Andrew McMahon reintroduces himself… again

“You cross a point where you look back at the hysterical shit you did growing up, and look at those things with a more reflective eye.”

Andrew McMahon is no stranger to reintroducing himself—as a child, he had to do so moving to and from Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, California and Bergen County. 

“The lifestyle of starting over every couple of years was something that I have enjoyed for the most part,” explains McMahon over Zoom. “You learn a lot about being the new kid, and it set me up for this lifestyle that I have lived for the past 20 years or so.”

The people who will be in attendance at his upcoming Delaware Valley shows (May 12 in Wilmington and May 27 at Adjacent Fest in AC) have all been introduced to McMahon in different ways, whether that was from his work in Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin or his current project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Having to reintroduce himself every couple of years played a part in McMahon’s music career.

“It was built into the DNA of my family and early existence to be open to change and be willing to go to new places and try new things,” says McMahon. “You find the excitement in change and the benefits of having the willingness to grow and move in new directions—sometimes out of necessity for survival or sometimes out of necessity for personal growth. There’s no question that my shape-shifting over the years was born out of my upbringing.

“You do learn in a sense how to be a chameleon. You know kids can be tough, and I was sort of the fat kid growing up, and it was tough to enter a new situation. I would always enter a new situation as quietly as I could, and size up the situation; figure out where I would fit in, and who might be best suited to bring you around and introduce you around. It was a game of adolescent politics or to something of that effect. I learned how to go into rooms and be unassuming until I found my people. It served me well, and it served me well in my career. I also learned how to manage my anxiety and fear because you were regularly confronted by it.”

McMahon has spent a lot of time reflecting on all of the rooms he has entered over his two decades in music. So much so that reflection is a big part of his latest album, Tilt at the Wind No More. It’s the alternative artist’s first release since 2018, and a lot has changed since then. 

“I mean obviously the last couple of years have been interesting for everybody,” says McMahon. “I didn’t do much writing during the pandemic, and I started working on what would have been in an album in late 2019 and early 2020. Some of those songs survived the intervening years. It was sort of coming back to music. I had taken some time off and was out of the studio more than I have been my entire career. I spent my 40th birthday in the course of the pandemic, and I had tipped over to this milestone of having spent half my life making records and spending time on the road, and it inspired me in some ways.

“I really wanted the record to say something about that experience; to have threads of the things I learned along the way, and the lessons that were hard to learn, but lessons nonetheless.”

One of those songs on which McMahon reflects is “Lying on the Hood of Your Car,” which is an upbeat and high energy song that leads the album. 

“That was a song that sat as a voice memo in my phone for three or four years,” explains McMahon. “I had started that verse and chorus, and loved it but I couldn’t really figure out what the angle was. In the first verse, there is the reference to the cop cars in the distance, and I was like, ‘Is this a bank robbery song?’”

The song was almost shelved until producer Tommy English gave it a listen, and loved what he heard. McMahon didn’t really know how to finish the song, and with the help of English, he resolved that issue. It ended up being a song about nostalgia and the good ole days. 

“You cross a point where you look back at the hysterical shit you did growing up, and look at those things with a more reflective eye,” says McMahon. “For me, there’s a patina of nostalgia for those days. We entered production with a chorus and a verse recorded, and I was like what is the second verse? What does it mean to be lying on the hood of your car? The answer was really something we would do in high school. For me and my friends, as soon as we got our licenses, when Friday night came we would drive until curfew on Sunday. It was a moment where I could look back at some of that and think about those people who were in the cars with me. The people who were helping me, and devising my schemes to conquer the world as we all think we’re gonna do at 16 or 17.”

Even though some of the songs on Tilt at the Wind No More are about the past, there are some songs dedicated to the people who are in McMahon’s present. “Last Rites” is an ode to McMahon’s wife of 17 years, Kelly. 

“This song is a shot down the middle love song,” says McMahon. “I’ll be married for 17 years come December, and I’ve had the amazing fortune of being in love with an incredible person for a super long time. We’ve known each other since I was 14, and we started dating when I was 18. There were enough experiences in the past couple of years that really crystallized this deeper kind of love. My industry is really fueled by songs about falling in love or breaking up. I haven’t freshly fallen in love or broke up with someone in a really long time. It opens the door for me to write a love song that is truly about a deep love and primal connection I’ve had with someone for a really long time.”

McMahon will be playing those songs at his upcoming Delaware Valley shows, and he’ll also be playing songs from Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. He realizes that someone who purchases a ticket to his shows might’ve come across his music in different eras. McMahon looks back on his different projects with a lot of “reverence.”

“I see my career in a more holistic way than I have in the past,” says McMahon. “When I moved on from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin, I was hellbent on not distancing myself from Something Corporate, but establishing myself outside of it. And in those years we were playing Jack’s Mannequin songs and slowly I began to perform and record under my own name. I’ve become attuned to the successes and failures of both bands to my career, my perspective and how I operate now.

“There’s really only one life that I’ve been able to live in music, and I certainly try my hardest for my sake and the fans’ sake that they can make contact with those songs and the memories they made from listening to those songs over the years.”

Towards the end of May, McMahon will be performing at Adjacent Fest in Atlantic City, and the lineup is worth the traffic on the AC Expressway on Memorial Day Weekend. McMahon will be joined by Blink-182, Paramore, Turnstile, Japanese Breakfast and many other bands. Like most New Jersey residents, McMahon has a pretty good Atlantic City story. 

“My favorite Atlantic City story is a Something Corporate one,” remembers McMahon. “It was my first time in Atlantic City, and we played a VFW hall show that was poorly attended. We had off the next day, and got paid 300 or 400 dollars for the show. We decided to take every dollar of our guarantee and put it into one hand of blackjack and see if we could get a decent hotel room for the night. We got there and put 300 bucks down on one hand of blackjack, and sure enough the dealer threw down a double down hand. I think we had a 10, and we didn’t have any more money to back it up. We won thank god, and had a really nice buffet dinner in Atlantic City.”

Even though McMahon hasn’t lived in the Garden State for a while, once a New Jerseyan always a New Jerseyan. He still has family in Jersey and shows here are a mini homecoming of sorts. 

“There’s always a part of Jersey that is hardwired in me no doubt,” says McMahon. “It’s always a real joy to play Jersey. We played the Pony outdoors last summer, which was a great night. I’ve spent a lot of time in Asbury and it’s cool to watch that city grow from Skate and Surf to what it is now. I’m really excited to come back and the lineup for Adjacent sounds really cool.”

Andrew McMahon will be playing at the Queen in Wilmington, DE, on May 12 and Adjacent Fest in Atlantic City on May 27.