Interview: Andrew McMahon

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It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost two years since Andrew McMahon decided to separate himself from his former projects. On August 25, 2012, the singer/songwriter announced that Jack’s Mannequin would be retiring and new music was to come under his own name. Fans who followed him since the hey days of Something Corporate in the early 2000s were excited. This was going to be a project that was different from anything else he has done before.

As a fan of McMahon’s for over 11 years now, I was admittedly very apprehensive about the move. I knew that I would love it, as I love everything McMahon creates, but I was just nervous for him. This was a big, risky move and it’s hard to garner how others would accept it.

My concerns were immediately obliterated once I heard The Pop Underground EP and the three Smash hits “I Heard Your Voice in A Dream,” “Reach For Me,” and “I’m Not Sorry.” Yes, these songs were structurally and sonically new, but unlike some current mainstream indie rock/pop rock acts, there wasn’t an overwhelming change from the past. Rather there were new synth-pop elements that gave the songs the “umph” McMahon needed to take his music to the next level.

After a year of experimenting with his sound while balancing his family life, McMahon will be releasing a new album under the moniker Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness. I spoke to him about this name, the new music, and the headlining shows he will be kicking off this week.

Photo Credit: Frank Maddocks
Photo Credit: Frank Maddocks

First of all, congratulations on Baby Cecilia! It shouldn’t surprise you that I love her first song, “Cecilia and the Satellite” and I noticed a lot of people agree with me. How do you feel about the response of the your new single?

Andrew McMahon: It’s comforting to say the least. (laughs). I took a pretty good amount of time off save for putting out the EP, but even that was a pretty low-profile release and something I did own my to clear some tunes out. So for it be the first thing that pops and it to be so well-received — it’s been a nice moment for me.

Over the years, everything that you’ve written for Jack’s Mannequin or Something Corporate has been a reflection on your life. So with that being said, is this the first of many songs we will hear about Cecilia?

AM: She works her way into a few on this record. It’s interesting because most of the record was written before she was born including “Cecilia and the Satellite.” I wrote that song two weeks before she came into the world and ended tweaking it finishing it once I knew her and actually had a little bit of perspective once it was her. There’s definitely a few moments on the weekend, specifically “See Her on the Weekend” which talks about the early process of being up in a cabin California in the early stages of writing a record and having a pregnant wife home by the beach and working out music for the album before the baby came. So there’s definitely those moments on the record but I wouldn’t say the whole album is necessarily about her but more of what was happening at the time.

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Can you give us any details about the music that’s in the works? I’ve been dying since last year for a full-length album!

AM: It’s so funny I’ve gotten into so much trouble especially with Jack’s Mannequin talking about when album’s are going to be released. But, we’re working steadfastly to have [this album] mixed and finished ASAP, but my hope is for end of the fall this year.

I’d love to know more about this name Andrew McMahon and The Wilderness. How’d it come about and why did you decide to produce this new record under this name.

AM: It was maybe about two years ago when I took over my Instagram account @Amnthewilderness and so that was the first time I started playing with the idea of that name. It came from a moment where I was in cutting ties in my world with my record company, management and even certain people in my personal and professional life and I felt I needed to start fresh. After shutting Jack’s down and deciding that I was going to reinvent myself, I supposed, The Wilderness for me was at the age of 29 or 30 and being in two bands that had done pretty well and built almost two separate careers and deciding to do it all over it again. It was what that looked like and trying something that I had in the past. I was resurfacing a lot of different collaborations, working on television stuff and it was truly in the sense of going away for a while.  The most important thing was getting my personal life together and I hadn’t done that as much as I should’ve especially in the wake of getting sick and getting better. I moved out of L.A. and back down to Orange County where I grew up. It was getting back to the core of writing and a lot of that was reflected in taking time away from writing or writing in different configurations that I hand’t before. I think The Wilderness is the reinvention of that process and everything I encountered with it.

You could tell the music is very different this time around with the last EP and even “Cecellia and the Satellite” it has a very different feel to it.

AM: It’s a reflection of, I feel, of trying to re-imagine of how I write and I how record. I think I had gotten a little bit tired and the grind of making records for a major label had worn on me after a while. I think in general my overall mental health wasn’t altogether in the way it needed to be in order to create in a really positive way. It started to feel a little too much like a job. Luckily I shut it down before it started to be a reflection in my music. I wanted this to be a reflection of the adventures I was on. It’s something I’m really proud of on this record. We experimented. The EP was very electronic and that was something I wanted to do for a long time. With the full length I wanted to do that but I wanted it to anchor it with the piano and have a lot more organic rhythms and elements play into that. I think it comes back to the LP, this future record, is a balance of some of the things I’ve done and what people know me for with some additional programming. The songwriting…I just worked my ass off on the songs and I worked with a lot of great people in the studio to write the songs. You can hear these little side roads I took along the way to get to the finished product.

I’m so excited to hear the rest of it! You mentioned television earlier I came across the blog post you did last year again by complete accident the other day about the “I Heard Your Voice In a Dream” Emmy nomination (for NBC’s Smash) and it got me wondering, would you write a song for another television show again? The track was so great, it really deserved to win.

AM: (laughs). It’s funny I don’t remember too many musical television shows that I’ve watched, so I don’t know how to answer that one. (laughs). I really enjoyed writing for Smash. I think it for me it was a real nice departure. It wasn’t all about writing songs that were propping up my life or where I was personally. It was about another story and giving a show and it’s writers, characters and producers something that was a value to them. I welcome any project like that again. Myself and one of the guys from Smash have kicked around the idea of doing a musical together. I’m really open to those kind of unique musical collaborations that take me out of just making my own records.

How’s the tour been with Matt Nathanson? Has it been hard now with the baby?

AM: We’re having a blast out here. We’re getting a really great reaction out here and it’s the first time I’ve traveled with the whole family. It’s a cool chapter to watch the baby get older out here. It’s my road life and home live merged for the first time in 13-14 years of touring. It’s amazing.

Photo Credit: Frank Maddocks
Photo Credit: Frank Maddocks

I finally get the chance to see you again at The Stone Pony next weekend. I’m really excited! In the past, when I’ve seen you there, you’ve done a Bruce cover. Do you have one picked out for next weekend yet?

AM: I don’t have any yet. But it’s always great to play Bruce when you’re in The Stone Pony. If there’s to fit it in we may give it a shot.

Before we go, any plans to play any Jack’s Mannequin or Something Corporate at the show or will be mainly new stuff?

AM: We’ll do a couple of the new songs, but until the record is finished….sometimes playing all new stuff isn’t the best for the fans, so we’re going to have a good combination of a couple new songs, some of the EP and some Jack’s tunes we’ve re-arranged because of the new line-up we have. People are kind of excited about this. It’s going well and people are enjoying it. The Stone Pony’s going to be a blast.

Andrew McMahon performs this Friday, August 8th, at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey with Wild Party. Click here for tickets (if available).

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As the Managing Editor, Lauren Stern is responsible for curating Pop-Break.com’s content. This includes managing the editorial staff, coordinating the content calendar, and assigning publishing dates and deadlines. She graduated Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism and Philosophy. She spends her free time searching for the best gluten-free food in the Tri-State area, playing with her dogs, and reading an insane amount of books. She tweets constantly about pop culture and social issues and hopes you follow her musings @laurenpstern.

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