Musician Andrew McMahon has lived more lifetimes in his 41 years than most people do in their entire lives.
Not only has he inspired countless cancer warriors with his public leukemia battle and nonprofit organization, he’s also fronted three successful bands in Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin and now Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, which performs live at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland on Tuesday night.
“It’s a pretty long set, we play anywhere from 90 minutes to an hour and 45,” McMahon told WTOP. “It’s a little bit of everything. Obviously we’re working a new record, so I play a bunch of new tunes in the process and some older Wilderness tunes as well, but on any given night, I’d say 30 to 40% of the set is stuff from my previous projects.”
Born in Massachusetts in 1982, his family moved from New Jersey to Ohio to California, where he spent most of his formative years, teaching himself piano and launching his music career.
“When I was a little kid it was Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel, Bon Jovi,” McMahon said. “As I got a bit older, it was stuff my brothers and sisters listened to: R.E.M., Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and U2. … My parents’ records: Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Billy Joel. I started writing songs when I was 9, so I leaned on great piano players, Bruce Hornsby … then Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, more of the coffee shop indie music.”
In 1998, McMahon formed his first band called Something Corporate, a collection of buddies from high school who would go on to play the Vans Warped Tour and tour with New Found Glory.
“The first iteration of Something Corporate began my sophomore year,” McMahon said. “We reformed my junior year for another battle of the bands. People really took a liking to the music in our school, then one of the guys was from a neighboring school, so we had this way in to a lot of the Orange County high schools to play lunch hours. … By senior year, the band had gotten pretty big and we were signed the year after I graduated.”
Something Corporate delivered three studio albums, “Ready…Break” (2000), “Leaving Through the Window” (2002) and “North” (2003) before McMahon launched his second moniker Jack’s Mannequin in 2004.
“My Something Corporate bandmates and I were all burned out,” McMahon said. “We had made three records in less than three years and had been on the road any moment that we weren’t in the recording studio. We just got to the point like, ‘Love you, but let’s not see each other for a minute.’ Josh [Partington] was the first to go, ‘I’m gonna start another project,’ so I found myself writing new music and not knowing what I was going to do with it.”
The result became his first Jack’s Mannequin album “Everything in Transit” (2005), an alt-rock touchstone for a generation thanks to songs like “Dark Blue” and “Holiday from Real.”
“There was something very freeing,” McMahon said. “We didn’t have a drummer so we’d pull reels off the shelf and take drum sessions from other sessions and dump them into a ProTools session. … The demos started sounding really good. … After a few songs into it, it was like, wow, this feels like something, it sounds fresh, it sounds like something I haven’t done before, it sounds like whatever the music is in my head what it’s supposed to sound like.”
Tragically, the same day that he finished mixing “Everything in Transit” in 2005, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In 2006, he founded the nonprofit charity, The Dear Jack Foundation, to raise money for cancer research, all the while releasing his second Jack’s Mannequin album “The Glass Passenger” (2008) and filming his leukemia treatments in the 2009 documentary “Dear Jack.”
“When my girlfriend, now my wife, we had gone through this breakup, I went out and bought this Handycam,” McMahon said. “I had this instinct well ahead of being diagnosed to capture whatever this moment was. It felt important and gave me a place to download the day, sort of like an early video blog kind of diary. When I got sick, I had gotten so familiar and comfortable talking to the camera and documenting the day, that I just kept doing it.”
After his third Jack’s Mannequin album, “People and Things” (2011), he began a third chapter of his career with Andrew McMahon in the Wildernes and the 2014 album of the same name. It featured arguably his biggest hit “Cecilia and the Satellite” written about his unborn daughter.
“Coming out of Jack’s Mannequin, I wasn’t sure what was going to be next,” McMahon said. “What was the thing that was going to motivate me to fire up a third brand and version of my career? … ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ was a couple weeks before my wife was due. I found myself asking, ‘What would be the most important thing to share with my unborn kid?’ The reason it really hit with people is … this idea about wanting to care for somebody.”
After the albums “Zombies on Broadway” (2017) and “Upside Down Flowers” (2018), McMahon has now released his fourth Wilderness album called “Tilt at the Wind No More” (2023), which he’ll play Tuesday in Silver Spring.
“It’s always scary to put out new music,” McMahon said. “It gets a little more daunting the more big records that collect in the wake of whatever I’m working in the moment, but I’m so proud of this record. The other day we were working up stuff in rehearsals and it was on my phone when I got in my car and I listened to it for the first time since putting it out and I’m so proud of it. I’ve been really excited to see the reaction it’s gotten from fans.”
Listen to the full conversation on the podcast below: