READING TIME: 1 HOUR
Manager x Artist
Charlotte Abroms interviews Angie McMahon
26 AUGUST 2020
When I first met you at Some Velvet Morning, you seemed defeated. People in the music industry had suggested you should be releasing an EP instead of an album. You were set on releasing an album, because you had an album’s worth of material. Can you remember your feelings that day?
Wow, that’s amazing that you remember that. I cannot recall. I recall the conversation. I guess I’m sad often enough, I can’t specifically remember one day a few years ago that I was sad about the music industry. Like, “Yeah that was a unique experience.” [laughing]
More so, maybe we should focus on the one time you were happy since working in the music industry! [laughing]
I remember when we met, you showing me your Spotify playlists and I was like “Oh my god, I need to be in on this.”
I had an organised note in my phone to remind myself to send you my Spotify playlist the next day.
And thus begins the difference in our personalities. You being organised and making notes about things and me… not.
I was like “Let me know when you release Slow Mover” and then a year later I contacted you like, “Do you want me to just release it for you?”
Oh my god. That’s what it was. It was a fear of releasing and the way everyone talks about albums and EPs and what to do when you’re beginning as an artist.
All of those structures, I just didn’t feel like they were me.
I’m sure that’s where the sadness came from, the idea of releasing something did make me feel a lot of fear. It made me feel limited.
That was one of the beautiful things about us meeting, in all of our conversations those limits are not relevant. It’s intuition based and feelings based. You were like “Just release an album if you want to do that.” I was asking various people for advice all the time and people would say I wasn’t ready for a record, which maybe I wasn’t, but I wanted to be.
To set the scene around that time, you were working a few days a week at the bar as a bartender?
Yeah, I was bartending.
And you were gigging around a little bit?
Yeah, I was gigging. I didn’t know how to release music but I’d received good advice from people to play as many gigs as possible and keep practicing and performing. That’s where my mind was set. I was actually really happy at that time. Perform, perform. Do gigs. Trust your gut.
And then maybe when I started talking about releasing music is when I became a bit shut down and afraid.
I was just playing a lot of gigs and I felt like I was building a name for myself in a community. The job at Some Velvet Morning was so amazing because there were so many musicians and music fans in that bar all the time. It felt like the perfect job, it felt like the place I was meant to be. I was really happy there.
I find that stage of someone’s career so interesting. You have this unbelievable talent within you that not many people know about. Within the space of a year you went from selling out The Gasometer upstairs to selling out The Forum. At that stage, did you have an inkling your music would connect as quickly as it did?
I really wanted it to. I was so lucky. I was so lucky that we had that trajectory over that year. I couldn’t have imagined anything better. I had no idea how it was going to go down, because I had no idea how it all worked. Totally though, that was totally the dream. It was totally the dream.
It happened quicker than I thought it would. I knew your music would affect people the way it affected me. You have to have so many things happen, beyond our control, for it to fall into place. The progression that you had doesn’t usually happen within the space of nine or ten months.
Totally, it was so overwhelming. These were all my dream venues and I just kept thinking, what happens after The Forum? It was almost like I needed to make up new dreams. It was crazy. I had been to gigs at The Forum, thinking one day I might get to play on this stage and that would be the dream.
When you did headline The Forum and I came to soundcheck, I felt like the mood was more than nerves. There was a collective feeling that no one was ready for it. Even from a stage perspective, it was the biggest stage you had played and the furthest apart you’d been from your band on a stage.
Yeah, I know. I don’t think we were ready. But you know, so what? We jumped in the deep end and we learned so much. You just have to learn from having those experiences. Today if I was putting that show together, I would group us really close together on stage. I’d be like, let’s fill this stage with plants and we’re gonna stand within two metres of each other and it’s gonna be weird, but we’re gonna feel really intimate. That’s maybe the way that we work as a band, but I wouldn’t have thought about those things unless we had been in that position, where we played The Forum and we were all positioned really far apart.
I remember when we were in London and we put tickets on sale and everything was moving so quickly. We were staying in the same place and you were in a bedroom with the door shut, and I remember knocking on the door and opening it. You were crying, you were almost inconsolable. That was a really important moment for me because we both told each other that we didn’t have to do this anymore if we didn’t want to. Can you remember what that feeling was like?
That conversation was actually incredible. It was anxiety. I remember the feeling building up over a few days. You and I were in London, and it was a classic example of how quickly everything was moving. I didn’t have time to process that we were about to sell tickets to The Forum.
The show at The Corner was coming up while we were preparing to put tickets on sale at The Forum, but I still hadn’t ever headlined The Corner. I just couldn’t comprehend how it was going to happen. Why do you have faith in me? I was so anxious for days.
That’s what happens to me, I get anxious and I build it up physically inside of me until it explodes into crying. I’m so glad that you were there for it. What I’ve learned is so important in those moments when someone is suffering, is to create a space where you remind someone that they are in control. You were like, “We don’t have to do this” and immediately I was like, “But I want to do this.” You told me I could walk away from this at any time and I could choose to turn things down, and I was reminded that I didn’t want to turn things down.
In my head I was like, “This is moving so fast and I don’t have any control over it” and you reminded me that I did have control over it and it’s what I wanted. It was a safe and compassionate way to remind me of that. It was honestly such a great conversation. I was crying, I just needed to cry. We’re in London, I can’t even think about playing my biggest most favourite venue in Melbourne when we’re on the other side of the world. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it.
You’d just played like 20 shows with Angus & Julia Stone and then immediately you flew to London to play your first ever London show at Royal Albert Hall.
Oh my god, that’s another thing. Was that the same trip?
Yeah, that all happened in the same week.
Royal Albert Hall fucked me up. I mean, that show was amazing and it’s funny because it’s such a highlight in terms of the type of room you want to play. But in terms of how I felt that week, and how I felt on that stage, it was just such a contrast.
Yeah, I remember at the time you said it was weird because you’d had the protection of your band for a whole tour in Australia and you hadn’t thought about the feeling of being on a huge stage in this renowned venue by yourself.
I hadn’t even practiced on my own. I don’t remember when I had last played on my own and I didn’t have that thought until I walked onto the stage and the whole room was silent.
The thing about that room that’s so scary is the seats are so high up, so you feel like people are in the gods looking down on you and I had this thought as I was about to start the set, “Hi I’m Angie,” and I was thinking, oh my god, I haven’t practiced on my own in a really long time. I’d just played so many shows with the band I didn’t even know how to start the set. I really tested myself there.
It’s funny how we were talking about the things we learn as we go. These days you would never play a huge theatre in London without having practiced.
It’s also like classic me. I went through my musical education without practicing until I really needed to. I’d have these piano exams coming up and I’d be like – it’ll be fine – and then the day before I’d be having a complete meltdown thinking “I just need to pass this exam” and I’d walk in and scrape through and do the bare minimum. But I loved to do what I loved doing, which was practicing pop songs and stuff. I never practiced what I actually needed to practice. It’s the classic anxious procrastination of my whole life. It all just manifested into this moment on the Royal Albert Hall stage where I was just like, “Bitch, you need to learn how to practice.”
That is so funny. And the day after you played Royal Albert Hall you completely lost your voice and we had to cancel some shows. I was quite pleasantly surprised with how common it was and how everyone completely understood it, there wasn’t too much pressure.
It was an amazing lesson because I was so physically anxious that day and that had to do with why I lost my voice. I saw a throat specialist after that, and I had terrible posture, I’d just come off the plane as well and then I’d done this set where I’d been incredibly uptight and anxious with barely any stretching before. By the end of the set I knew that my voice was gone and my whole body was crashing.
Soon after you played your first headline show in London in a tiny venue. Do you enjoy the variety of playing these different sized venues around the world?
Yeah! I think it’s really important to me to stay humble and to be able to not get too caught up in the idea of being successful. You know?
I’m so honoured to be able to share my music with more and more people but maybe if all of our gigs were really big I’d get carried away with my self-importance or something. I dunno!
It is really nice to have the variety and it feels more intimate to be able to build connections with people that way. You feel like you’re connecting with people on a core level. And I think that’s really, really important in terms of making me a better performer and being able to adapt to different rooms and different sized crowds. You know, I think it’s awesome, I love having the opportunity to travel and play in any type of room. It’s sick. I just feel so lucky.
It’s kinda weird how one can grow so quickly on this island here, and almost start from the beginning elsewhere.
I almost feel weirder playing the big rooms, does that make sense?
Yeah, from an audience perspective it can feel more disconnected sometimes.
It’s definitely fun to have the opportunity to do the stage design, and have a lighting engineer, and all the different things that come with the bigger venues. It’s a different connection though, I really think I would miss the intimacy of the small gigs. You and I have always talked about putting on little intimate shows to keep that connection. I think it’s so important.
We’ve always talked about church style tours.
Yeah, like Heavenly Sounds. I went to see Daughter in a church and I think Kate Miller-Heidke did one too. They were so cool.
I want to talk about social media. You’re not much of a self-promoter online, and yet you have a really engaged audience. Was that a plan of yours from the beginning? I’m interested in your relationship with social media. We know it’s one of the only ways to have a sustainable business but by doing it in a way that still feels arty.
I think the thing with social media is it’s like… I’ve never expressed this before but just as you asked the question I thought of it.
Social media is like a community right? It’s real people. Imagine a room full of real people. Imagine a small bar full of people and there’s someone on the stage telling some jokes, trying to get a message across, but they’re also connecting with people and reading the room and creating a vibe for people to feel like they’re in a comfortable space.
To me that’s what the job of the person on stage is.
Or imagine that there’s a different person on stage and they’re just yelling into the microphone and telling you to buy their shit. Like everyone is at the bar, just trying to have a drink just trying to talk to their friends and look at some photos, or whatever, and learn about the world.
Then there’s Steven on the stage and he’s just like “I’VE GOT SOME STUFF FOR SALE, $10, AND IF YOU DON’T BUY IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE BAR YOU’RE A FUCKWIT, MAKE SURE YOU BUY ONE, I’LL BE HERE EVERY DAY! EVERY TIME YOU COME BACK TO THE BAR THIS IS WHAT I’M GONNA BE SAYING, SO JUST LOOK FORWARD TO IT BECAUSE THIS IS OUR RELATIONSHIP NOW, I’M JUST GONNA YELL AT YOU ABOUT WHAT I’M SELLING, BECAUSE I’M ON A STAGE.”
Steven’s like “Tickets are moving really fast to my next gig! You can pre-save my record!”
Shut up Steven.
Yes, Steven does not understand people. Steven doesn’t get it.
I think it’s so true. It’s a digital room. It can be a safe space. You might not push something upon someone, but someone walks into your lounge room and you’re like “Hey I’ve been doing these paintings recently if you wanna check them out, here they are.” You put them on the coffee table and it’s up to that person to then decide whether or not they pick them up and look at them or not.
I’m using that as an example because you posted your art recently, as opposed to being like, “Look at my art. Then go to my website. And buy my art.”
Totally. It’s such a privilege to be able to share art, of any kind – music, painting, whatever. It’s such a privilege and it’s such an awesome thing. People do want art. I’m so grateful that people want art. But just because there’s a certain amount of people following me on Instagram, doesn’t mean I feel entitled to their money and I don’t feel entitled to them buying everything I put out, or wanting to interact with everything that I post. I want to give energy and give my own personal energy in a way that – you know – that is actually personal and meaningful. It feels more human.
We’ve never really done paid advertising yet which is amazing, because you don’t like to force things upon people. A lot of that is to do with you having such a strong connection to your audience when you play live. It’s interesting in this current unprecedented COVID world, during these strange times…
“Hope you’re doing well during these strange times!”
Maybe we will try digital advertising as a way of connecting to audiences in lieu of touring. It feels so important to keep thinking outside of the structures.
Yeah, I think the structures are bullshit. The incredible creativity that everyone has inside of them is so inspiring in terms of how to operate day-to-day. I feel inspired to paint my posters and Photoshop the record covers together, whatever it is, I feel inspired to do all of those things because I see other artists doing it. I learnt it from the Melbourne music community. There are so many beautiful DIY posters and record covers and everything. Even this interview we’re doing, it’s a little bit off the normal path. We love when people do things that are different to normal, because it’s unique and personal. Everything is unique to each artist and each person so I just don’t really see any point in conforming to a structure when the alternative is just being yourself.
And following what feels right. I wanted to interview you a couple of years ago and it came from a place of being someone who knows a lot about you. I remember telling someone this idea and the response was that it could be biased for a manager to interview an artist, because maybe this article is going to paint you in a light that doesn’t come from a neutral place. I just want to help tell your story to people who might appreciate it.
I think we’re lucky to have the friendship that we have which makes this conversation easy. And maybe what’s fair about that point is that there probably are some managers who might avoid talking to the artists about the bad things, they might omit them. For the record, if you wanted to ask me about a shit thing I’d ever done, I feel like we would openly talk about that too. We’re just humans.
I can’t think of any shit things you’ve done. Surely there’s something, but you’ve done pretty well. Even talking about you crying when we put tickets on sale isn’t exactly promoting you, it’s more like helping other musicians understand that the path isn’t so easy. So many people might look upon those milestones enviously and in some sense it wasn’t an enviable time. We were both struggling to cope and keep up.
Yeah, I was definitely depressed, highly anxious and operating from a place of fear and adrenaline for months. Awesome!
It was a juxtaposition, where I knew it was your dream and there was a list of things that we were ticking off, but I was also watching your happiness decline. We both had an unhealthy mentality in relation to the amount of things we said yes to, but we knew that if we could get to a certain point, there might come a time where you don’t have to say yes to everything. We sort of fast-tracked ourselves there. But it took a pandemic to pause.
Totally, we always looked forward to a point where we had a bit more steady control. I was thinking as well – it was such a learning experience for me. I remember when I was so flat, one of the conversations you and I had was that you noticed I was low, which I wasn’t even really acknowledging in myself.
You noticed I was low and you didn’t want to facilitate someone’s life becoming unhappy. You didn’t want to facilitate all these situations that were making me unhappy.
I began learning – I hadn’t really thought about it from this angle – I began learning about your role and your job to facilitate all of these things and the responsibility that comes with that. I think that brought us together closer as a team. It made me think about everyone on our team and how they operate and feel, and their role. It’s not just about me and how I feel. I’m not the only one going through it.
I think it comes down to family dynamics too. You know what it’s like to have an innate sense of responsibility for a younger person, by having a younger sibling. I’m the youngest child in my family so I was used to other people looking out for me. There was a sibling sense that I’d never had before which reminded me that it was so important to protect you and your happiness, and mine, and everyone on our team.
I think it’s become one of the healthiest things that one can do as a team – check how everybody feels. How do you feel about how things are going? How do you feel about this decision that’s coming up? Not just base decisions on ambition or momentum or what we’re meant to say yes to. We need to trust our intuition and trust that our feelings are indicating things to us.
The way you write and perform music comes first and foremost in terms of what connects to an audience. But in terms of our team, it feels like a family. It’s wonderful to see more musicians prioritising the feelings and financial stability of their teams, crew, sessions musicians and the like. It’s better to ask people how they feel along the journey, than to just tell them what’s happening next without space for input.
It’s not always easy to do that as well, but part of the inspiration behind that thinking is because I feel supported all the time. I want everyone else to feel supported too. We’ve chosen to work with lovely people so we want to do right by them.
I was just joking today about how people in the music industry are often looking for ways to do things cheaper to cut corners. I’ve learnt that when you value people, financially and emotionally, the end result is always better. Seems obvious but not enough people practice it.
Yeah, it is tricky, because depending on who you are talking to like so many artists don’t have money in the bank. It’s not always money that’s needed, you can still value people.
Yeah, sometimes it’s about paying what you can, in the early days, and showing gratitude. The alternative is a lot of disgruntled people. Anyway, I want to talk to you about lyrics!
Can we play a game where I read out your lyrics and you tell me the feeling behind it?
Cool, love this. Amazing.
I chose one from each song on Piano Salt, your EP that’s coming out in October.
Hey Alexa. I’ve always quite liked the line, “I feel like I’m living when I smell of cigarette smoke.” When I met you and since knowing you, you haven’t really been a smoker. What’s this all about?
I think it has to do with Emma, my best friend, because she smokes. I will smoke with her sometimes. She’s someone who makes me feel really alive. We would go to festivals together, and at festivals I’d socially smoke. It’s a social smoking element, I would maybe come home from the bar smelling like ciggies and I’d probably also at that time been engaging with a lot of people and sharing energy with people and that makes me feel alive. So much of my time is spent in solitude, which I love, but you feel more alive (usually) when you’re around other people. Cigarette smoke was, at one point, strongly aligned with friendship and socialising.
Yep, in the early days when you first go to festivals, it’s the one time of the year your clothes might smell like smoke and you remember the feeling of the festival. “Try set me on fire”, Slow Mover?
Um, I was trying to find a way to say “try and turn me on” that my parents wouldn’t get upset about. I love using the word “fire” in lyrics, I keep trying to write songs with that word in it now, and I think I might have overused it in my one “hit”. I just love that word, I love the imagery of water and fire.
Yeah. I love all the simple visuals around fire, sparks, flames, fuelling the fire. Good imagery around it. Do you ever have lyrics that just instantly make you choke up and want to cry and you don’t really know why? They’re not necessarily sad, but they just make you feel that way.
Yep. “Every silver Civic was your car” by Charlotte Cornfield, that’s one for me. It says so much about an experience that is really deeply felt.
It’s such a human experience, that line. Everyone has gone through a stage where they look out for the model of someone’s car.
One hundred percent. Sometimes you don’t have opportunities or the confidence to catch up with your crush. So the fact that they’re driving past is even more exciting because it’s a very romantic idea. That lyric is definitely one for me.
Yeah, I love that. There’s one that always makes me want to cry when you play it live, and obviously I’ve seen you play live like 400 times and it still happens. “And God I want the time to stop, so I don’t have to grow old.” What was happening when you were writing Keeping Time?
I like that one. It’s that feeling that happens at the same time as the line before it, which is “I want the time to pass”. I wanna get to this place so I can do all of these things, but simultaneously I really don’t want to grow up. Like I don’t want to have to grow up – I don’t feel that way now, now I’m so excited about growing older, at that time I was just afraid. Do you know what? I was probably afraid of being too old to be a successful songwriter because of the youth obsession in the world. I think I was so confused by really wanting all these things to happen in my life, but already feeling like I was too old for them to happen, which is silly, but that’s totally how I felt.
Again, like the Silver Civic lyric, it’s such a shared feeling in that bridge between high school and adulthood where there is a lot of fear around not knowing what you are capable of.
Also I think so many of the films and TV shows that I would consume at that point in my life, none of the protagonists were past the age of 21 or 22. It was kind of like – and I know it isn’t true now – this is the most interesting part of your life, this is when it’s all gonna happen. I was bordering on 22/23 and I was like fuck, fuck, fuck, I’m not there yet.
It’s like pausing the time and also thinking… nothing has actually happened yet.
It just felt like something that I wanted to scream about at the end of a song.
This one is pretty obvious, and that’s what I love about your lyrics, they’re not always deeply metaphorical. They’re often shared human experiences which have a sense of familiarity about them. “Well I don’t have an answer why I’ve been buried underneath some kind of mountain that I made, oh some disaster.”
It’s so fun to sing that one.
Was that a general feeling of heaviness?
There was a particular friendship that inspired that song. As I was writing it, it felt more general and universal. It felt like a pattern, something that I feel often, this idea of wanting to support somebody but also not having done the work to sort out my own shit.
That’s where I was. I’m at a different place in my life now. Now I want to work through the things that I feel shame around, or feel heavily and deeply…I feel more capable of working through those things.
That’s got to do with therapy and working on myself and being more experienced, and lucky, but four years ago when I wrote the song, I felt all of these things so heavily, I just didn’t know how to talk about them to people, or sort them out in my head. It did feel like a mountain.
Life just felt like a mountain and every day I felt a little bit depressed or aware of the things I didn’t have that I wanted within myself, everything felt so huge and heavy.
That song is so relatable, lyrically, there’s some self-blame in that line that feels familiar. There’s another line that I love – “I’d been a little darker, than I’d been wanting you to see, though you’ve been coming around needing to be looked after and I don’t have the answer.”
It’s that idea of not really wanting someone to see you at your lowest and not really having the answers, and so not wanting to share anything. Not wanting to open up, because you don’t know what’s under there.
And that person needs looking after.
Yeah and I love looking after people, I get hooked on it. I want to help other people and heal other people and I used to think I could do that without letting any of my own stuff out which is just not how it works.
Yeah and then you end up spilling everything out in all of these songs. Everyone’s like… are you okay?
That’s something I did want to talk about, something that I’m learning which is that really amazing role of songwriting in my life, which is that I feel like such an intense person and I’m able to release that through music.
I’m able to unleash it and be completely myself and put all of myself into songs and I also have control over it because I’m recording it, and I’m performing it and I can work on the songs as long as I want, and be as creative and private and whatever.
I can throw all of my intensity into it and these days I worry a bit less about my relationships with people because I used to worry about having so much come out of me. All of the stuff that is happening inside of me, I would just come across as too intense and bring too much of myself into a space. The more that I accept myself and the more I am surrounded by beautiful people, and keep writing songs, I learn how to balance that.
I still get to put all of myself and intensity into music and it’s one of the amazing things I’ve learnt, even when something really intense or weird comes out in a song, I try not to feel shame about it or overthink how it might make me be seen, because it’s just HUMAN.
It’s how you feel at that time.
It doesn’t have to be my forever truth and that’s how I feel about some of the songs we’re talking about. I wrote these years ago and they’re not my forever truth, but they are parts of me that I really recognise and really want to honour because recognising them in songs has helped me grow with them and work through them.
It’s stepping stones, you open up a journal from four years ago and there are elements where you feel you’ve progressed or regressed about certain topics. There’s also something innately you but it’s a timestamp.
Absolutely. I truly feel like if I didn’t write those things down in songs or in journals, then I wouldn’t be able to work past them. I remember having a really intense feeling when we were in New Zealand last year, I remember feeling really jealous of a particular artist’s career. I felt like she was doing all these things that I could be doing. I was so afraid to write it down or acknowledge it because I thought it made me a bad person, because I was carrying it around. I remember one day putting it in my journal and just feeling so stupid and gross for writing it down. Then I worked through the feeling, it went away, and I don’t feel it anymore.
I think that’s an important thing to talk about because I didn’t know how rife that feeling was. The milestones of a manager are so different that I don’t feel a sense of rivalry with anyone, the milestones are all very behind the scenes. I was surprised that so many successful artists I know that have this sense of jealousy or envy towards people who are perceivably doing better than them. I feel like you don’t really compare yourself to other people much anymore.
I wouldn’t call myself a jealous person, so it was confronting because I was really grossed out that I was feeling this big envy, but it’s so human and normal.
Maybe I wanted to appear to other people the way that this particular artist was appearing. That has to do with my ego, that’s got nothing to do with my music.
I guess I think about it a lot over time, like why am I doing this? I’m doing this for the music. My ego is going to ebb and flow the more time I spend online. I can be any amount of vain or humble at any point in my life, and I don’t want to go down that path of vanity or jealousy. It’s normal to feel those things, but I do just want to confront them and keep going with the music, which is what I love. My music isn’t going to connect with everyone. It’s not going to connect with some people, but all art is beautiful and important and I want to dedicate my life to making it.
It’s like using the journal analogy, pick up your journal and then pick up the other artist’s journal, no one can actually say whose journal is better. It’s just feelings and how they’re expressed.
This has always been a favourite lyric, “How am I simultaneously on top of someone’s pedestal and also underneath someone else’s shoe?”
I don’t know who I wrote that about. I honestly have no idea what my mind was on when I wrote it.
It’s like what you said before, that is your outlet – expressing it in a song. It must be weird to try and talk about it soon after, but nevermind four years later. Let people make their own meaning.
I love that idea. I mean you and I love talking about lyrics, so it’s fun. It can be whatever you want it to be and the truth can fluctuate. It can be one thing one day, and another thing another day, depending on where you’re at, it doesn’t have to be static.
Sometimes the way you write, even when it is literal, it can also be metaphorical. “I’ve been eating too much pasta” was also code for feeling lost.
Yeah! I love those. I feel proud when I write something that can be felt in several ways, it can be literal or not. There are some lyrics that are very, very literal, where that’s the only thing that it can mean. I don’t want to fill my songs with them because I think it becomes alienating.
I wanted to ask you about Leif, you thank him in your liner notes for the piano tips. When we first met, we bonded over how we both loved Leif’s music and then suddenly he was supporting you on your first national tour of Australia. You and Leif are like some kind of musical soulmates.
Yeah. I think we do have a really beautiful connection. I feel very lucky to have him as a friend, maybe he has that connection with a lot of people, I might be his Australian music soulmate. I am so inspired by the way that he interacts with music, it’s kind of magical with him. If you talk about the ego and jealousy stuff that can come with the industry versus the other side…the path I want to go down is that magical, musical connection. Listening to his music I feel that. Playing with him I feel that. It’s so nice to play with him. I listen to his music all the time. When Jono and I drove around America doing the Hozier tour, we literally listened to Leif’s records every single day. He’s got the two records that we love. We’d just be like, “Which Leif record do you want to listen to today?” It would just be one or the other.
The two options!
I want to also speak about the mental health side of touring. We talk a lot about how things can be glorified via social media. I was always intrigued by touring before I properly worked in music. I remember a friend who toured a lot told me it was like a forced mental illness. Even the most stable of minds can struggle to cope with the ups and downs. I remember crying in a pod hotel in Glasgow when we lost a bunch of money on hiring a tour manager who rented a van that was unroadworthy and we couldn’t get a refund. I had to just wipe my tears, get in a taxi, organise a new van in the taxi, and greet everyone we’d invited to the gig. Around that time I started to resent touring. I really needed time off, but I couldn’t find a way out, because we didn’t have many resources to help us. Can you talk about your relationship with touring?
That week was my first week on antidepressants, which is pretty telling.
You were jogging everywhere.
I was hyper. My therapist said that in the first couple weeks of taking them, I’d feel a little bit like I was constantly on MDMA. I was like “cool cool cool cool cool, cool cool cool.”
“Cool cool cool cool cool.”
That’s how my brain was. Non stop for weeks. It was telling because it was post SXSW and we’d been working so hard, so many things were up in the air.
We get to Glasgow, you’re breaking down, I’m breaking down to the point where I realise for the first time that I need medication. I guess you just never have time to stop and think. I don’t know that I had time to stop and think about what touring was doing to me until this year because we really stopped it.
I don’t resent it because again I’m so supported when we’re on tour. Your role and my role are so different. I’m protected from so much stuff, you know what I mean?
I don’t have to bear the weight of organising all of the things, particularly when you’re an emerging artist playing internationally, obviously there are so many logistical things that are incredibly difficult. I am actually protected from those things which I’m so grateful for.
The travelling and the moving definitely has a massive impact on the body and on relationships, on stability. This feeling now, this year, of being at home has been such an incredible novelty.
I moved out of home at age 25 which was this year. That experience is so valuable to me and it’s such a novelty because we’ve been moving around so much, I could never do it, and now I dream of having my own dog.
You can’t even think about that on the road. My dreams are coming true, the dream that I’ve always had is to be touring, so I’m constantly grateful to be on tour but I also have other dreams and there’s no time for anything else when you’re on tour so much. There’s just no time for anything. That’s basically what it is. There’s no time.
It’s interesting in the early days because we don’t have much control over the plan. The plan is told to us from the outside when the opportunities come in. Obviously we choose whether or not we do them and in the early days, we chose to do most of them. It’s such an unpredictable industry that you can’t really plan. We’ve realised now going forward that we’ll have more control over how we tour.
Each of these learning experiences are so valuable. I remember talking to you about this around two years ago now. We were looking down the barrel of a lot of touring coming up, and you were like “Do you want to commit to this? Are you able to do this happily?” I still really want this life experience, I still stand by saying yes, I want this, no matter how hard.
We’ll come out on the other end of it and have craziness and lessons to look back on.
I have faith in that again, because of you and the support around us. I’m so grateful for everything we’ve learnt. It’s intense, but I still love it, I do still love the touring because you still get to play shows and they’re amazing. I feel so lucky every time we play a gig and that hasn’t changed.
You probably have some more time to pause and reflect and realise how much you love shows, as well.
100% My dream is that we have one year on, one year off, some commitment to stay home. Then the next year we tour. Then the next year stay home and work on other things. That reflection time and being still is crucial. I don’t know if it’s a human thing, or if it’s the type of person that I am, but I really do love being still and being at home.
It’s also to do with making clever financial decisions around touring conditions. Again, a lot of young musicians and managers cut corners to save money. You come to realise it’s more important to have comfortable accommodation and travel so everyone feels refreshed and well rested. The better conditions everyone is staying in, and travelling in, the better the whole experience, and the happier the whole touring party.
To change topics, I wondered if you have examples of artists who have helped carve your path?
Totally. As long as I’ve known you, Frightened Rabbit has been your forever band. That’s been your shining light. I’m trying to think what mine is. Mia Dyson is definitely one, but I didn’t become familiar with her music until a little bit after you and I knew each other.
I think in the beginning it was Missy Higgins. She made me, [laughs] she made me!
She birthed you.
I sat at the piano and learned her record. I learned every song and that’s how I started to see myself, it was through her. Then when I started playing guitar, I think it was Lianne La Havas. I religiously watched so many of her videos and I loved her singing and her lyrics and I still do. Sometimes listening to her first record is a funny experience because I feel like I was young and immersed in it in a different way. The way she could play and connect to me as a listener, it just felt that there was so much meaning and purpose there for me. She was one of those artists that gave me direction. There are other ones, I don’t know if I can narrow it down, but those are two really big ones – the life changing ones.
Thank you. Good chats!
That was amazing, I loved it.
Great, we’ll get it transcribed. Let’s finish by listing out ten highlights (not in any order). Bye!
Angie’s Top 10 Highlights
– The Howler single launch and everyone singing along for the first time
– Recording Salt in an Airbnb with Gormie and Lachie
– Seeing Dolly Parton play at Newport Folk Festival the day my album came out
– Both the headline tours of Australia
– Finding my vinyl in Readings Book Store (both narcissistic and satisfying)
– Everyone, family, gathering downstairs at The Forum in the greenroom and having our own catering for the first time
– Being surprised that people turned up to my shows at BIGSOUND, that felt like a turning point
– Melbourne Recital Centre, the first gig we played with Liv and Robyn our Tour Manager, so freeing, gum leaves everywhere on stage
– Singing ‘Work Song’ as the encore with Hozier every night of his tour, it was so fun
– Performing at Orange Blossom Festival in Germany, the crowd was so amazing
– Laughing hysterically over the suburb ‘Glebe’, we were beginning this long journey, and whenever we were stressed someone would say ‘Glebe’ to make the other one laugh. Glebe saved us.
Charlotte’s Top 10 Highlights
– Sending your demos to people for the first time who are still on our team
– The music friends we’ve met along the way in various bands – special shout out to Soak band and Michael Kiwanuka and his band
– Visiting Dublin and Glasgow (love those cities) (except when I was crying in the pod hotel)
– Reeperbahn in Germany when we sat on the grass and you let me request covers and you played them to me instead of me having to “network”
– Paul Kelly at Making Gravy knocking on the dressing room door to come and meet you and the band
– When the US Visas came through the day before you left for SXSW (supporting The Pixies, Willie Nelson’s ranch, playing Communion, hanging with Si and Sancho, our whole team was there from around the world, meeting Aoife from Other Voices)
– When you first played in Nashville and it was a really quiet room, and then Scott from the label loudly exclaimed “Strap yourselves in!” I felt his energy
– When we first met Dualtone in Nashville and you did karaoke for the first time, we both nearly cried when we said goodbye to them
– All Together Now seeing Patti Smith and The National play live (and eating dinner next to Patti, I love her)
– Other Voices and visiting Dingle, I loved that town and I cried during your set, in a good way