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How Angie McMahon Transitioned From Bon Jovi Stadium Shows to a Deeply Intimate New Album

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The Album

Light, Dark, Light Again out Oct. 27 via Gracie Music/AWAL Recordings

The Origin

Angie McMahon’s first taste of the stage came as the lead singer of a soul-inspired band called The Fabric. She met the boys in the band while at a private Catholic girls school in her home country of Australia, while the guys had gone to the associated boys school.

“We emerged from that traumatic experience somewhat together,” McMahon says. But being the head of a soul band wasn’t McMahon’s lifelong dream, and she applied her skills to a solo career.

McMahon entered songwriting competitions to “see if I was good,” and because she “needed deadlines,” she jokes. She entered the Telstra Road to Discovery competition, where the grand prize was a trip to Nashville to record an EP. “It’s the promise of bridging the gap between our world [Australia] and the big American world of music,” she says. “The reality is our industry, our market is small. The big stuff, the big dreams a lot of the time live over [in America].”

She didn’t win the Nashville trip, but the extra prize that year was an opening slot on Bon Jovi’s 2013 Because We Can tour. Not only did she open for Bon Jovi, but also for Kid Rock, who was second billed on the lineup.

“It was super weird. Imagine a stadium show, the first 15 minutes after the gates have opened and there’s not that many people there,” she says. “It’s a big deal, but it’s also relatively low-stakes.”

The tour left McMahon feeling “pretty shell-shocked,” and decided to take time off to figure out what she wanted to say as a songwriter. In 2017, she released the single “Slow Mover,” and by 2019 released her debut album Salt, which won the Australian Independent Record Awards for Best Independent Rock Album or EP.

The Sound

McMahon can easily fall into the category of singer-songwriter, which often evokes the image of an artist alone onstage with a guitar. But after years of fronting a loud nine-piece soul band and her trial by fire in front of Bon Jovi’s stadium crowds, her voice has the power to fill just about any room — whether she’s dealing with big feelings about relationships, or in the quiet moments when she’s grappling with her mental health.

She tends to describe her sound based on the different artists she feels are living within or, at least, within the intention behind the choices. “There’s a [Bruce] Springsteen rock thread that carries me through,” she says, “and there’s Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde-like vocal intensity and, on a good day, a courage that I’m trying to tap into.”

She adds Bon Iver, Australian artist Missy Higgins and “just a sprinkle of ‘80s synth sometimes.”

The Record

Light, Dark, Light Again is an appropriate title for McMahon’s deeply personal second album. While the titular phrase appears in the final track “Making It Through,” the theme feels weaved into nearly every track, as McMahon ebbs and flows from happier stories to tragic ones and back again.

It’s a rock album with its louder moments like the riot grrrl-esque shouting that closes out “Letting Go” or the staccato chorus of “Divine Fault Line.” In its quieter moments like “Fireball Whiskey,” McMahon’s voice is captivating as the drums build tension and she describes a crumbling relationship and navigating her anxiety. With themes ranging from climate change to psychology, McMahon has created an album worth consuming in its entirety.

“I was trying to summarize and articulate things that felt so massive in my body,” she explains. “There are things that are left out entirely and places that I didn’t touch – not out of fear, but out of the intention of wanting to create the ‘light again’ part for myself,” she says.

The Breakthrough

In 2017, McMahon released the contemplative, guitar-heavy single “Slow Mover,” which has been certified double platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association. The track puts McMahon’s big voice over deceptively profound lyrics about not wanting to buy fried chicken at 4am and trying to be kinder to herself. McMahon recalls the song coming out accompanied by an assortment of feelings — both hopeful and terrifying.

“I was suddenly needing to have an internet persona, and have my s–t together for interviews that I would maybe read later and tear myself apart for because I hadn’t articulated something well enough,” she says. “But aside from the mental health aspect, it was really nice to be able to start building a world where I was allowed to create and release stuff, which felt really special as well as really scary. I think that feeling remains.”

The Future

McMahon will tour the album starting next year, but in the meantime, she plans to get back to writing and try her hand at creating more beats. “I’m not sure if [making beats] is what I want to do next, but I want to expand my skills. I really love it, making experimental stuff,” she says. Her next record, she speculates, could be an experimental meditation/atmospheric album.

The Studio Equipment She Couldn’t Live Without

“My guitar. But I also have this new instrument that I really love. It’s the Yamaha Reface CP keyboard. I was introduced to it in the studio while making this record. It’s the size of a laptop or a bit longer. It just sounds amazing.”

The Artist She Believes Deserves More Attention

“One is a dear friend of mine, her name is Annie-Rose Maloney. She has changed my life because of her approach to living which is just not centered around capitalism or industry. She’s very grounded and writes really beautiful songs. She has like, no music online, but she’s gonna release a record in the future.

“Also, Mimi Gilbert. Just amazing musicianship and like Annie, a very kind, grounded person who has been playing music for a long time and moves people so much when they the performance.”

The Takeaway That She Hopes Fans Have When They Hear the Album

“I hope it ignites hope. For me, it’s about knowing that there is good waiting on the other side of whatever you’re afraid of and a brand new life for yourself. Maybe it can be an encouragement to go towards what your fear is. For me, the fear changes day to day: rejection, crippling depression. When I have been in the crippling unsureness about being a musician, the stuff that makes me feel like it’s worth it or like it’s doing some good and I’m not just a self-absorbed narcissist, is if I get a message that’s like, ‘I felt seen by that. I felt understood by that. Thank you for making it.’” 

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