I recently had the opportunity to talk to Andrew McMahon, singer/keyboardist of Jack’s Mannequin and previously of Something Corporate, when he stopped through the KC area as part of the July 2 Warped Tour show. Due to the length of the interview, I am splitting it in half. In this first part, we focus on his upcoming Jack’s Mannequin album, The Glass Passenger. We also discuss how his battle with cancer affected his writing process. In the second part, we discuss touring and his days with Something Corporate.
Andrew McMahon, Jack’s Mannequin/Something Corporate: How are you doing? I’m Andrew.
PopWreckoning, Bethany: I’m Bethany.
AM: Bethany, pleasure to meet you. Is this us here?
PW: Yeah, I think so. I saw your set today. Sounding good.
AM: Oh, thank you, you know it’s the first couple of days–working out the kinks, but we’re having a good time.
PW: You guys have a new album coming out pretty soon?
AM: September; the middle of September.
PW: The Glass Passenger?
AM: That’s correct.
PW: How does it differ from Everything in Transit?
AM: God, you know, there’s a million different things. That would probably be a better question to ask somebody other than myself because I’m probably the least objective.
We did Everything in Transit as sort of a jam. It was us playing all the instruments and it was us programming drums–kind of building tracks from the inside out. But with this I had all the musicians there when I would work on a track. I would have my guitar player, my drum player, so you know we really developed the parts. The parts and the music were just a little bit more evolved.
Then as years go on you listen to different music and I think Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a huge inspiration to me. I got a huge drive off of listening to their catalog.
PW: You covered “American Girl.”
AM: Yeah, I covered “American Girl.” A lot of people know that. So I like bands like that and I started listening to different styles of music as well. So, I don’t know, we’ll see what people think.
PW: What were some of the artists you listened to while making this one?
AM: God, I mean, I think my last record was like a big Beach Boys record and this record was a lot more varied–I think a lot more Beatles, more Heartbreakers, Rolling Stones and a lot of pop stuff. I was listening to old 80s pop–Madonna stuff. I really dug into the Madonna catalog, of all things. Even her newer stuff.
I’m trying to think of some other big influences that I could give credit to throughout this record. I mean there’s tons of stuff, and I think back, I used to listen to Billy Joel a lot. There’s some Pink Floyd influences and stuff. You definitely dug into a couple different areas with the band in mind when trying to make a great band record.
PW: Now this is Jack’s Mannequin’s second album, but with Something Corporate you had several albums. Is sophomore slump something you’d be worried about or not since you’ve done it before and made it through the second album?
AM:It is one of those things I sort of consider. Some people would consider this my sophomore album or second with Jack’s Mannequin, but I kind of consider it my fifth album. You know what I mean?
I think I’ve been making records for awhile that I think everything along the way has been part of the process. Of course, there’s always the idea that you bring something new to people and they haven’t heard it and they’re hearing it for the first time. There’s something that’s really going to excite people about that and attach them to it, you know? So sometimes, the second time you have to really win them over again.
The truth is, this is a really different sounding record. I try to evolve almost to the point where it sounds like a different band every time I put out a record, even with Something Corporate with Audioboxer to Leaving Through Window to North. It was a different band, really. So this is no different.
We’re kind of teeing up a real different sound. All I can say is I hope people give it a shot. I think there will be songs on the record that everyone can relate to, though.
PW: Was it hard to transition from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin?
AM: It was easier than I thought it would be. I mean it happened, it definitely happened at a very turbulent time in my life. There’s no question that it was sort of blissfully turbulent, you know what I mean? It was just like, ‘I’m doing this.’ I just had this confidence and this thing where I was ready to move on. And I felt justified in moving on and everybody I think felt that was what was best for everybody. And I went for it.
I sort of never looked back. So by the time I got sick and the train had already been rolling, luckily all that confidence carried me through a tougher time.
PW: Yeah, I’m really glad that you’re doing well.
AM: Thank you. Me, too.
PW: With the first Jack’s Mannequin, you had to deal with your sickness a lot at the beginning when you were getting ready to release that and go on the road, and it kind of messed up your touring. But you didn’t really have to deal with that for this new album. How did that affect the process?
AM:Yeah, right. You know this process…and that’s a really good question… Everything is sort of really attached, I feel like, too. Every one of these experiences is linked to itself, you know?
From Something Corporate to now to my getting sick to the way these records have come out, I think everything is so attached. So like in the making of this record, I sort of had to dig back. I had to dig back a few years and put those things together. So this process was in a lot of ways harder. With the first Jack’s record, I was living it and writing it and recording it and just moving. You know what I mean? I was living in that moment and always writing in that moment.
With this record, because I think I was sick when we started working the last record, I wasn’t really well enough to write about a lot of these experience that were so impactful on my life and took such a huge impact on me. Those are the moments that I’m usually sitting at a piano and I didn’t have that because I just couldn’t do it physically. I just wasn’t well enough and so I had this commitment in a lot of ways and sort of this block when I was doing this record that I had to keep trying to dive back to reconcile the past with the present. Does that make sense?
PW: Yeah, that makes sense to me.
AM: I think for a guy who wants to be in the moment and living in the moment, that’s sort of my philosophy to try to stay right here in the present moment. It was almost unnecessary for me to try to dig back into this past that I haven’t totally resolved and that was really the challenge of the record from start to finish. The first song I recorded for this record, I recorded two summers ago. I’ve been working on this on and off for two years. It was a harder process, but now that I’m well and we’re out there and we’re playing, it feels great. It feels amazing.
PW: The new songs that you guys played today are sounding really good.
AM: Thank you.
PW: On Everything in Transit, like in the title, you talk a lot about moving, you’re kind of in a tumultuous time, your real life is kind of in turmoil. Now The Glass Passenger is the title of the new album, where do you get that from?
AM: You know, almost pretty much the exact same thing. Just a different year. I think I have this confidence about me at the point that I was starting this project that it was just go, go, go, go, go and don’t look back. And I think the way I got sidelined and all that stuff, I think, is pretty much the theme for this record and the thing I kept on touching back on.
The idea that really we don’t have that control, you know what I mean? And the moments when you think you have the most control and you’re the most empowered, to push your own destiny forward, tend to be the moments where all of a sudden it’s like, “No, sorry, I don’t think so.”
I think The Glass Passenger is sort of the way to describe it. That some things can sort of be fragile and you might not have control, but it isn’t necessarily meant to conjure up a negative image as much as it’s just I was really conscious of my place while I made the record.
PW: Stacy Clark recently sang backing vocals on the new album.
AM: Yeah, Stacy. I love her to death. She’s amazing. She’s brilliant.
PopWreckoning, Josh: Yeah, I’m really good friends with her. (Whoa, sneaky. Josh just appeared out of nowhere. Actually, he kept wandering in and out of this interview as he ran off to take more Warped tour photos. He talks a little bit more in the second part.)
AM: Yeah, one of my closest musical friends I have out there.
PW: How did you guys meet up?
AM:Actually, through a charity that we both were doing work for. She works for Music Saves Lives with Russel Hornbeek, who was managing her at the time, and they came to me. They host blood drives and connect it to music, alternative music and kind of the younger music because that’s where the blood supply really comes from in America: the youth during blood drives.
So, he created this great charity, she was working for it and I got her CD. And I was just like, “Whoa. This is like done. These are hits. These songs sound amazing. I love this music.” I just played it for everybody and I still do. Now that she is getting closer to having a deal coming and everything, it seemed like the right time to put her on some tracks and start introducing the rest of the world to her. She’s really special, really talented.
PW: That’s awesome.
*Read Part II of my interview with McMahon here. It’s a “goldmine” of information, he says so himself.