Andrew McMahon has likely already made a rotation (or several dozen) through your summertime playlists.
He’s led the sunny California pop punk band Something Corporate, the anthemically catchy Jack’s Mannequin and is currently appearing as Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness, mature and melodic, with the same Piano Rock-brand that’s served him well over the course of decades. Now McMahon, who shares his efforts with The Dear Jack Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia in 2005), is heading out on tour with Weezer and Panic! at the Disco for the summer. He calls in from a stop in Arizona to chat the band’s next album, balancing the old with the new and enduring magic of a mixed tape.
You’ve been touring practically all year, but this time around you’re with Weezer and Panic! at the Disco How did that end up happening? Are you guys friends?
I know Brendon [Urie] from Panic from when Jack’s Mannequin did a tour with them almost 10 years ago. He was just a kid at that point, but we’re still friendly with those guys. And Weezer, I did a few shows with as Jack’s as well, but I connected with Rivers [Cuomo] in L.A. a while back and got to catching up. It was like part a conversation between two guys in a band, and the other part of me just being super fan and geeking out.
You’ve been attached to so many projects — Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness being the current — do you see them all as separate creative entities or is it just more of a flow of development for you as an artist?
I’ve never really looked at them as separate things in a creative sense because I’m writing those things to whatever my current mindset is. When I was writing between the ages of 16 and 21, that was for Something Corporate, and then it was the same for Jack’s Mannequin and then this project. Creatively, it’s been the same space but what I attach it to comes down to where it fits in the world commercially. I think the biggest delineation is that you see three different eras of creativity but you get a clear picture that they all come from the same place.
Given that you probably still get shout-out request for “Konstantine,” how do you find a balance between the old and new in your setlist these days?
The first priority is the project I’m promoting and working on because that’s the closest to the time. We’re playing shorter sets so it’s focused on the new music, but for a show like tonight [in Arizona], we’ve got an hour and a half that gives me the freedom to pepper in moments from my career. I love weaving in those older songs and seeing them juxtaposed in a set list. You can see the thread of where I come from.
Your song “Cecilia and the Satellite” from the self-titled album is a message to your daughter, and now it’s been a few years since you became a dad. Is she starting to respond to music?
She’s got her own taste and is very opinionated about music. [Laughs] She’s a little older than two now, and already has songs she insists on hearing. It’s wild for me to watch because growing up, I was the youngest of five kids so I was never around young people. This is my first rodeo with children.
And throwing it back to Jack’s Mannequin, I read somewhere that “The Mixed Tape” is about a real mixed tape for your now wife. What do you think is so powerful about that medium that still endures today?
I was separated from my then-girlfriend, now-wife, and I was keeping a journal of all these classic breakup songs. I had a running tally of tunes so I gave her a tape of them. I make the joke on stage that singing it doesn’t make you the best guy when you’ve given your ex a mixed tape of breakup songs. It’s very meta.
I think the thing with [mixed tapes] is the same reason Spotfiy has become such a prominent central position in modern music. To aggregate songs that hold a certain meaning and to be able to impart your personal emotions to the world via a collection is super powerful. I think it gives people who can’t write a song or put out an album the ability to create their own version of a story through a playlist of songs.
What’s coming up next for and the Wilderness? Is there another album en route?
I’m more or less through the writing process but I have six or seven songs in various stages of production that are close to being finished. I would say they’re the key songs of the next album that have been hashed out and are pretty far along at this point.
And when can we hear more? Maybe live?
I haven’t had time out of the studio to develop them for the band, but I’m crossing my fingers that by October, we’ll have a record in the can.