Angie McMahon’s Stars (And Planets) Have Aligned With ‘Saturn Returning’

It’s been a little while since we last heard from Angie McMahon — three years, in fact. To mark the release of her new single, ‘Saturn Returning’, Junkee’s Music Editorial Specialist Ben Madden caught up with the Melbourne singer-songwriter to find out what’s happened in her time away from the limelight. Words by Ben Madden

By Ben Madden, 8/6/2023

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When I sit down to chat with Melbourne singer-songwriter Angie McMahon over Zoom, there’s a calmness radiating from her side of the screen. Of course, it could also be the meditation and mindfulness she’s been doing lately (more on that later).

She’s just released her first single in three years, ‘Saturn Returning’, and the stars (and planets) have aligned. ‘Saturn Returning’ encapsulates the significant personal growth journey she’s been on in her time away from releasing music, and the sound of gentle, rolling waves introduce her return to music. Fitting, then, that we’re chatting on World Oceans Day.

‘Saturn Returning’ speaks of accepting the journey she’s on, while the title is drawn from the commemoration of Angie’s own Saturn return. It’s an astrological event that occurs when Saturn returns to the sign and degree it was at when we’re born, and it’s often accompanied by major life changes and a period of large personal growth.

The song’s lyrics reflect her journey of self-acceptance and self-love: snippets like “I’m gonna love every inch of this body/the limbs that are writing each day of this story/I’m gonna surrender my keys to the Universe” are sure to provide comfort to many a listener who’s looking for a sign that they’re on the right path.

Understanding the synergy between the mind and body can go a long way towards finding happiness, and Angie confesses that the importance of loving both equally isn’t something she’s always understood. It’s a work in progress. “I meditate a lot more, and I’m dancing more, I’m more connected to my body. I’m very much a head person, or always have been that way, sort of in the intellectual world,” she reflects.

“And I didn’t realise how much of an effect that was having on my wellbeing. And so I think something that’s really changed, and it’s still changing — I’m still learning — is [that I’m] connecting to my body, and finding the connection between my mind and body.”

The release of ‘Saturn Returning’ was celebrated through a YouTube premiere for the song’s music video, which she co-directed and co-edited with Bridgette Winten. The mood in the chat was one of celebration. Speaking about the decision to premiere the track that way, Angie’s grateful for her fans’ response. “I was very excited and grateful to be able to release something. I think it’s maybe as simple as that,” she explains.

“It’s been a long time, and I’ve never done it like that. I’ve never been in the live chat before. It kind of felt like oldschool MSN, like 2010, except I was less angsty and had more friends. It was a really, really beautiful way to be able to put something out, because people were sending nice messages and I didn’t feel alone.”

Climbing Emotional Mountains With Angie McMahon

The time away from releasing music has been a necessary one for Angie, but it’s still been busy. ‘Saturn Returning’, for example, was written “over a year ago”, and she created a lot of music before it to arrive at this point today. Any creative will tell you that there’s a sense of catharsis that comes with creating a lot of work that may never see the light of day, and for Angie that’s been music, poetry and other forms of writing.

“I’ve been writing that whole time, so I’ve been writing a lot of songs. But I’m kind of glad it took this long, so that I could get to the ones that were on the other side of like some really big emotional mountains,” Angie says. “There’s no knowing how long you’re meant to be on a particular mountain. So the whole time I’ve been making stuff, I have also just been like, ‘when am I going to be an artist who puts out music again’.”

“And that’s sort of been like an uncomfortable pause, in a lot of ways, actually. It’s been really uncomfortable, but that’s good. It’s good to be uncomfortable.” Discomfort normally follows artists returning to the craft after a few years between releases — but Angie’s taken those common pressures in her stride. “I think I’ve become this new, grown version of myself, a little bit more accepting that things happen when they’re meant to happen.”

“I think I’ve become this new, grown version of myself, a little bit more accepting that things happen when they’re meant to happen.”

Attempting to summarise the growth she’s experienced over the last three years across a 30-minute Zoom call proves to be an almost-impossible task. “I feel like a completely different person”, Angie adds. “I’m not really sure how to summarise it in one or two sentences.” But, she attempts it anyway. “I feel I’m more equipped to navigate mental health struggles that I’ve always had, and kept on having and that is really different for me,” she says. “I have tools and an understanding of the psychology and spirituality and general wellbeing things that will help me move through what I find really hard about life sometimes.”

When asked to compare the songwriting on her 2019 debut album, Salt, and the songwriting on ‘Saturn Returning’, Angie admits that she hasn’t really returned to her old music. It’s another time in her life (“life has gotten harder since that version of myself was writing songs”) and she’s choosing to steer away from negativity where possible. “I haven’t listened much to the old songs. It feels like someone in the past. But I think I catch that version of myself sometimes when I’m writing and redirect her to somewhere more positive.”

“I have this newfound priority that’s been taught to me and that I’ve absorbed from people who I really admire, which is self compassion. Being gentle and being kind to myself, that’s been such a revelation and such an important key to my well being. So I think I’m trying to put that into the music.” Sometimes the gentlest acts are the most revolutionary.

What Are We Doing About The Climate Crisis?

At this point, denying that we are in a climate crisis feels futile. Angie’s spoken up multiple times about the threats our climate faces: when I mention World Oceans Day, she calls on everyone to protect the oceans, saying, “life without oceans would be-” before catching herself, adding, “there probably wouldn’t be life without oceans. It would probably cease to exist. So I’m like ‘It would suck’. Yeah, it would suck. It would not exist. So protect the oceans.”

Angie’s aware of the tightrope an artist must walk when attempting to talk about both their art and politics, but notes “it’s all intertwined”. There are several must-read links in the YouTube description for ‘Saturn Returning’ talking about the importance of listening to Indigenous voices on climate action, and she called for Australians to vote with the climate crisis in mind before the 2022 federal election. “It’s just not realistic anymore to not talk about the world burning. I feel aware that I only have certain parameters that I reach, but the job, the songwriting thing, it stops being fun and freeing when I ignore that stuff. It’s just self-absorbed.”

The video for ‘Saturn Returning’ was filmed on Bunurong and Barapa Barapa land, and film footage of the ocean, a huge river red gum and the gentle colours of the sunset capture Angie’s connection with nature. It’s a connection that’s been restorative: talking about her ups and downs with her mental health, she explains, “the medicine has been nature for me, and I’ve become much more aware of that, and progressively more connected to what I get out of time in nature”.

“So many creative people, I think, are under the impression that we have to get everything right all the time.”

The power of Mother Nature is also illustrated in the visuals, thanks to various scarves that blow around in the wind. Angie explains, “I was trying to symbolise me trying to do magic and trying to be in control and trying to make things fly. And then the way that it works towards the end of the song, the fabric does start flying, but it’s not because of me. It’s because of the wind, and it’s because of surrendering to the mother.”

“And that felt magical, because it was showing how powerful she is compared to this silly little person who thinks that they can manipulate gravity and the wind and how colourful and beautiful and inspiring it is when you give in.”

Learning To Be Perfectly Imperfect

One of the main themes of my chat with Angie is embracing the joys of being imperfect. ‘Saturn Returning’ is a new era for Angie, but it’s also a continuation of the journey she’s been on over the last few years. A self-confessed perfectionist, Angie’s relief to once again be sharing music is palpable — and there’s a specific mantra that’s helped her accept her flaws. It’s these imperfections that make us all human.

“It’s so liberating to accept it. I have this mantra that started super recently — sometimes I just have things I say to myself in the mirror,” she explains. “Leading up to this release, I felt all those old things, those classic [doubts]. They tend to peak, I think, when you’re in a vulnerable position, like putting out a song. And so I was sensing all this tension in my body, and then I found the mantra that’s at least working for me this week, and it’s ‘I am imperfect’. And immediately my body relaxes if I just have that thought ‘oh, wait, I’m imperfect’.”

“So many creative people, I think, are under the impression that we have to get everything right all the time. And, of course, that’s not going to happen. And so my body’s just like winding up. Like when there’s little Jack in the Box things, little spikes can happen. When that takes, I can feel it happening. And then I’m like, ‘I’m imperfect’.

“And my whole body relaxes, because I just needed to remember that I can just be nice to myself.”

Angie McMahon’s new single ‘Saturn Returning’ is out now.

Ben Madden is a Melbourne-based music writer and Junkee’s Music Editorial Specialist. You can follow him on Twitter at @benmaddenwriter and Instagram at @benmaddenwriter, as well as keep up with his Sucks column here.

Main Image Credit: Taylor Ranston

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