If this were a typical profile of a glamorous folk singer-songwriter, I would tell you that I meet Angie McMahon—the Aussie amalgam of Angel Olsen and Florence Welch—at a hip cafe in a Los Feliz. I would humble-brag how she gushes about her new album over oat milk lattes. But that’s not who Angie McMahon is. Instead, the soft-spoken songstress sits down with me in a tiny storage room while on break from her photoshoot where she spent all morning jamming out to Yuna, The Internet, and Rosalía. In between munching on potato chips, we chat about everything from hobbies, to mental health, to book recommendations. And of course, her upcoming album, Salt, which is slated for release on July 26th.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she confides in me as she widens her blue eyeliner-rimmed eyes. Though I assure her that she’s a natural when it comes to posing, she isn’t as convinced. McMahon certainly isn’t used to all of the attention she’s been garnering. Though the 25-year old is now a solo artist, she was formerly the only female member of the nine-piece soul band, The Fabric, and has opened for legendary performers Bon Jovi and the Pixies. However, as a young artist, McMahon has had to absorb a lifetime of information and behaviors in just a few short years in order to get her footing in the music industry.
“Being a part of the big band was a real learning curve. I learned a lot about the gig scene and about marketing yourself as an artist, but I also learned—slowly—how to speak up in a room full of people, and how to be confident in your decision-making and your direction,” she said. “It took me years of working with eight boys to understand why I found it frustrating and why I was feeling unheard—the kind of microaggressions and the strange things that can happen when you’re surrounded by young men.”
Being the only woman in a male-dominated sphere is never easy, and McMahon found that she had to reconfigure her communication skills while transitioning out of the band.
“I’ve always been someone who is comfortable being outspoken and sassy in most settings, but I’ve always been someone who works in solitude. I guess except for in this band setting, and being in a team setting, so you can’t necessarily be a sassy lone wolf,” she says with a laugh. “It’s kind of like learning how to communicate my own independence and instincts in a way that is also respectful and gentle, because sometimes, even if something is really frustrating, you have to be gentle for your team to operate. So that’s been something I’ve learned that I wasn’t doing so well earlier in the boy’s club of the band, I was just like real sassy and grumpy because I didn’t know how.”
Now as a solo act, McMahon is also learning how to strike a balance between vulnerability and privacy online. Social media plays a big role in McMahon’s career; she is responsible for marketing herself and her music, and though she is accessible, she also yearns to keep some personal details of her life to herself. But unlike many other musicians who only show the glossy, hi-def versions of their lives, McMahon strives for authenticity in both her real life and her feed—something she finds quite freeing.
“It’s actually been really cathartic because—I was talking to someone about this this morning, actually—I find it hard to do the things that come with trying to grow your profile, like self-promoting, all of the business side of things,” she remarks of her Instagram presence. “But I find it much easier to do if I’m really being myself, and it’s kind of encouraged me in that sense, the way that I’ve wanted to grow as an artist publicly has been to be myself, and in that, I’ve challenged myself to be authentic, just in life generally, and so I think it’s helped me be more honest.”
McMahon’s apprehension about the digital age is not hard to pick up on. The music video for “Pasta” features a lingering pause on Kathleen Omerod’s Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life. Though McMahon admits that she never actually got through the book—too much scientific jargon coupled with an Internet-induced short attention span are to blame—she resonates with the sentiment. “I don’t feel like it’s ruining my life completely, but I feel like the addictive nature of it is quite scary, and it can be quite toxic. It helps my life in a lot of ways, like obviously I don’t think I’d be here in LA, playing music, if I didn’t have social media. But also I don’t feel good when I use it a lot, so it’s very much about balance and being able to step away from it.”
Media-manufactured FOMO culture is something that McMahon isn’t fond of. “You know that kind of feeling where you’re like, ‘Did I even do something if I didn’t post it on Instagram?’ I’m not wild about that feeling. I don’t want the next generation to have to think that everything you do has to be on the Internet, like it’s kind of scary to me. It feels like heading to an apocalyptic world.” To combat this, she finds it helpful to switch off her phone, something she deeply cherishes.
Mental health is absolutely crucial to McMahon, both in terms of accepting it and keeping it in check. As writing music began to coax out long-dormant anxiety and depression, she began looking for more creative outlets. Though she sheepishly admits that she doesn’t have any hobbies, she tells me that she has been doing more things that she would’ve done in art class as a kid. “I started doing really crappy paintings—they’re basically finger paintings,” she giggles.
“But the actual process of putting on calm music and making something that no one ever has to see and has no other purpose except for creating is really fun. So I started doing that when I was feeling myself get more and more anxious about making music, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to paint colorful things.’ A friend of mine has a pottery studio in her house, and so I recently went over and made some pots and that was so calming just to be shaping clay, something so earthy and so physical, so tangible, that you’ve created.”
My suggestion for McMahon’s next creative endeavor? Needlepoint.
“That sounds really fun! ‘Cause I did try knitting and I found it too hard. And I was so tense, because I’m staring at this thing, and I was like, ‘This is not relaxing!’” she exclaims while making a variety of rapid, exasperated hand gestures to pantomime an unsuccessful knitting experience.
Whether it be painting, turning off her phone, or placing music lower on her list of priorities, mental health maintenance is something of utmost importance to McMahon. That being said, she also feels that it is important to be transparent about her struggles, as she believes that being more open with personal struggles helps make the problem feel a bit smaller.
“The most helpful thing for me has been to talk about it. As soon as I got a therapist, it just opened up a whole new understanding, and as soon as I was open with my family and my touring band about the way that I was feeling, it made it seem so much smaller, and it’s not so overwhelming. There’s this temptation, particularly as an introvert, just to keep everything inside and deal with it all inside my own head, but the thing is that’s not very smart, and it’s not necessarily possible. So I guess I want to be part of encouraging speaking about it because I do feel like that’s a really important step toward better cures for mental health issues.”
McMahon has recently found herself enthralled by self-help books, which she was more than happy to recommend. On her list are Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, both by Matt Haig, and How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace.
When it comes to her music, McMahon takes a cyclical approach. “I feel like I’ve come back around to the point where now I feel like writing songs,” she says. Though her new album, Salt, is not yet released, McMahon has been singing the songs for years, and feels as though she is at a different point in her life now than when she wrote them.
Of the 11 songs on Salt, she is quick to pick a favorite track: “And I Am A Woman,” which addresses gender equality—a topic she is incredibly passionate about.
“Writing that song was a real transition for me into being more open about the things that you’re experiencing,” she reflects. “So many people are thinking about gender equality and equality all the time and it’s something I want to keep writing about and digging deeper into. So that was an exciting one to write and release because I feel like it’s the closest to where I’m at now.”
When she feels stuck in a rut, McMahon turns to her eclectic group of steadfast favorites to help inspire her—or at least to get her creative juices flowing. Among her many inspirations she counts Big Thief, Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Barnett, Fleetwood Mac, Mia Dyson, and Lianne La Havas (whom we spent far too long gushing over).
However, when it comes to naming songs, McMahon strays from the beaten path. Though she claims not to put too much thought into it, she does admit that perhaps there is an element of dark humor involved—most notably in the case of “Pasta,” a profoundly heartbreaking song which she often introduces by simply saying, “This is a song about pasta.”
By the end of our chat, I feel as though I’ve known McMahon for years, rather than meeting her for the first time that very day. Though she is young, the Australian powerhouse certainly lives up to her goal of being authentic and candid, as she allows her experiences to beget a breathtaking album filled with heartache and triumph. Though she may be completing this incarnation of her creative cycle, McMahon is already excited to jump back into writing songs.
“To be honest I haven’t written a song, properly, in maybe two years. I mean I have written songs, but not many in that time. It’s been this real path of experiences, releasing things and touring, and using all the songs that I already had to get there. I just feel like I’m coming to this point now, as the first album is about to be released, where I feel like writing again and reflecting on all of those experiences again.”