Interview: Angie McMahon Dives into Her “Melancholy, Introverted, & Imperfect” New EP, ‘Piano Salt’

Angie McMahon © Chelsea Sienna
Angie McMahon © Chelsea Sienna
Angie McMahon dives into her EP ‘Piano Salt’ and all that “sad piano stuff” with Atwood Magazine, exploring the record she proudly calls “melancholy, introverted, and imperfect” while reflecting on her own personal and musical growth.
for fans of Leif Vollebekk, Phoebe Bridgers, Matt Pond, Gordi

I guess it’s like the little sister lullaby version of that album – the epilogue.

Angie McMahon never ceases to amaze.

A longtime Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch and Editor’s Pick, the Melbourne-based artist has a way about her performance that stuns whatever room she’s in to absolute silence. Dubbed “one of 2019’s most charming, exciting, genuine, and breathtakingly raw singer/songwriters” just over a year ago, McMahon made a grand, sweeping statement with her debut album Salt (released July 2019 via Dualtone Records).

Described at the time as “a seismic outpouring spanning the full dynamic spectrum… channeling intense emotions, reflections, and ideas through a volatile array of driving indie rock and moving singer/songwriter music,” Salt‘s songs come to life through McMahon’s savage, unrelenting guitar performances and her unparalleled, unapologetic singing. The record is a world of contrasts and connections; of love and loss, triumphs and failures – all of which blend together in a “beautiful musical manifestation of life on record.”

Piano Salt by Angie McMahon
Piano Salt – Angie McMahon

Another stunning overhaul of emotion and sound, McMahon’s new EP is part-reimagining, part-cover set full of intimacy and nuance.

It’s a heartfelt seduction through pain and raw ache; a beautifully stripped surrender. Out October 2, 2020 via Dualtone, Piano Salt once again captures the depth of McMahon’s talent while presenting her in a new light, with an evocative piano at her fingertips. Recorded by Jono Steer at his The Perch Recording Studio in Castlemaine (with the exception of the Lief Vollebekk duet “If You Call,” which was captured by Ken Hay [Pilerats] at Green Bunch Florist in Western Australia), Piano Salt is a majestic, muted introspection. It’s a rainy day companion; a soundtrack to deep dives into the self, of inner reflection and emotional wanderings. It’s a little something for everyone, yet no matter how much it means to you, it likely means more to McMahon.

“This EP is a stepping stone, from album one to album two, giving me time to breathe in and let the ‘Salt’ breath go,” McMahon shared upon her EP release, going on to address her (virtual) audience directly: “Thank you for following and breathing with this music.”

Angie McMahon © Jacqueline Justice
Angie McMahon © Jacqueline Justice

In addition to featuring stirring reimaginings of Salt‘s songs “Soon,” “Slow Mover,” “Keeping Time,” and “Pasta,” as well as a McMahon and Leif Vollebekk’s standalone single “If You Call” (released this past May), the EP feature two astounding covers in the form of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” and Lana del Rey’s “Born to Die.”

You have truly never heard “The River” this raw and painful; this emotionally compelling; this overwhelmingly heavy and tortured. McMahon channels grief into a passionate performance that demands full, undivided attention from her listener. She does the same with Springsteen’s composition as she does with all of her own, balancing her anguished vocals with delicate, poignant piano playing that radiates a wellspring of heated, turbulent emotion. Devastating highlights include the EP’s two bookends: Opener “Soon (piano)” and closer “Pasta (piano),” whose confessional lyrics shine with a new light in this altered environment.

Angie McMahon recently dove into Piano Salt and all that “sad piano stuff” with Atwood Magazine, exploring the record she proudly calls “melancholy, introverted, and imperfect” while reflecting on her own personal and musical growth.

“I kind of made it for myself, to be honest…” she admits. That’s fine; in fact, it’s probably better that way. Piano Salt is a special behind-the-scenes look at one of our day’s finest artists. These are so much more than lullabies; dive in with our interview below, and listen to Piano Salt out now!

Maybe a listener could hear the value in coming at something old with a new perspective, or the value in reshaping yourself when it feels right.

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:: stream/purchase Piano Salt here ::
Stream: ‘Piano Salt’ – Angie McMahon


Piano Salt by Angie McMahon

Atwood Magazine: Hey Angie! Piano Salt is, in a word, stunning. I love these reimagined renditions. What was the process of breaking down these songs and building them back up again like?

Angie McMahon: That’s so kind, thank you. I’m glad you like it! It was a bit scary, I was unsure in the beginning if people would find enough dynamics and drama in the songs compared to the band recordings. But I know I love listening to sad piano stuff, so I just followed that gut feeling. It took a fair bit of practicing – well, probably a normal amount of practicing – to feel as confident with the songs on piano, and feel like I was giving them a fresh life. That was a very fun challenge to work through as the world was shutting down. I was grateful for the distraction.

Why did you want to do this to begin with, and how do you personally distinguish this record from the OG Salt?

Angie McMahon: I wasn’t planning on releasing anything this year, but I was planning on playing a show or two on the piano, like a solo grand piano vibe. I was practicing for that at the beginning of the year, and it felt really good to be playing the piano again, so I wanted to have a reason to follow through and perform them. We decided to record the tracks and release them as well as performing them for an online concert, so that there’d be a tangible thing to hold at the end of the year, and so I could work with as many of my dear creative friends as possible – Jono who recorded it, Alex who mixed it, Adam who mastered it, and several others. As far as distinguishing it from Salt, I guess it’s like the little sister lullaby version of that album – the epilogue.

Angie McMahon © Jacqueline Justice
Angie McMahon © Jacqueline Justice

How do you feel you've grown as an artist since releasing your debut? What was your tour experience like, and did you learn anything about music making from that time?

Angie McMahon: I’m just learning a lot more about myself in terms of how to navigate all the feelings and experiences that are before me. Rather than conquering some ultimate growth, I’m just proud of myself for taking steps along the path that I’m on and growing into myself more. The band and I have been touring Salt since 2017, and our experiences have been both joyful and exhausting. We are dedicated to our philosophy of Wabi Sabi – everything we do can and should be imperfect, we forgive ourselves as soon as possible for mistakes that we make, and find the beauty in those imperfections. We have tried not to subscribe to the pressure of perfection, and that has kept the music-making joyful I think. I’ve also learnt to drink less alcohol…that lesson is ongoing.

“Slow Mover” is breathtaking here. It just stopped me in my tracks. Do you have any personal favorite renditions from this batch?

Angie McMahon: That’s lovely, I’m glad. I liked being able to go at the song with a different perspective. I think my favourite was “Pasta,” maybe because it’s a particularly vulnerable song when you strip it down, and it felt good to give more space to it.

I'm reminded of artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Sondre Lerche's acoustic work when I listen to you here; did any artists inspire you, or any of these performances?

Angie McMahon: I’m not familiar with Sondre Lerche but I’m going to go and find them now! Well yeah, I think all the inspiration is coming from other artists, all the time. There are particular moments maybe on this EP where I can hear my imitation of artists that I love, but I don’t really want to single them out because there are SO many in my brain. I did steal some piano techniques from Leif Vollebekk though, he’s one of my big time all time faves.

The Songwriter’s Songwriter: A Conversation with Leif Vollebekk


Leif is absolutely fantastic! A gentleman too; we had a great conversation last year, he seems very kind, patient, and humble. Lastly, what do you hope others take away from listening to this EP?

Angie McMahon: I suppose, anything. I kind of made it for myself, to be honest… I’m anxious about making my next album, and this was a gentle stepping stone, a way to honour my early days of piano playing. The fact that I get to release it and other people might find depth in it, that is a bonus and something I don’t really feel I can comment on. It is so nice to get the feedback, though, because as much as I want to just create for the sake of creating, it’s an incredible gift to have people connect with it. Maybe a listener could hear the value in coming at something old with a new perspective, or the value in reshaping yourself when it feels right.

— —

:: stream/purchase Piano Salt here ::
:: stream/purchase Salt here ::
Stream: ‘Piano Salt’ – Angie McMahon

— — — —

Piano Salt by Angie McMahon

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? © Chelsea Sienna

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