You don't really expect much folksy, female singer-songwriter music to come out of Orange County, and you definitely don't expect that kind of music to float up the Copper Door's stairwell on a random night in the middle of the week. But, thanks to Whittier-based Aly McMahon, "The Songery" when she's performing on stage or in the studio, Downtown Santa Ana might as well have been New York's East Village last Wednesday, when McMahon took the stage at the Copper Door to serenade a modest crowd with her playful, stripped-down brand of piano-backed indie folk.
McMahon's been playing similar shows since October, when the freshly graduated 23-year-old finally recorded her demo, Two Songs a Day Keeps the Doctor a Way, a 13-song collection of raw and unpolished music that she wrote between the ages of 18 and 21. Even McMahon will admit that it was more parts practice and catharsis than magnum opus.
The record was partly recorded to give McMahon some studio experience and something for the merch tables at shows, but what resulted is a graceful collection of feathery, percussive vocals and fragile emotion — uncanningly like early Regina Spektor. The album skips along at a merry pace, fueled by McMahon's coquettish, plodding vocals and deliberate keystrokes.
Her live performances add an entirely additional dimension to the music, as McMahon's playful banter, whether its based in excitement or maybe a little bit of nervousness, gently forces her audience to smile, or at least grin. Look for her to start showing up in more OC venues.
On recording an album of older songs:
"It's kind of a novice project, and if you listen to the album super closely you can tell. But it was kind of a spiritual coming-full-circle for me.
I made these songs. I didn't want to leave them behind. They might not represent me anymore, but you carry your past with you everywhere you go. I'm writing new music, and hopefully in the future I'll be able to share it with people, but these songs just had something about them."
On being "The Songery":
"The Songery isn't so much an alter ego as it is a place. I felt really uncomfortable with my own name because I wanted the music to be outside of myself — to stand for something more. A lot of the time, the songs I write have nothing to do about me — they come from my brain, but they're from something I see, a movie I watch, a poster, or people. They're stories I want to tell people.
I just want to try two expose different scenarios and different colors to people… I tend to write a lot of different songs with in few different genres differences, and I figured The Songery, a place where songs are made, makes the most sense."
The Songery plays the Whiskey A Go Go April 2. For future dates, visit The Songery website.