Angie McMahon and the Sound of Salt

Uh, how good is Angie McMahon?

That’s honestly the only thing I can say to adequately convey my feelings about the Melbourne-based songwriter who just released her debut album, Salt. After hearing her single ‘Missing Me’ last year, I was instantly sold on her—her incredibly raw voice, her honest songwriting, her outgoing demeanor. She’s one of those artists that you just want to see succeed because they truly deserve it.

This is the kind of music we need to hear right now—vulnerable yet assertive songs about womanhood and space and how we fill it. On the album’s stand-out track, ‘And I Am A Woman’, Angie sings ‘I’m not your teacher, I am little, and I am learning’ but it sure doesn’t sound like it. Her voice and presence are huge, and she’s kind of schooling us all.

I had a good yarn with Angie over the phone recently, and we talked about body warmth, car snacks and her incredible new album. Here’s how it went.

First things first, I noticed your Instagram bio says you’re addicted to hot water bottles.

I just changed that last night, you’ve seen it!

It struck a chord with me because I love them too. Do you have a collection? Like, do buy different ones from around the world when you’re on tour?

No, that is a good idea though. I only have two and they’re kind of grotty because I’ve been using them obsessively. Like, they have those cloth pouches on them and they need to be replaced. That’s actually a good idea, maybe I should just buy them as I go, but then what if I don’t find one and I need one?

You should always take a back up.

Yeah, take a back up. I’m seriously obsessed with them, like I have one on my back right now as we speak. I’ve always used them for period pain, but now ever since just being in different seasons and different beds, it’s been so comforting so now I can’t even sleep without one. Like, even if I’ve just had a hot bath and I’m completely overheated, I’ll still use one.

Speaking of touring, it’s been a crazy few years for you on the road. Have you perfected the art of the petrol station snack yet?

No, I haven’t, but I’m desperate to. I started buying blueberries any time we go past a supermarket because all the petrol stations don’t have what I feel like. But sometimes I go into a frenzy if I don’t know when we’ll pass another petrol station so I buy like ten things. It happened the other day somewhere in Germany and I bought a fizzy water and a coke, a huge bag of chips, a curly wurly, and then a muesli bar because I needed something healthy. The guy was like, ‘Is this all for you?’ [Laughs]. I get fully snack stressed. Recently I also bought Coco Pops and milk and a mug into the car and I was trying to eat it like that, and it was just chaos.

Yeah, it’s hard to clean out the milk residue too.

It sat in the car for like, six days before I remembered to clean it out. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Is there a story behind the title of your new debut record, Salt?

It’s not so much a story—it’s a word that I felt related to my feeling about the record as a whole. It was kind of like a few different ideas in my head about salt and one of them is that there were a lot of tears shed during the writing of these songs, so it’s literally like the salt water of tears. But also the way that salt water can be really cleansing as well as something that stings. Crying is really cleansing and swimming in salt water is really cleansing and it’s this idea of balance that comes from salt—even putting salt on your food needs balance, and coming away from the record I felt like I had achieved the idea of balance in terms of, like, sadness and hope and the different sounds in there.

I heard most of the songs have been written for a while. I imagine in the last few years you’ve accumulated a lot more. Was it hard deciding what made the cut and what didn’t?

I haven’t actually written a lot more in the last while. When I decided to make an album, they were the ones that I had and were finished and that I felt were the best out of what I had written so far, so that was the record. And since then I haven’t really finished many more songs. I’m just starting to build up another collection. With all the touring and that, I actually haven’t been focusing on writing much so in one sense it’s hard because some of those songs are old and I really want to have fresh material, but I still feel connected to those songs when I play them live because I really love performing.

Photo by Paige Clark

You’ve said your favourite song on the album is the single, ‘And I Am A Woman’, which is also my favourite. Can you expand a bit on why?

That was one of the more recent ones that I’ve written, and I felt like it was a better expression of myself and more mature songwriting. Having developed my skills a little more by the time I got to writing that one, it felt like a very guttural expression of what I was going through which was all of this frustration at trying to express my experiences with gender equality and the things that girls go through every day. I was really wanting to feel seen and for people to relate to that because it came from a conversation with a guy that just couldn’t relate to it and I was just like, “How do I express all this anger?” And writing the song was just such a release and it felt so good to finish it and I just felt so satisfied with it and I still do when I sing it. It’s the one that people bring up with me and say that it really resonated with them.

I feel like guttural is such a good word for that song—the words, and the way that you sing them. When I first heard it, I instantly thought of Alanis Morissette and her coming out with a song like this in her prime. Has she influenced you?

Yeah, I think she influenced a lot of female singers. So I think even if not directly—though she probably has influenced me directly—I think she’s one of the early loud female songwriters, and I mean loud in terms of bold. And I think a lot of songwriters came after that, I just have this fixation on girls being able to say what they feel and stop being worried about offending people with their writing. I feel like those are the singers that I love listening to and I love to hear the things that their voices do when they’re being guttural like we’re saying. That is really inspiring to me, and the chain of women being inspired by that and then creating their own stuff.

That’s pretty cool that by writing a song like ‘And I Am A Woman’, you’re joining the ranks with those women.

I mean, that’s the dream, but I don’t see myself in the ranks yet. I’m kind of like, I very much see myself as a little baby learning how to write songs and there’s a long way to go but that’s’ exciting to me, to have a long way to go. I always want to feel like I’m shit in a sense, and that I do feel like I have such a long way to go because that’s what drives me.

Angie McMahon’s debut record, Salt, is out now.


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