Track By Track: Angie McMahon Takes Us Through Salt

One of our favourite new albums here at The 13th Floor is Salt, by Melbourne-based musician Angie McMahon. 

After hearing Salt, which was released July 26th, The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda decided he needed to know more about the songs and the singer. He got Angie on the phone and the two of them (both battling coughs) go through Salt, track by track, to get inside the music.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Or, read the transcription here:

M: Well, congratulations on the album

A: Thank you

M: It’s been out for a little bit now right July 26th the release date?

A: Yeah

M: How’s it been going the release is it kind of what you expected?

A: Yeah it’s been wonderful. I didn’t really know what to expect and I just felt such a sense of relief when it was out because of all the work I’ve put into it. But now I feel so grateful because the response has been so positive and as it was released I was wrapping up a tour and I just got to come home and celebrate I guess and take some time off have a little bit of a break and it’s just been so nice to have people sitting with the album while I also just get to rest. I’m hoping that my voice gets better.

M: I’m sure it will be fine.  I’ve been coughing all the time as well I’ve spent some time at the doctors office this morning as a matter of fact cause I have a cough which started in July as well so there you go. And you’re coming to New Zealand at some point aren’t you?

A:Yeah I think next week actually, I don’t actually know my schedule yet our publicist is helping organise it but I’m there for like three days ……

M: Excellent. Well I guess the plan is that we’re gonna go through the album track by track and see how this thing actually went together. Where was it recorded?

A: It was recorded around a few different places. It was like Melbourne and then surrounding Melbourne. I can’t believe this is how my voice is sounding.

M: Maybe some water

A: I’m drinking my water …it’s so funny because as soon as I hang up I bet you it goes away

M: Oh sure of course

A: So yeah you’ll have to excuse me. We did some of it  in studios like we did a couple of days hiring out studios but most of the days we couldn’t afford to do that so we did some, like we did our band live tracking in that setting and then we did a lot of extra guitar stuff and some vocal stuff just in my house actually like setting up in my hallway me and Alex who’s my bass player, he was also the co-producer and the mixer of the record. And we would just set up in my house and track a few things. And then to finish it off we rented an air bnb outside of Melbourne in a town called Harcourt and it was like a scout hall which has been transformed into a house so it was a really big open high ceiling wooden floor space and we went up there for a week and my drummer came up as well for some of the days cause we’re just a trio and we tracked the rest of the record like that. So it was over the space of about six months I think in between all the different spaces and in between touring and that was how we finished it which was really nice way to finish it and then the photo that’s on the front of the record is that Scout Hall just sitting in front of the Air Bnb.

M: It has a very isolated, solitary sound to the record especially the first track Play The Game when it starts out the space by itself is that kind of what you had in mind?

A: Yeah I really like that about it. I like the intimacy of it and the word space, I just feel like I was using that all the time like as soon as I got the band on board we were talking a lot about space and I kept it a trio because I wanted it to feel like there was lots of space and I think that just came from the way I wrote the songs which was such an intimate bedroom experience the writing all of the songs and I wanted to be able to maintain that. I guess when I listen to a record I’m focusing so much on lyrics and I wanted that to be the forefront and the voice to be forefront. I wasn’t particularly experienced I mean I’m still not particularly experienced with the production side of music and the band side of music that’s just something that I’m learning and I guess it’s the first record I wanted it to be a singer songwriter thing first and while I’m still learning the bigger elements of making songs I guess.

M: I think it’s interesting because you mentioned what do you hear first you mentioned lyrics and for me especially for a singer songwriter it’s the voice it’s like is this a voice I’m gonna believe in first of all  or anything else and then it’s the lyrics but if you’re not on board with the voice and you don’t believe what the singer is singing then it’s all moot point anyway I guess

A: Yeah totally that’s so true and It’s kind of hard for me to say that cause it’s my voice

M: Well yeah obviously

A: That’s all I got.

M: The first track is called Play The Game is there anything you want to elaborate on with that one?

A: Yeah I love this one and I wanted to open it with something that was really intimate, I guess that could be what I’m saying that was one really important element of the record to me and I wanted to open and close to bookend the record like that I guess and it just felt like the right song to open the record with because it’s kind of calm and it’s simple. When I wrote the song, I actually didn’t know what I was writing about I was sort of mumbling things in ways I thought sounded nice and it turned into something that I really connected with listening back to it and I didn’t really know what it was about. I think still I’m not entirely sure what the song’s about it’s just about navigating things that are hard and trying to be yourself but it sort of felt more like a feeling like a lullaby sort of feeling. The way that we recorded it was really fun, we were in the scout hall that I was telling you about and it was just me and Lachlan (O’Kane) my drummer and he was on the other side of the room and I wanted it to feel really gentle. So we kind of built a makeshift drum room over him just by hanging a big sheet over to the mic stand and he was in this little cave which was quite funny. So it has this whole lullaby intimate feeling to it and I really like that about it.

M: Yeah it does indeed. The second track is called Soon. What can you tell me about that?

A: This song is one of the first songs that I remember writing, I think I was nineteen, or the first good song that I remember writing. I was nineteen when I wrote it and I kind of feel like it’s self explanatory…wanting to fall in love but also not feeling ready for it. When I wrote the song I thought that falling in love was gonna be the answer to all my problems. It felt like such a big thing and since then I have fallen in love and it turned out I was wrong it doesn’t answer all of your problems but I still love singing the song. I still connect with and I still connect to my slightly younger self when I sing it. A lot of people tell me this is their favourite one on the record. I didn’t want it to be a single cause I felt like I was so young when I wrote it and it’s a little bit separate.

M: Doesn’t quite represent you now?

A: Yeah I think that’s right but it did survive the cull of all the other songs I have written since then I still wanted that to be on the record too. I do have a soft spot for this song. .

M And the next one Keeping Time was a single and it has this intro this drumming which almost sounds like a sample, I don’t know if it is or not, it sounds very familiar to me like I’ve heard it before, maybe you can tell me how that sound was achieved.

A: I thought the same thing actually about the drum beat and I don’t know where it’s from. I feel like sometimes in songwriting I feel like somethings been stolen but I just couldn’t tell you where it comes from. I mean it’s quite a straight forward rock song I guess and that’s what I was wanting to write, I was wanting it to feel like a rock song and I think it’s paying tribute to something, maybe some kind of Springsteen thing that’s living in my brain. But I was really just wishing I could write a song like that and I had the guitar riff and I was playing that over and over until it was bulldozed itself into a song. So I don’t know exactly what I was inspired by when I wrote it but music wise I just wanted it to be, it’s kind of a rock song about wishing I could write a rock song cause even the lyrics are about laziness and trying to push past habits. I was trying to change my sound and I was trying to change my work ethic and so I thought of a song that looks in on itself in that way I guess. The drum beat I love and we recorded it live as a band. It had a really good feeling to it, it’s actually got the album the vinyl version of the song has a tiny difference to the digital version and that’s just my drummer Lachlie at the very beginning of the recording just before he started playing the drums he says ‘Let’s do this’ in a funny voice and then he starts playing. And we kept it in cause it was such a good, the way that we talk to each other as a band it just had that energy but for various label and industry reasons, everybody was kinda like maybe we don’t  put that on the digital version but we kept it on the vinyl version. So when you listen through the record as a whole, there is that little moment which I really love cause it’s just that energy in it.

M: That’s a good reason to get the vinyl sales up as well

A: Exactly it’s a sneaky little …. so yeah that’s that one

M: Alrighty then we move on to Slow Mover

A: This one is the most popular one I think definitely in Australia. It was the first single and when we play at festivals and stuff it’s the one that people are there to sing along to and so I feel like I’ve played it a million times but I still really love it, it’s just that it’s a very true reflection of myself growing into an adult. I think the idea of taking time with things I think my favourite lyric in the song is in the bridge where I say that I’m a slow girl trying to be kinder. Every time I song that lyric I still feel like I’m singing it about myself very much and I was really inspired by female rock songwriters when I wrote this song. Originally it was a really folky really gentle song when I wrote in the chorus and then I was listening to all of this Alabama Shakes, I don’t know if you know that band.

M: Oh yeah I think Brittany Howard has just released a solo album

A: She has I know and I’m so excited by that. I just love her as an artist and I remember watching her play a live session on Youtube with Alabama Shakes and just being completely captivated by her badassery. Tthat was something that really inspired this song and another artist who’s name is Mia Dyson she’s an Australian rock, she kind of sounds like Lucinda Williams and she’s got this awesome guitar playing and awesome songwriting. You should definitely check her out if you haven’t heard of her but I was listening to both those artists a lot when I wrote Slow Mover.

M: What was her first name?

A: Mia Dyson. She’s so wonderful and she has this song called When The Moment Comes and I was listening to that and it was just making me want to write something louder and so that’s when I wrote Slow Mover it was kind of a songwriting transition for me just something a bit more powerful.

M: Because that song has become so popular and people are singing it back to you, is there a point where you had to give it over and realise that it wasn’t just your song anymore, that it belongs to all these people?

A: Yeah absolutely which I quite like because it’s a similar feeling to what I was telling you about in relief of having the album out. I feel like it makes space for me to want to create other things like to give something away, knowing that it’s done and then to be able to give it over that feels like a really nice cycle for me like I don’t feel like I need to hold on to it. It’s a nice thing

M: And then we have another single, ‘Missing Me’ is after that. There are jabs of guitar in it which I …

A: They were originally keyboard jabs. I wrote it when I was travelling and so all I had with me was a little probably like ten or fifteen keys just like this little midi keyboard and I was really heartbroken and I was spending a lot of time by myself and I was just sitting at my computer honestly just banging this little keyboard like it was so angsty. I was feeling really let down and it was so cathartic to write a song about it, I didn’t know how to express myself and it was just that classic thing of all of my angst bubbling up and just being released into this furious song that’s actually quite empowering to sing. I love this song and I brought that little keyboard back out again when we were recording it. We did it as a band then when we were mixing it, Alex and I, so this was the first one that Alex and I worked on together, even though Slow Mover was the first single, that was recorded with John Castle who’s a really good friend and everything else on the record was recorded me and Alex and so Missing Me was the second single, it was the first song that we worked on together and we were sitting in his little mixing room and it kinda had most of the lights off and I had .. on and I was just feeling experimental and weird and I brought out the little keyboard the same one that I had taken travelling and we made some mellotron weird sounds on it to get that bit towards the end that’s kind of dramatic. So that was a nice full circle moment as well.

M: Very nice. Alright, on to Push. What can you tell me about that?

A: This is a sad, dramatic pop song which I was also quite young when I wrote, I think I was nineteen as well when I wrote this song and I was listening to a lot of Lana Del Ray. I think of it as a sister song to Missing Me because they’re both about heartbreaks, different heartbreaks that I went through but they’re both in the same key and they’re both very much like roaring about a wounded ego. They use the same chords and I feel like they kind of operate in the same world so I wanted to put them next to each other and it felt right that one flowed into the other. Push was my least favourite song, I nearly took it off the record, I mean I say least favourite I think it was that pattern of having written it when I was younger and I felt like I’d outgrown it. But again it feels good to give the song away and it opened a door for me into just really honest song writing and so I wanted to include and also when I sent it to some of my friends it was their favourite one so I was like OK just put it on.

M: Better put it on

A: Yep

M: Alright that takes us to Pasta which is kind of become notorious about its subject matter.

A: No it is it’s a bit of a gimmick at this point but I love it. I’m proud if this song. Actually when we were naming the song it didn’t have an official name and my manager and I were going back and forth because we didn’t know if the word pasta was gonna be too funny like it was taking away the seriousness of it but truly it’s not, I mean it is a song that balances serious legargy and sadness and also just wanting to get over that and move through it quickly and move through it with humour. So I like all of that about the song and again I really wanted to rock out like I wanted to be Springsteen and I wanted to get moving and I like the way the song develops into something that moves quickly, like it starts so slowly then it picks up towards the end and that is how I feel getting through a lethargy mood like a phase of being lazy and then you just start running past it, not pasta, and so yeah I’m really proud of this song. We usually close our set with it like it’s usually a really fun way to leave a gig behind just to rock out.

M: Speaking of Springsteen, I was wondering if you’ve seen the film Blinded By The Light?

A: I haven’t seen it yet, I really want to, have you seen it?

M: Being a fan you’ll probably appreciate it so …

A: I am gonna check it out, I got really excited when I saw the trailer.

M: That takes us to Standout is number eight.

A: This was recorded live with band in the scout hall as well. I was off in the bedroom and it was inspired, the songwriting, I was listening to a lot of Lianne La Havas, one of my favourite songwriters. That’s where the slightly jazzier chords came from I guess. It’s just a stream of consciousness song I had parted ways with somebody and hadn’t said the things that I wanted to say and it all came out in a song literally just in one sitting and the recording came out in one or two takes as well. So this one has always been quite easy for me and it’s another one that other people say is one of their favourites even though it’s not maybe one of mine but I don’t know why that’s always the case

M: But it’s interesting because the tracks sound very immediate and intimate, it sounds like they would all be one or two takes, is that the case or did you have to spend quite a bit of time on some of them.

A; Most of them were just a few takes I think Keeping Time we went back and re-recorded it but everything else was, and Push was hard that was hard to record and everything else was pretty much just a couple of takes and that came from also having played as a band. We’d just come off a one  month tour like thirty shows just before we did a lot of the record so that was helpful as well just to be really sitting with the songs.

M: That takes us to Mood Song.

A: This is one of my favourites, I wrote this one with all the lights off in my bedroom and the demo sounded a lot like the recorded version, the album version, like I had double tracked the vocal and I was really proud of myself for having double tracked the vocal like that and so we did that again on the record. It was really inspired by Bon Iver when we recorded it I was talking to Alex about the double tracking that Bon Iver uses on some of his earlier stuff and he was like who is that artist I’ve never heard of him and I was like what are you talking about he’s one of my favourite so I got to introduce him to one of my favourite artists which was nice. And there’s a little bit of trumpet on the record which I was also proud of because I played trumpet in high school and I never really had an excuse or made myself bring it out again and it was nice to have that reason just to make something dramatic towards the end of the song. I sort of think it feels like being underwater when you listen to this song that’s how I feel about it and I really like the mood that it creates. I couldn’t come up with a title for it ……if felt right and we’re gonna play it on our upcoming Australian tour for the first time as a band which will be nice I think that will be interesting.

M: You gonna bring your trumpet with you?

A: I don’t think so cause I can’t figure out how to play that and sing at the same time.

M: That is a problem.

A: Yeah. Physically, I’m not quite there yet.

M: Fair enough, then we have And I Am a Woman.

A: This is probably my favourite one on the record, I find myself talking about this song quite a lot because it’s this concept that I’m becoming more and more invested in just the conversation around the experience of being a woman or the experience of having your body and your personal space overlooked. Iit was the first time that I’d been able to write a song about that and really express my anger and so again I was proud of the song and it was really important to me that recording. And when we went in to record it, it was one of the studio days that we paid for so it was kind of a high stakes day and my guitar broke just before we started recording the song, my pickup died and I was really at a loss for what to do so we just used like something in the studio I think it was a Fender Jaguar and we got a really good take with the band and the feeling was right so we went back and re-recorded like added my guitar on top of it about a month later once I got it fixed to get the song right. So it was a bit of a journey, the recording, but it’s very much about feeling like I’m in the right space and I really feel like we got a good take of it.

M: Have you heard Julia Jacklin’s latest album?

A: Yeah I’m a really big fan of that record

M: Some of those songs touch on a similar theme I think

A: Yeah absolutely and I think probably the writing style and the singing style when I wrote this song were somewhat inspired by her as well. That record, some of those things she says about loving somebody without using a hand and those kind of lyrics when I first heard that I thought that was really blown away by those moments Yeah I love her, I think she’s great.

M: That takes us to the final track on the album, If You Call.

A: This one it was similar to Play The Game that idea of it feeling like a lullaby.  This one again we recorded it quite intimately and it was just one mic in the centre of the room it was in the scout hall it was at the end of the week when we had achieved most of what we had wanted to and there’s rain in the background and I was sitting on the floor and just playing  a nylon string acoustic and it felt really, I’m trying to come up with a word, it’s not intimate but I can’t think of another word but y’know maybe…. for me  but it was really the gentle the way we approached the song and woke up this day in my pajamas and got out this take and it felt really good. I love the track I mean I wasn’t gonna put it on the record cause I thought it was a really cheesy song and I’d never actually played it to anyone and then we had a gig that we needed to fill a bit of time so I pulled out the song and my band was like what was that song we really loved that and I was like oh ok I guess it’s acceptable. I thought y’know it’s sort of about friendship and the whistle section I hear as a bird call like natural call between friends and so it seems like a nice note to end the record on just a positive hopeful, if still melancholy feeling.

M: That takes us to the end

A: That’s the whole record

M: Yeah that’s pretty cool. I assume that you are probably already working on the next one

A: I’m just starting to. I mean I haven’t been able to write while touring, I’m only just settling home and feeling, it has to do with having released a record as well just feeling like I’m ready to, my brain is leaning towards new songs so I think it will be a slow process but I’m really excited to be writing again.

 

Marty Duda
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