The Wright Stuff presents Andrew McMahon: The Artist/Musician/Man
This is a rare glance of knowing Andrew McMahon as The Artist, The Piano Player, The Song Writer and Andrew McMahon The Person. This was a phone conversation.
Something you and I have in common, we both play piano. I’ve been playing since I was three and a half years old. I was wondering what does your instrument really mean to you? Is it your best friend?
Well, my best friend and it can be my worst enemy. I think that’s kind of the beautiful thing about playing music for a living is that there are those days where you stare at the thing and you wonder why it won’t do for you what you want it to. And there are those days where it’s kind of the answer to all your prayers. Yeah, so for me, I think it’s a little bit of everything really. It kind of sums up life as it is really.
I’ve seen you play before with both of your bands. I was wondering though, would you consider doing just a tour with you and the piano?
Yeah. I would consider it. I sort of—this thing for me that I think first and foremost and even more so than a piano player and a singer is I consider myself a songwriter. And I think there’s a part of me that it feels like I can do a night shift at the piano while it’s a pretty honest representation of who I am and I think at some point I feel like that doesn’t always do justice to every song I write.
And so, in that sense, I think that’s the reason I haven’t done that. And even when I’ve done acoustic stuff I’ve brought out a guitar player to sing some harmonies and at least throw it out. But I would not be surprised that at some point in my life I find myself on stage or just me and the piano and doing a night of music. It’s totally possible.
Lyric wise in one of your songs is: “Hey, hey, we’re all going to die someday.” I was wondering what does that song mean to you currently now?
I think for me it’s a sort of an innuendo into my opinion. I guess the way I think a lot of people have perceived my story. I wrote that song or the first couple verses and the chorus of that song in like 2007 sort of while I was still in the kind of raw, early stages of my recovery. And at the point that I wrote that it was sort of, to some extent, a little bit of a rebellious song in the sense that I think so many people were so fascinated by what had happened to me that there were moments when I would do interviews and that would be all the people were talking about.
And I think, it very historically kind of recounts the details of the weeks leading up to my illness and the chorus is kind of an in stark contrast to sort of the things they’re saying, This is something that happens to a lot of people and while I think there is a bit of an obsession or there was at some point with my illness that at some point you just have to move past that and accept that this is something that we might all face and that our mortality really just is very much facing us all at every step.
And that for me, I look at it as a celebration and that says I’m okay with the fact that I might—my life is not a guarantee, but a privilege that I get to live every day. And to me that’s really what it represents.
Going back into your life, didn’t you have a blog during that time period? You used to write a blog. I haven’t seen that blog in a long time.
Well now the blog is still there. It’s alive and well. Yeah, I mean, I’ve got probably in a way generally some form of an essay once every month or so depending on when the inspiration strikes me to write in another form besides the piano. But yeah, there definitely have been regular installations over the years on my website to the blog.
I’ll have to go back and read some more.
There’s some good stuff up there. I really enjoy—I mean, well I don’t do it as a daily thing or even actually a weekly thing. The stuff that goes up there I tend to be pretty proud of.
You decided to revisit The Glass Passenger on the new record; that I found very interesting. But now that you’ve talked about Hey Hey Hey I can see why you kind of answered the question earlier, so I’m kind of glad you kind of went and finalized all that for us.
Yeah. I think that there’s a part of the Jack Mannequin thing that I think needed, depending on how you look at it, will always be affected by what happened to me in 05. And with Hey Hey Hey I wrote the third and last verse of that song while I was on the road touring Glass Passenger and I wasn’t able to finish that song to put it on that record. It was the namesake of the album. I mean, I wrote that song before Passenger came out. That’s where the name came from for the Glass record.
But I felt like it took me sort of touring Glass Passenger and getting a little bit more distance from my sickness and my recovery to really finish the song and feel like I could honestly sort of make that celebratory chant. I debated whether or not to put it on the record for that reason. I sort of—I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring that energy into this album. And I’ve got to be honest about where I am in my life and the and it was still kind of a relevant thing in that sense and felt obligated to be honest about that and put it on there. There’s something about the song and I wanted people to hear it to be honest.
So, on the new record, you’ve got to work with Relient K, right?
William Beckett from Relient K. He and I have been buddies for a number of years and then we talked about writing for a long time. I’d been doing a bunch of writing with friends for their records. It was a process I was really enjoying. So when I was kind of coming to the finishing stages of making the Jack’s album I reached out to the—sort of asked if he’d want to spend a weekend or two trying to hammer out some new songs. We had a very prolific handful of days of writing and wrote a few songs for the record during that time.
Was that the first recording of the record or was that during where you regrouped and started the record again?
It was doing the first kind of version of the album. I’d say our sessions were probably like not this past January, but the January before that. And then it’s really—I did some of the demos for those songs and it was shortly after that that it sort of swept the yearly demos and went back to the studio with the band and we cut the new version. But it was kind of towards the end of the process of working on kind of the first version of album that we got together.
My Racing Thoughts, what are your thoughts currently?
I think a lot of it is the stuff that runs through my head these days is sort of a kind of an anxious feeling towards the idea of creating new stuff. I know that this record just came out and I’m really proud of it and stoked working and playing these songs exposing people to this music. But I’m certainly in a moment right now where I’m finding myself really energized towards the learning process and really, really excited to get back that into the studio and make new music. And then I think a lot of my current thoughts are sort of are sort of evolved around that idea of creating new stuff.
What was it like going back and play the world tour for a couple of dates?
Well, it’s always fun to get back out there and do a couple. I mean, I won’t lie, this year more than any year I’ve done I felt a bit disconnected from the others that were out there. I just felt like where I never really fit on a world tour, but I saw sort of a thread that made sense for why I’d be there. This year I think the direction that it was going I felt like, I’m like, “Wow, I really don’t make any sense on this tour”
But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s always fun to go out and play the world tour and spend some days out there and do the punk-rock summer camp. And Kevin who put the tour on is just one of my favorite people in the whole world. I love to go out and do dates for him. So it was still fun. We had a good time.
Is there a chance at a Something Corporate’s new album and are you still in touch with all the guys?
I’m very much in touch with all the guys. I am back down South where we all sort of grew up and so we’ve been spending actually, more time lately then we have in a number of years. That said, I think we all are in various directions the idea of making another Something Corporate record less and less likely. But we have a really good foundation for our friendships and I’m glad to say that we’ve all remained close over the years.
What do you think of William Tell’s solo work?
I think a lot of it is great. I mean, I actually had the pleasure of working on a song or two with him when he was doing it. I mean, yeah, I totally support Will. I love that dude.
You went on tour with Guster, who’s been around for a while. How did you like that?
It was awesome. I’m really inspired by Ryan and the Guster guys. They made a lot of music that moves me. And to be on the road with people that you could go watch their show and feel so connected to the songs and be inspired by them, that was great. I think we had a lot fun when we’re together.
Just out of curiosity, are you still working with the Dear Jack Foundation?
Yeah, I’m definitely doing work with the foundation. We’re doing on our second annual benefit in Los Angeles.
Two last things, one, I know that Billy Joel has been a very high influence. Have you ever thought of doing a tribute album for Billy Joel or someone else?
I had actually thought about that, but it’s over the years I’d occasionally throw a little Billy Joel up into my set and I kind of played around with Piano Man a couple of times on stage and stuff like that. I’ve never thought about that. It’s not a bad idea. I get to the place where it’s like God if I’m in the studio I’m generally like just make song that I’m writing at the time. But who knows, maybe one day.
I had one more, but you kind of answered it earlier with what you’re doing for the foundation. I was just wondering if you got any other things you wanted to tell me about in LA or the shows you have coming up, you can talk about that now.
Andrew: Well for the foundation we’re basically going to wrap them up on behalf of a fund-raising for the Life and Night Walk we do. Most of the walks are over right now, but we’re still accepting donations. And I would be lying to say that it’s tired of raising money it’s just the way the economy is. But if anybody out there listening and wants to get involved you go to the dearjackfoundation.com and you can find out a way to become a virtual walker for our campaign reaching in from society to try and raise some resource dollars the young and old with cancer.
This interview I wish I could of done in person. I was able though to get personal with Andrew and I hope you all felt his emotions as much as I did speaking with him. It’s rare when you come in touch with an artist that you appreciate that has made such an influence on your own life. Andrew is so personal and so open to all for what has happened to him and how he brings it out into his songs. The music and songs are so enriching to one’s personal experiences that they deal with themselves good or bad. Andrew McMahon has out currently on CD The Pop Underground EP, and a full length CD called In The Wilderness. You also might want to find a vinyl single of Andrew doing a cover of America’s hit song Sister Golden Hair.
(Interview by Jonathan D. Wright)
Andrew MacMahon on Facebook