Embracing the Wilderness: Interview with Andrew McMahon

Music Scene Media
Aug 17, 2022
10 min read
Melanie Mae Bryan


MSM: I wanted to start off by telling you that we are the same age and I feel that you’ve been unknowingly narrating my life for the past 23 years (since I discovered your music). Are there any artists for you personally that you feel that you have “grown up with” in this way?

ANDREW MCMAHON: I had this really beautiful moment the other night where Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows was at the show, because him and Chris are friends (Chris from Dashboard Confessional). And you know, August and Everything After, and the few records that followed, they were sort of like the music that found me, you know? The first music that wasn’t like handed down to me by my brothers, my sisters, or my parents, and they sort of walked me from middle school, through high school, and into my twenties. And so I do have artists like that, though I would say probably most of them are not the same age as me, so I can’t say we’ve walked the exact walk. But there’s definitely a lot of beautiful things happening on this tour, I think, especially because there’s such a nostalgic vibe going on out here, that I have people with a similar story. I think I was 18 or 19 when I was putting out the first Something Corporate records and there are people who were there and in that age, and we sort of like, had our breakups together, and fell in love together, and got married, and had started families. So it’s not lost on me how special and rare that really is.

MSM: Yeah, absolutely. So, speaking of how long it’s been — you have been making music professionally for over twenty years and have seamlessly gone from “garage band king” to indie rock star. Has it been a challenge to evolve along with the ever-changing music scene, or has this come naturally over time?

AM: I mean, I think evolving in general is a challenge. For me, it’s sort of a requisite to keep growing, you know, I think because I was raised moving from one city to the next and always having to make new friends and make new homes for myself. I think it’s just sort of inborn that I have this urge to chart new territory every however many years, and even from record to record, you know? I get bored doing the same thing twice. And so, whether or not it’s difficult, it’s just like an imperative for me. I couldn’t change it if I tried. And I feel really lucky that somehow, miraculously, through a bunch of name changes and different sounds and, and sort of an evolving palate sonically that people have still managed to follow me down these strange roads that I seem to wander down every few years.

MSM: Yeah. So, I read that you’ve never been big into social media, but you did get more into it during the height of COVID to stay connected to your fan base, and then you also still make time to do meet and greet experiences (after all of these years). So how do you feel that this relationship with your fans has helped you grow as an artist?

AM: Well, I don’t have anything specifically against social media other than the fact that I just avoid rabbit holes in general. I can get caught in them quite easily, and so I’ve always had to monitor how much time I spend staring at a screen in any given day. But that being said, I really do crave a deeper connection with the people who listen to my music. I put a lot of myself out there with every new song and new album, and there’s a long history of me making autobiographical music. And so I feel like when I put out records, I really am sharing a pretty deep slice of my psyche and wherever I am in my life at that moment. So meeting people after shows and doing all of those live streams during COVID, I’m grateful that people thank me for having done those things, but, I mean this in all sincerity, I do it for myself as well. I like to know the people that are listening to my music. I like to hear their stories and I think it makes me a better writer. It helps me understand the zeitgeist more. It helps me understand what’s kind of taking place in sort of the collective consciousness, not just my own, if that makes sense.


MSM: So you’ve actually shared the stage with some really incredible artists and some of your friends as well. If you could tour with anyone in the world, who would it be?

AM: Oh my gosh, that’s a tough question to answer. I mean, wow. Well, I’ll say that my favorite act out right now is Sylvan Esso. Though I’m not sure how pleased their fans, or maybe even mine, would be with that pairing. But obviously I’ve had the pleasure of getting to be on stage with my hero, Billy Joel, this past summer and previous summers, and that was major for me. I would probably lean back into my, sort of, historical, record and pull bands from there, you know. Bands like R.E.M. would be a dream to get on a stage with. I think things in that vein, like kind of the singer-songwriters that I grew up leaning on, guys like Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Neil Young. Those are artists that really shaped me so I think to get to share space with them would certainly be an honor.

MSM: Yeah, absolutely. I know you’ve written probably thousands of songs. Is there any song in particular of yours that you feel would kind of be a theme song for your life, or maybe just for this stage of your life?

AM: Well, I mean, it’s hard for me to wrap it all up in a single song but I would be lying not to say, and I know this might sound cheap because it also happens to be one of my biggest songs, but I think there’s so much of myself written into “Cecilia and the Satellite”. And there really is kind of this, through both my youth and into my adult years, it was really the intention of telling of my story to my daughter, my future daughter at the time, and so I think that there’s a purity to that song. And also just the fact that it celebrates this insane thing that I never thought that I would be, which is becoming a father. And so, though it is a safe one, I put a lot of myself into that one and I think it would be a good one to pull some quotes from at the end, for sure.

MSM: You have been known to put a lot of passion into your live performances, whether it’s through jumping on and off of your piano or the storytelling like on the Three Pianos tour, which I did get a chance to go to and photograph that last year… that was amazing.

AM: Oh, thank you.

MSM: And I’m actually shooting your show this Saturday in Charlotte, too. I’m really excited.

AM: That’s gonna be fun.

MSM: What can fans look forward to on this current Hello Gone Days tour?

AM: Well, I think it’s felt both on stage and in the audience but, in general, I just feel like there’s a kind of collective sigh, a collective breath, an exhale that’s taking place at these shows that really has made for a beautiful evening of music. I mean, there’s no question that by putting myself and Chris on a stage headlining together, and then pulling acts in like Armor For Sleep and Cartel and The Juliana Theory. We were making an intentional move to give people what I feel like is like a much needed break from the present, if that makes sense.

And just like giving everybody a chance to connect with memories from times that, whether they were simpler or not, I think we all at this point are thinking that times were a little bit simpler a handful of years ago. And so I think there was a mission to create a space where people could feel nostalgia, where they could revisit songs that maybe were on their journey through different moments in their life. And I really do feel like we’re delivering a show that answers that call, but it’s also for us as a band. I mean, we haven’t played a truly, like, full rock and roll lineup tour since 2019. And so, for the five of us on stage, and it’s all the greatest players from my history… it’s really the Jack’s Mannequin Band plus Zac Clark on keys… and I think that we poured so much of ourselves into just being as good as we possibly can be. And I think, in that sense, we’re playing our best and we’re having so much fun every night that I really hope that it’s felt in the audience.

MSM: Your new single comes out tomorrow (8/17). Can you share about the meaning behind “Stars”?

AM: Yeah. It’s, in my opinion, one of my best love songs that I’ve written and that’s, for me at least, that’s saying a lot. Whether anybody else agrees, that’s the subjective thing, and they can, and we’ll find out where it lands. But I think because I’ve been with my wife for 20 years now, over 20 years, and we’ve been married for nearly 16, that when you stumble into that fertile ground of trying to write a song that captures love at such a deep level, it really is a beautiful exercise. And, and in the case of this song, the impetus for the whole thing was kind of silly.

We were at this like punk kind of cowboy bar in a town a couple towns north of where I live and there was a full on cowboy, like country western, band playing, and we were there late at night having drinks with a bunch of friends. And Kelly really wanted me to get on the dance floor with her and I was feeling super self-conscious like, you know how I dress, so imagine me in a bar with a bunch of cowboys. So I was just too shy to do the right thing, which was get on the dance floor when my wife wanted to dance with me, and it turned into one of those just sort of petty, dumb fights, like we weren’t talking to each other for a little bit. And I kind of woke up in the morning and it was a window into this deeper meditation of like, okay, well, you have these fights, but you also have ascended these, sort of, mountains together, and there’s been everything in between. And I think that was what the song is about, is you carrying water for your love and having them carry it for you and how beautiful that can be to love somebody that deeply.

MSM: Yeah. So, you founded the Dear Jack Foundation in 2006 after your cancer diagnosis, and the annual giving challenge has just started. Would you like to share any information about that and how people can get involved? I saw the grand prize, and that’s pretty amazing.

AM: When I, when I got on the other side of my diagnosis and my treatment, it was very clear that this adolescent young adult demographic of cancer patients is incredibly underserved. It’s really sad. It’s getting better, and I’m proud to say we were one of the first charities to really focus on this demographic, which is basically anybody as young as like 15 years old, all the way up to people who are are closing in on 40. There’s not a lot of research and there’s not a lot of support services that are specifically tailored to this group, which have a very specific set of needs. And so that’s what we do at Dear Jack. We have everything from psychosocial retreats where there are these breakout sessions and couples can kind of download their process and start getting back to life on a healthy footing after cancer. We do a wish granting program, which really gives patients who are in the middle of treatment something to look forward to throughout their treatment. We support hundreds of other patients with mental wellness boxes and additional resources. And obviously we can’t do that without fundraising. A big part of that is what’s going on right now between August 11th and November 11th of this year. We’re gonna try and raise $250,000 by the 11/11 concert, which I’ll be hosting in Chicago this year. So far we’re off to a great start, but teams can sign up at Anybody who raises somewhere in the neighborhood of like $2500 or more is entered to win (it may be $5,000, I’m not sure, but you can get the specifics online), but the top donors and their teams are entered to win a private house concert from me. And I do those every year. I just did one a few weeks ago and it’s really fun. It’s a cool way to celebrate people who’ve really sacrificed a lot to raise money for the cause.

MSM: Yeah. That’s a beautiful thing you’re doing.

AM: Thank you.

MSM: And my last question for you is what do you hope to achieve with your music? Do you have an ultimate goal? Is there something in particular that you’re trying to get across?

AM: Well, I think in general, my hope with my music has always been that it’s a place for people to dig a little deeper into how they feel about themselves or where they are in their lives. I use music for me first, it’s effectively a therapy tool for me. It helps me unpack my subconscious and figure out where I stand. And the best songs that I love of other artists are ones that wake something up in me, whether it brings a good memory around or gives me a chance to have a cry or whatever it is. My goal has always just been that people can make memories to these songs and that they work like a soundtrack to your own movie and your own life and become a place to escape to when you need to escape.

MSM: That’s wonderful! Well, thank you so much for your time!

AM: Yeah. Thank you for your time. I appreciate you chatting and for coming out to the shows and supporting the music, that means a lot to me.

MSM: I can’t wait! I heard there’s a floaty involved.

AM: Yeah, there’s a very difficult llama that I’ve been riding that is not quite as supportive as other floats I’ve I’ve taken out before. So I’m working on trying to procure something that’s a little more stable, but yeah, if there’s there’s enough people on the floor, I will no doubt punish myself by attempting to crowd surf on a float.

MSM: Awesome. I can’t wait! Thank you, Andrew!

AM: Thank you! I appreciate it.




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