey’ by Oh Pep!, ‘Take It With Me’, Tom Waits. And maybe that Joni Mitchell song we were talking about before. I think what all those songs have in common for me, is that they all have beautiful arrangements and have lyrics that capture something really poignant about life and very affirming. They have a beautiful sadness to them.

Thanks so much for having a chat with us! And enjoy that sunset on NYE!

Ohh, thank you for letting me have a chat and listening to me ramble. Yes! So excited! 

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