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While some bands like to stray from questions about songwriting obviously more so if they aren’t involved in the process, I knew it should be the central focus of an interview with Andrew McMahon. Despite only being thirty two, Andrew has always been the main songwriter in his projects. If not the main which is what he has been for the majority of his music, he has been a major component of it. In our new interview, we spoke about his upcoming fall tour plans, his essentials for touring as well as a full look at his writing process in the past as well as his present. If you’ve been following Andrew’s career, you’d know how much of a role music plays in Andrew’s life. From the highs to the lows, which include him writing his first solo record i.e the first Jack’s Mannequin record to then right after he finished, be diagnosed with leukemia which he beat in his very early twenties. He also wrote his current single ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ as kind of a road map to the point he got to meet his daughter. His music is ingrained in him. Find his new song ‘Cecilia and the Satellite” on the radio now and look for possible new music in the new year!
You have the Wilderness Politics tour coming up later this fall with New Politics, the record just came out a few months ago but maybe a soft one to start. The three things you must have with you while on tour?
Three things I must have with me when I travel? I mean I hate to say my iPhone, it’s kind of a no brainer thing. It plugs me back into the world. It makes it possible for me to see my daughter when I’m not with her. A combination of either a black notebook or I’ve been carrying these hotel pads. Like the ones that are on the side of the hotel bed and that’s where I’ve been kind of like doing all my girly notes and writing to get ready to write more music. Then I have a backpack that literally is attached to me almost everywhere I am and rarely is gone from my person.
Then obviously you have a lot of records under your belt but this is your first full length record for the project that you’re doing now. How do you think it’s been going over? I know you have this song that you wrote for your wife and your daughter, ‘Cecilia and the Sattelite’ that’s hitting radio right now. How do you think it’s all been going over so far for you?
I mean you know it’s hard to be objective about that. I mean from the objective standpoint, especially since it came out last year to now, it seems like it’s going really well. This is definitely the best any of my records have done on radio which is after fifteen years of releasing music. To see that happening I mean is huge so on some fronts, it’s doing better than ever. Then yeah with the shows especially, since we started this festival season with Coachella in April to now, it just seems like people are finally connecting all the dots. It’s been a mission to get people to even realize hey this is Andrew from Jack’s, Something Corporate. There is new music and I’m glad it happened the way it did because I think a lot of people found Cecilia and they were like wait a minute, I know that voice from somewhere. Now you see it sort of circling back at these shows. You have people who just discovered the music blended in with people who have been diehard fans from the early days. I think it’s brought a lot of people back around to the Jack’s and Something Corporate catalogues which is kind of why I put my name on the project. It was so that I could get on stage and sort of play my life’s music. Not just one project as opposed to another which is kind of what happened when I was with Jack’s. We just did Jack’s Mannequin songs. We didn’t do Something Corporate songs. Now with my name, we can do everything which has been a lot of fun.
Then is that something you try to do in your sets? You do a blend of all your projects, do you focus mostly on the new?
I mean I focus on the new stuff in the sense that you have a brand new record. I think a lot of writers that have pivoted in different projects over the years, while the nostalgia is built into my music and built into my soul, I never wanted to become a heritage act. In my thirties. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, you’re still so young.
Yeah and I think there’s this thing that happens for bands. They carve out a sound and a scene then they never grow past that. That’s great if you’ve already sold a bazillion records and you have radio and you have all those things in place and you’re a big artist. But when you’re like a niche artist as I’ve been for so long, I have kind of a more cult fan base, you have to sort of keep pushing your sound. Keep pushing your sort of comfort zone so that it doesn’t become that. With that in mind though, these are still the songs that I’ve written. This is my life in these songs so the idea of not digging into those songs and sharing them with people is crazy. So usually about half the show is the new record and the other half is bits plucked out from the Something Corporate catalogue and the Jack’s catalogue. It’s all blended together.
Speaking of all that, I know you’ve always been a main songwriter in all of your projects. For this album in particular, was it something where you wrote the songs particularly for this album or were some of the songs previously written that maybe you didn’t fit the other projects? How did you go about the writing for this record in particular?
It was all written, like I started the project in I guess it was probably September of 2013, and I finished the project in May of 2014 I want to say. Every song other than one was written in that time period. The song “All Our Lives” was written the year before but it was after I had already said goodbye to Jack’s Mannequin. So all the material is fresh. I wanted it to be. I wanted the album to reflect where I was at the moment that it came out. There’s a danger if you write for three years for a record. Then all of the sudden, the narrative becomes a little disjointed you know. I really wanted it to be very current.
Then I wanted to ask you. When it comes to your writing, do you think even though you’ve been doing it for so long, you’re only in your early thirties.
So even though you’ve been writing for so long, do you think you still change it up or do you think it’s become like a steady rhythm?
No I actually turned my entire process upside down. Jack’s kind of wound down around the beginning of 2012. We did our last tour just before the summer of 2012. I took that year more or less as a stop gap between those two things. Leading up to that, even on the last Jack’s Mannequin record, I had done some co-writing for that record and I also had sort of started writing for other artists and other projects. I found myself really inspired by the process of collaboration in a writing room. It was something that I had been terrified of almost my whole career. It was sort of a last frontier for me. A last frontier but a new frontier for me. To say like what happens if I get into the writing room and we’ve done work that I’m really impressed with? Try to make a song in that space and what I found was this additional element of visceral. I don’t know the right way to explain it other than this kind of kinetic energy that happened when we were in the room. When you’re spit balling production ideas and chords and writing on the spot in this frenzy. I kind of dug into that right away for other artists and writing for tv, for Smash, and so when I started this record, I wanted to experiment with going to these productions and showing up with maybe a lyric or an idea or a thought or nothing at all and see what happens when I get in a room with one or two people. Just try and create a song from scratch and that’s how I approached most of this record and that was a huge evolution for me. A huge change. I think there are all different roads to the same conclusion, to the same end. I have to feel super connected to the song. I write almost every word to the songs that I can. Singing someone else’s words doesn’t feel as easy but the collaborative element of the process is much heavier on this record that any other record I’ve ever done.
Then considering, I know you’re coming back to play House of Blues during your co-headliner with New Politics and you have already headlined House of Blues with this project. You’ve really been touring a lot with it. You’ve done support touring as the act. Do you think a new record is even on the horizon or maybe are you going to see how these songs go? I know you’re probably always writing in some sense.
Yeah I’m writing a ton. I already have a handful of songs that are in process. Some that I’m really excited about. I feel like the next record you’re going to make is always going to be your favorite one. I didn’t stop writing after this record was released which is something that I’ve done historically. I usually kind of just purge myself. You get into the promotion aspects and everything. I was dead set on not losing the sharpness of the writing tool so I just kept going with it. Yeah there’s a bunch of songs that are in various stages of writing. Certainly, it will be strategically released. The song, ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’, after forty six weeks at alternative just now is finding this whole new life at other formats of radio. We’ve sold the most singles last week out of any other week. So I’m going to follow it to the end of the earth. It’s important to me to do that. Obviously it’s not my biggest hit yet but to have it be even bigger, I’m going to chase that as far as I can. We’re preparing to release the second single in the fall. Yeah we do all of that but certainly if I get more music under my belt between then and the beginning of next year, I’m going to get it out as quickly as I can.