January, 2015 Issue

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Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness


The term full circle is thrown around a lot, but this seems to be a case in which the clicheŽ fits. 10 years ago, the young up-and-coming band Something Corporate graced the cover of this very magazine, a band full of 20 year-olds and vigor. The writer of that particular story was no different.

Ten years and two projects later, while youth is not as close at hand, the vigor is still there in Andrew McMahon. And so is the writer. The interview starts off with a little bit of both Andrew and I a little shell shocked by the fact that a decade has elapsed seemingly in the span of a few minutes in both our careers and lives. There?s no doubt that at least one of us has done very well with the time. ?Dare I say that was as many as eleven years ago,? he jokes.

For folks not familiar with Something Corporate, many more will be with Andrew?s follow up gig, Jack?s Mannequin, which started as a solo project and developed into much more. It was very successful from its inception in 2004 to its wrap in 2012. Now, after a couple of years wandering, he is Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness. This is an exciting project for him because it combines the catalogs of the first two acts with the new, unexplored territory of the third. ?In The Wilderness? is not his first rodeo. ?For me, I like starting the rodeo over again, as you can probably tell from my musical history. Something Corporate was my high school band and I was on the road with those guys as early on as 17 years old. When we last spoke we were probably about 20 (laughs). It was really an adventure for me, but we were in a band with our high school buddies. I think we were all ready to move on at the time we did. We were all ready to try new things and that is where Jack?s Mannequin was born. Jack?s had a run of a good 8 years on the road with 3 records, but there is something about the energy of starting fresh that has always been something I have been moved by. I find I am in the most inspired headspace when I am in a position to start over and reclaim new direction, sound, themes and topics to discuss. That is where Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness came from.?

While fresh starts can be a great thing, It hasn?t been an easy road for Andrew, and some of the reasons he?s had to move on in certain ways are a bit more complex. It?s not that he feels the need to jump from one to another or that they?ve gotten old; sometimes events and circumstances simply conspire to shape one?s path. ?Both the endings and the beginnings have gone hand in hand. Something Corporate transitioning into Jack?s Mannequin was a little less deliberate than the more recent transition to the new project, but we did know at the time as a band that we were pretty burnt out. We had been on the road for four years straight at as many as 11 months a year. Not to complain, it?s a great job, but it can also be a grind and we had gotten to the point where we were all exhausted and I think that?s more than anything else why I started recording music on my own. Jack?s Mannequin just sort of sprang out of that.?

This project was brought about with similar impetus and urgency, but darker underlying reasons. ?There was an exhaustion factor when Jack?s wrapped up, not so much with my bandmates or the road in general as much as the state of the modern music business itself had taken its toll on me. I started to feel like I was growing cynical and I am by nature not a person that celebrates cynicism in my music. I try to inject a lot of hope and positivity and I realized that I could not keep going making records in the scenario I was in. Having my deal shifted from label to label to label, having three sets of A&R guys and label presidents, etc. There was that moment of clarity when I stopped to ask myself ?Do you really want to make a record when you?re in a bad headspace?? I realized the answer was ?no? and I decided it was time to close up shop and transition out of the Jack?s Mannequin name and into something new.?

The transition wasn?t easy nor was it immediate. ?Truthfully, It took me a couple of years to figure out where I stood and what I wanted to do.? He wasn?t sitting on his hands, he just wasn?t dedicated solely to one project or anything of great importance?just an Emmy nomination?and a baby.

Andrew did some writing for the NBC show ?Smash? and of the three songs he wrote that were used on the show, one of them ?I Heard Your Voice In A Dream? received an Emmy Award nomination. Not long after, in February of 2014, he and his wife had their first child.

?I wrote on television and on a couple of other people?s records, bouncing around for about a year before I even started considering the idea of making new music. It was at that moment that I started feeling really positive again and focused on making a record.?

Andrew refers to this period of his life as a ?hard reset? and judging from the new record, it worked. But, he should know. This isn?t the first time he?s had to deal with personal struggles between he and his career. ?I was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2005, just a couple of months before the first Jack?s Mannequin record was released. You find that these major changes upset the intended trajectory not just for your career, but your whole life and I am very blessed that I have had a great network around me. An awesome team, friends and family who helped me stay on track and get well. We were able to continue to put out successful records in the wake of my recovery.?


Such a major life change swayed major inspiration in Andrew?s music as well. ?I?m always a person who has believed in writing about your life and the moment that you are in, so disruption can also breed great art. I don?t think there is any controlling the circumstances of your life and I try my best to do what I can to keep the train on the tracks, fully acknowledging that there are things that will derail it from time to time without your prior knowledge or influence.?

Something that takes place with far more prior knowledge (usually) and influence (always) and constitutes the most significant life change is parenthood, and new life has been a far more enjoyable factor on Andrew?s musical headspace than that of the specter of sickness and death. ?Parenthood is a fascinating thing and there are a lot of elements that have lead up to the shift of making this record. The birth of my daughter is certainly a big one. I feel like things were so chaotic in my life leading up to the couple of years before she was born and my goal in that period of time was to reclaim a little bit of grounding and centered approach to living. When she got here, as chaotic as it is to have a kid in itself, there was a certain amount of peace that came with it, which I wasn?t anticipating. I was prepared for it to be all sleepless nights and screaming and messes to clean up. Even though those things exist, I feel like it has all had a positive influence on my creative space, my headspace and my well being. I feel like there is more focus in my life than I?ve had in a long time.?

We don?t always just get old and slow and angry at anything loud and fast as we age, there are 90 year olds out there who live like kids and there is also something to be said for wisdom and his maturity. For Andrew and his musical style, it?s a mix, nothing so cut and dried as assuming all his work from Something Corporate was fast, loud and angry any more than all of his work from In The Wilderness is soft, slow and contemplative. ?It?s interesting to think about it that way, because I think the answer to the question of ?maturing? as a musician and a writer is a yes and no (laughs), for me at least. In this moment, I have more energy than I have had in years and I think that is part of the reason I pursued the ?hard reset? when I did. I feel like what really matters in music and art is inspiration. Over the years I feel like my pursuit has been the same, in that I always want to find a way to contribute to the modern conversation and be a member of a contemporary culture of artists. I think there is something that happens to a lot of people in the world of art in general; it is the idea that after a certain age or level of accomplishment one can sit back and rest on their laurels. They believe they already have the answers. I was raised to believe you never have all the answers and to always pursue them, because they change, as do the questions we ask as we grow and the world moves.?

Bringing it back to the question of his musical evolution, the fact that Andrew has more energy now than ever means listeners hear that energy transferred into the music. Combine that with maturity and experience as a songwriter AND the fact that he brought in other artists of all ages and stripes to collaborate on this album, and you have a sound that is timeless and broadly interesting. ?I purposefully set out to collaborate with a lot of different artists on this record, some of them younger than me, some of them older. People who are deep into their careers and some who are just starting. I feel there is a lot we can learn from people on either sides of our own career experience or trajectory. I feel as though my sound, as it relates to that, is a lot fresher than my last record, not that I don?t still love it. But this time I was really working on taking contemporary and classic sounds and molding them together to make them my own. I wanted to make a record that felt not just like me, but myself in the modern world. I tend to find that those are my best records, the ones where I am listening as much as I am talking.?

The campus market is one that has been home to Andrew for quite some time, finding great success with both of his former projects among students. ?I think the fact of the matter is that high school and college age people are in a place where music plays the biggest role in their life. I laugh because I have friends who at some point in their 20?s just stopped listening to modern music (laughs). They say ?Oh, I?m good with what I?ve got now.? I just didn't think that was a relevant concept or even an option for me. The idea of getting older and then not pursuing fans in their teens and 20?s because I am not in my teens or 20?s is, to me, a ridiculous notion. I think that is a sign someone may not be connected to the larger scheme of music, which is to reach people.?

It?s true that many acts grow out of the campus market with their fans, continuing to play for the demographic around their age until their wick burns out. Andrew employs a little more forward thinking, and because of his unique sound, style and ability to relate, he has remained relevant to the youth demographic into his 30?s. ?I love the idea of making music for my peers and people who are my age, but I have been in love with that idea since I was 9 years old (laughs). I have also always wanted to reach people in their 30?s and 40?s. I have always wanted to reach people on the opposite spectrums of their lives, as young and old as will have me. The idea of me getting older and that somehow my audience would age out of the college market with me?to not pursue every person I could possibly reach is crazy to me.?

This young(ish) writer of articles could never compare to the succinct summation that young(ish) writer of songs delivers to wrap: ?I think when it comes down to it, writing music is a popular art form and you try to find the themes and ideas in your life that you can communicate in a way that connects them to the largest group of people possible. The college market is consistently one which has had a very high percentage of these people for me.

?From where I am standing, these concepts of love and change and growth and fear and all of the things that go along with them are universal and belong to the world. Not just one age or demographic of listener.?

For more information on bringing Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness to your campus, contact Josh Humiston at APA at (310) 888-4267 or