Light, Dark, Light Again

Light, Dark, Light Again

“I started taking more accountability, turning the mirror back on myself,” Angie McMahon tells Apple Music. The Naarm-based singer-songwriter’s second album comes four years after her debut, Salt—and reflects on the inward journey she embarked upon during that time. Comparing her present self to the person she was around the time Salt came out, she’s worked at shifting her approach to life, growth and relationships—with others, but more importantly, with herself. “I’ve gone deeper into accepting that you have to withstand shit to be alive,” she says. “That’s what I was trying to do more of: not just be alive and survive, but embrace it.” Light, Dark, Light Again was recorded between regional Victoria, Melbourne (Naarm) and Durham, North Carolina, where her studio band included members of Bon Iver and Megafaun. Throughout it all are themes of growth, intentionality—and doing the work. “I’m always wanting to understand what’s going on, what’s hurting, why it’s hurting,” she says. “And I realised I’ve been operating out of fear for so much of my life. So I’ve been trying to identify what I'm afraid of and why, and trying to go towards it.” Below, McMahon shares the insights and lessons learnt on—and from—several tracks. “Saturn Returning” “It was nice to feel like I’d gone through enough of the work to reflect from this place of willingness to embrace the lessons. I was experimenting with bringing my blossoming little spiritual life—and being comfortable with myself—into the music in textural ways, with a new mood. I was part of this songwriting club with some friends where we’d text prompts to the group, and just encourage each other and give feedback. I’d wanted to communicate to my friends: ‘This is where I'm at.’ When I wrote the opening lines, I was like, ‘If I was Adrianne Lenker, how would I start a song?’ I’ve never made something that cinematic before—it felt really dramatic and triumphant.” “Fish” “This and ‘Fireball Whiskey’ are the breakup songs on the record—about the same relationship. It was early in the record-writing process, 2020, and the relationship was over but I was trying to write about it and process heartbreak. I was learning that I can't blame other people for my pain. That shift and mindset informed a lot of the record, because I found so much more space in that. It felt like I was learning something from the song. I didn't want to be negative, I wanted it to be about space and paving the way.” “Letting Go” “This was its own little entity, teaching me to let go and surrender. This song is where I'm storing all of my lessons; it’s become a home for those reminders. The start of the chorus came to me years before: ‘I've been learning about letting go/How to do it without my claws scratching the surfaces.’ I kept trying to find a home for it, to the point where I became really precious about it. So writing the rest was really hard, I didn't want to fuck it up. It’s what led to the end of the song, about making mistakes, about not being a perfectionist. I was also trying to teach myself was about getting into your body, getting out of your head, like dancing and running. The the song was initially a piano ballad, but then it evolved into a rock song, and now you can dance to the song and run it.” “Black Eye” “I feel like I could make a whole record of songs like this one that are more like sad country, and I probably will. It’s one of the darker or sadder ones, but it creates balance. I didn't write the chorus intellectually. It’s me giving attention to difficult feelings that are there for me so much of the time. It adds more meaning to the parts of the record that are about hope and joy. It's like, this is right there next to it. And one of the truest moments on the record, or the one I can relate to most of the time, is the line about trying to balance everything. It’s literally what I'm trying to do all the time. You can't have the light stuff without the dark stuff. It was a struggle with the record, generally. I was challenging myself to write with a positive mindset, but also not bypass or ignore the fact that sometimes I feel really depressed, sometimes life’s really depressing.” “I Am Already Enough” “It was fun putting this and ‘Exploding’ one after the other. It felt like a kind of rebellious way to lean into that basicness—like, ‘Here's another song in G major that, again, is just going to repeat the same line over and over.’ It kind of felt a bit punk. It becomes a moment on the record with those two songs together where I'm acknowledging that I get so overwhelmed by my brain. I was in the car—I tend to yell in the car because I'm convinced no one can hear you. I had started really embracing saying things out loud to myself and I was just yelling this line. I didn't even really care what the rest of the song ended up like, I just knew I wanted it to be basic and primal and to have this chorus and the yelling. I was leaning into the politics of radical self-compassion and self-love, and it felt kind of anti-capitalist. I was like, ‘I think all of this therapy, there's meaning to this too, and it's not just about pumping myself up.’ I want to mention that there are activists who are women of colour who planted that idea in my mind. There's a book called Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Marie Brown: It had the concept of, if we want to change the world, if we want to get off the capitalism ladder, you can't do it without loving yourself, and it has to be radical. We all lack self-compassion and the world is tearing itself apart because of that—the greed, everybody trying to get power and money. And this is my little radical idea. Imagine if we all thought we were enough.” “Serotonin” “It nearly didn't make it on. My inner critic tore this song apart, but it felt important to write about antidepressants. I came off them in the process of writing the record, and I had a really hard time with it physically. I felt sick for a month. I didn't know it was going to be so hard, and I wanted to capture that experience and acknowledge that so many people are on meds or experiencing going on and coming off them, and that it's a big thing to ride out. It’s a fragile thing to write about, but to me, it's like running uphill. The whole thing is just this kind of puffing, puffing, but I'm going to keep running. I’d become a jogger when I was writing this song, and finally learned that I could push through more than five minutes of jogging and not die. In the song, you're kind of on the summit of the hill or something, and you're just like, ‘I made it, and I'm still OK, even though it's hard. I can do hard things.’” “Staying Down Low” “It’s also about depression. I’d already written it by the time Salt came out. I was starting to understand that turning the mirror on myself was going to be more important, and this was where I was learning that lesson. I was writing about someone else's experience with depression, but I realised that I had some things to learn about projection—and that everything I write is actually about myself. It’s the same as how I was learning that when you're in conflict with someone, you're projecting your shit onto them in some way. You're experiencing life through your specific lens, your traumas.” “Making It Through” “This captures the true sentiment of what was or is happening in my body. I've had a lot of anger, a lot of meltdowns and other kinds of relationship breakdowns that I didn't really touch in the record, that weren't romantic. I had a really nice epiphany out in the ocean one day about how the waves keep coming, and they'll always keep coming. And you just get to choose whether you dive into them or let them hit you face-on or with your back to them. The song kind of feels like a sonic representation of that epiphany. By the end, I'm in that repetitive mantra meditative space, which is throwing back to the ‘Saturn Returning’ go-with-the-flow-of-the-river thing. The water theme felt like a really nice way to bookend it.”

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