Andrew McMahon: Behind the Music Machine

Nearly 20 years into his career and Andrew McMahon isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. McMahon, who just released his fourth solo studio album (not including the combined six albums from previous projects Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, as well as countless EPs and live albums from all projects), has been a music machine since the late ’90s. How does one, who has that type of musical catalog under their belt, continue to find inspiration to keep releasing music? How does one find the time and energy to keep delivering when they have had numerous hits before? Recently, we sat down with the alternative/indie singer/songwriter to discuss those questions, amongst his place in the world as a songwriter, performing and more.

McMahon’s latest album, Tilt at the Wind No More, came to be after he worked on his memoir “Three Pianos” throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I really wasn’t too inspired to sit down on my piano, to be honest. I sort of held up with the family. I had been working on a book deal ahead of COVID, which I had no idea how it was going to execute. Thank God for my wife, because she looked at me maybe two weeks into COVID and she’s like, ‘this is your chance. When are you ever not going to be expected to be releasing songs. When are you ever not going to have your time being kind of demanded on the road.’ So that’s really what I did during COVID. I got all of this heavy history into this book and then I felt kind of free to move creatively back at the piano.” With over two decades of writing experience, Andrew also shared that writing his memoir was one of the hardest tasks he’s done, from a discipline standpoint.  “I think that the beauty of, you know, working at the piano it is sort of like – I sit down and put my hands on the keys and if all goes well something just kind of comes to me, right? Those moments were definitely pure and happened throughout the writing of the book but it was much more an act of like just diligently waking up every day and coming into this space [the room McMahon was in while him and I were speaking, also known as his home studio] and just writing as much as I could. In a way the processes are similar but you stretch that process out over months and it required a level of discipline. It freed me up to go deeper. I’m a therapy guy, and I think even I was surprised at the level of sort of deeper understanding that became available to me once I actually started mapping it out on a page. The shock of the whole thing was how therapeutic it really was.”

Soon after, McMahon heavily dove into the process of working on his fourth album under the moniker Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. After years of writing hits, and after a memoir, how does one keep going? As you get older, you can only write so much, right? “It gets harder withe very passing year,” shared McMahon. “It forces me to kind of constantly assess my place in the world, you know, where I am with my relationships. I think by being a writer and having that experience of searching, that’s really required, and I’m grateful for it because I think that there’s a way to become complacent the older that you get.” The singer/songwriter, who has now entered his 40’s, is married and has a daughter, Cecilia, who can also be heard on Tilt‘s closing track, “Smoke & Ribbons.” “I’ve got my family now. It’s all about just maintaining that, so it does make it so I have to be constantly asking myself questions – ‘are you inspired?’ – if you’re not, what do you need to do today to get out and put yourself in the middle of something? Even if it’s mundane, how do you pull the beauty out of the mundane?”

Andrew, who has spent the past two decades nonstop touring, isn’t stopping any time soon. Whether he plays in a 300-capacity room like Rockwood Music Hall in New York City with just a piano and his guitarist, or he plays a massive festival with his first band Something Corporate, McMahon is known for giving these shows his all, but not without letting fans know how important these shows are to him, too.

“I’ve really been enjoying sort of diversifying how I perform. If I’m going to do a solo show, I can sit here and say, ‘well what song haven’t I played in 5 years?’ and work that up and then show up on a stage and play that. There are sort of hits that people are expecting to hear but maybe from night to night it’s really going to be like, let’s get on stage at soundcheck and learn these two songs from the catalog that haven’t been played and let’s play those tonight. Throw those into the set so that if you came to this show on the tour, and you’re going to get a different show tonight than maybe you got last night. I do feel the weight of my history and the relevance of that.”

Around the album release, McMahon made sure to play a few select small shows, to share the intimacy of the record with his fans. “I wanted to give the album itself a fighting chance with fans and with myself. I knew that being in a smaller room made it possible to really talk about the songs, and even for a small group, help them make new memories around these new songs. There’s a freedom that comes with playing small rooms that you can take chances. I can have the ability to work that stuff out in person because I can stop and tell a joke, or divert and say, ‘well here’s the record but I’m going to do this second set.’ Maybe someone calls a song out from the balcony that I kind of know, but in a room of 200 people, I’m ok to kind of work through this together. I don’t have to be perfect for you, the imperfection is actually the magic in those kinds of rooms.”

As highlighted earlier, Andrew’s nonstop touring won’t be stopping any time soon. McMahon is currently on the road in North America and soon will be playing a string of festival dates before hopping over the pond to the United Kingdom and Europe for some more shows. When the singer/songwriter heads back to the states, he’ll be playing a handful of additional shows, only to take a small break before heading out on a big North American tour this fall. Fans can find Andrew’s tour dates here and can stream/buy his album now!

All Photos: Dana Gorab

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