You may not know Andrew McMahon under his own name, but if you’ve ever listened to Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin, you’ve heard his songs before. Since 2014 he’s been heading up a group called Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, and it’s that group who will be performing at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, VA (the same 95 North exit you take to get to King’s Dominion) tomorrow night. They’re on tour with Dashboard Confessional and Cartel, so it’s a real bumper crop of 00s emo talents, but McMahon’s still making vital new music these days, as he’s shown not only on the three Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness albums — most recently 2018’s Upside Down Flowers — but also the touching “New Year Song,” a powerful and affecting single he released on New Year’s Day 2021, memorializing one of the toughest years any of us have lived through.
With McMahon’s arrival in Central Virginia imminent, Bryan Schools caught up with him to chat about the legacy of Drive-Thru Records and the emo era and the upcoming fourth Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness album. But they started things off by talking about drinks. Read on:
When we first met seven years ago, you were running a few minutes behind because you needed to run to Starbucks to grab some pre-show caffeine. Right before a show, what’s your go-to drink?
These days it’s a little bit of mezcal and soda with an orange peel in it. It evolves over the years, but I find the less sugar the better. A little bit of booze and off we go!
Performing live is always a work in progress, and there are some songs that are great in the studio, but just never end up panning out live. What songs have you wanted to be a part of your set that just didn’t have the same vibe live? And secondly, have there been any songs that didn’t work out at first, that you’ve been able to come back and reinvent?
It’s always so hard, as you can imagine because the catalog is pretty deep at this point, to try and figure out what to play. I lean towards the biggest songs in my catalog, because I want people to sing the most and then be out there jamming. I think every record there will be one that you think is going to happen that doesn’t. I remember in the Jack’s Mannequin days, there was a song called “Drop Out (The So Unknown),” and I was like, “This is going to be a banger!” People now request that song, but it never really landed exactly like I expected it would.
I put an album out called Upside Down Flowers. There’s a tune on that record called “Everything Must Go” that I absolutely loved. It didn’t work at first. I was like, “This song has got to happen! I’ve got to figure out a way to make it happen!” So we built it out as the opening of the show, and I had my piano hidden under this latticework and had the crew roll me out on the stage while we played the song. And I was like, “OK, we found a way to make this track actually pop live.” But sometimes you’ve got to do a little extra to make sure everybody gets it, and then they can find their way into the set and live there for good.
You’ve always been very raw and honest with your fanbase through your music. Has there been a time where you felt like you opened that book too much and revealed something you wished you hadn’t?
I think around the time that I was just getting back to living and working after being sick. There was a while there, like a couple of years, because it was such a fresh trauma. I think I didn’t really do a lot of the work that I probably should have done for my mental health, and getting myself back on track right after being sick, I just jumped right back into work. There was a moment where it got to be a little too much talking about being sick, so close to having been sick. I think because I put out a documentary from that period of time where I was in the treatment phase, I was so open with fans, and I think there was a moment that I wanted privacy that I couldn’t get, if that makes sense. There were a few interviews and a few times that I finally told my publicist I’m not answering any more questions about this for a while. That was tricky, because that’s what a lot of people wanted to talk about.
Now, for me, to talk about the cancer journey, I’m out of it 16 years. It’s so much easier for me to be an advocate and also to have perspective on what my journey was. But when I was in the middle of it, it was pretty tricky to have to dive in.
With your honesty, your fanbase has felt like they’ve grown up with you, from being reckless in college to being parents. We all felt “21 & Invincible.” When are you dropping “40 & My Back Hurts”?
[Laughs] Well, I’ve got a new record coming out, probably March of next year. And new music trickling out. The first of those songs [“Stars”] came out today. I wouldn’t say too much about my back hurting. But, I will say that I think this new record, I was very intentional in the songs that I selected. And had sort of, this voice in the back of my head, not just about the fact that I was turning 40, but also more than 20 years now on the road and making records more than half my life now. I wanted the songs to be a reflection of some of those lessons learned and some of the mistakes that were made. Just trying to be really honest about what that journey looked like. And so, I don’t think there’s any direct references to back pain, but there’s hopefully some wisdom distilled and some forgiveness. For, you know, the things that we all do as we as we come up and figure shit out.
Emo’s Not Dead has been a very big deal in revitalizing the emo scene, even though to the fans, it was never a phase. How does it feel to have seen that seen from the beginning, and now to being one of the leading voices of a resurgent form of music/culture?
It’s funny; there are things that you do that are really intentional in your career and there are things that just happen. Something Corporate, in my mind, was always like a pop band. We didn’t frankly listen to or go to any of those emo shows or know anything about that scene when we were coming up. I was into the Get Up Kids, I was into Jimmy Eat World, and the word “emo” sort of came after the fact.
We were all in high school when Drive-Thru Records wanted to sign us, and I didn’t even know who Drive-Thru Records was. Then I just felt like we just got swept up into this thing, and it’s funny to me, because I never felt like [Something Corporate] was really a part of this scene. We always felt like we were these outsiders in the middle of people moshing and at shows. I’m just like, this dude who plays piano. But it was always so good to me.
I pretty much spent my entire career trying never to be categorized, and to always try to change and evolve so that nobody could pick me, and I liked that. I like that now, in the midst of this second-going-into-third decade of a career, that all of a sudden these bands that I came up with who became my good friends are having a second life. We’re out on this tour with Dashboard [Confessional] and great openers Cartel, Armor for Sleep, and Juliana Theory, all bands today. I think were closely tied to that moment. It is pretty beautiful to be on this stage giving a show that’s geared to giving fans their memories back for a little bit for a night.
We had Something Corporate for two albums, Jack’s Mannequin for three, and now Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness for an upcoming fourth. You’ve been in this project longer than any of your others. Do you see this as your voice moving forward, or are there any other projects we should keep an eye on?
It was a pretty conscious choice to put my actual name on one of these projects. I saw that Tom Petty documentary years ago when it came out, Running Down a Dream, and he was talking to Roger McGuinn from The Byrds, [who said] the biggest mistake he made was not ever putting his name on his songs. And so, for me, I wanted to make sure going forward, I could tie all of these moments together, and all these records together. Let people know I’m a songwriter, first and foremost; whatever band I’ve been in, this is what I do, is make songs for a living.
So, getting to the fourth record with a project is pretty great. I’d say the kind of projects that I’m interested in that are outside of what I’m doing with The Wilderness are probably leaning towards working on some TV and film stuff. Doing sort of other creative endeavors that are music adjacent but not strictly music. We’re working on a TV show right now, possibly a series. There’s a handful of those kinds of things in the mix, and that’s probably where I’d spend what little extra time I have outside of making records.
Someone is trying to convince me to go with them on August 19 to Meadow Event Park to see you and Dashboard Confessional. What three songs would you pick from your catalog to introduce me to what Andrew McMahon is about?
That’s tough, so I’ll just go with the ones that have been tried and true, and in the interest of making a new fan. I’d say “Cecilia [And The Satellite],” probably “Dark Blue,” maybe if we’re going to do all three bands, “I Woke Up in a Car.” Let’s start there and hope that one of those gets you perked up and gets you to come out to the show.
You’ve had a very special connection with Virginia, and specifically Richmond. We know you’re only here for one night, but if you had more time, where do you go and what do you do in RVA?
Dinner at Edo’s Squid. That’s our go-to. Anytime we have a day off, or anytime we’re in town, that’s the first place we go. We usually have somebody who we’re friends with that’s working there, and let them kind of steer. Everything at that restaurant is so good, and I just like the vibe. To me, it feels very Richmond.
I don’t even know if some of the bars that we used to hang out at are still there. I think we would go to Patrick Henry’s. We used to drink in that little basement bar there. Ipanema [Café], there’s another one that we would spend some time in to get wasted. We rode some roller skates through that bar at one point in my youth. Most of the Jack’s Mannequin band was pulled from Richmond; all three of the original members of Jack’s had gone to school out there and were living out there. And so for years, every time we would come back to Richmond, it was like a homecoming party. We were excited to go back. We have a day off there tomorrow, so I think you’re liable to see us wandering around getting into less trouble than usual, but still a little bit of trouble.
Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness will be playing at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, VA on Friday, August 19, along with Dashboard Confessional and Cartel. Doors open at 5 PM. Tickets are $31-$99, and can be purchased HERE.
Interview by Bryan Schools. Introduction by Marilyn Drew Necci. Top Photo via Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness/Facebook