Andrew McMahon, frontman and pianist of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, has one of the longest resumes in the music industry today having worked under several different band names over his entire career. McMahon first started writing songs on the piano by the early age of nine. McMahon formed his first band in 1997, which later morphed into his breakout group Something Corporate in 1998. After McMahon broke off from Something Corporate he went on to form the group Jack’s Mannequin. Today, McMahon is releasing music under the name Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. With the misfortune of musicians rising with fame over night and dying out just as fast, how is it that one musician has been capable of staying relevant all these years? One strategy McMahon seems to keep using is keeping things fresh in his creative ventures by forming a new musical group every so many years.
Andrew McMahon’s work was brought to national attention through his first “real” band Something Corporate’s major label debut (Drive-Thru/MCA) Leaving Through the Window. The album, reaching the number one spot on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart and was a breakthrough success for an alternative rock group in 2002 at a time when pop punk, punk rock, and alternative rock were all taking over the radio, MTV, and listeners alike. It didn’t take a game changing masterpiece to see success for many bands in these genres such as New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, Weezer, Taking Back Sunday, Simple Plan, The Starting Line, Motion City Soundtrack, and Bowling for Soup, all of whom released music in 2002; but it did take something special to stand out. McMahon, being the primary writer to the majority of SC’s material, used his skills on the piano to create a piano driven rock meets punk rock sound, as opposed to the popular sound of the time that included goofy lyrics and simple, loud guitars, that helped the band sound unique throughout their career. However unique the band was, McMahon yearned for a return to his original style of music writing which drove him to form side project turned primary project called Jack’s Mannequin. This move to McMahon was a move from songs about girls and heartbreak to therapeutic songs about life.
In 2005, Andrew McMahon released his secondary project’s debut album Everything in Transit. At the time of the release of the album, the majority of bands that saw success in 2002 were either experimenting with their sound, and in hindsight releasing their least favorable music according to fans, or breaking up; McMahon was doing quite the opposite. McMahon was releasing music he proclaimed as a return to his roots and as the style of music that he originally brought to the table in Something Corporate. Besides being some of McMahon’s most highly regarded material to this day, several other factors increase the quality of Everything in Transit. McMahon was so focused on creating the album he wanted that he spent a great deal of his life savings and earnings from his time in Something Corporate to allow as much time in the studio creating the album as was needed. By the time the album was completed (as a record label had not yet picked up his new project to finance an album) the cost of the time in the studio was upwards of $40,000 of McMahon’s own money. The hardship on McMahon only continued as he continued working on the project. On the day the album had completed the mastering process, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, causing him to postpone any work on the new album to immediately undergo treatment. This setback only brought on more obstacles as McMahon could not tour or promote his Jack’s Mannequin. By the time of release and McMahon’s recovery, the album had close to zero promotion and still went on to sell over 20,000 units in the first week, bringing it to the 37th spot on the Billboard Top 200. All of these setbacks caused the album to have an additional value to it, and while it wasn’t an intended series of events by any means, the turnout allowed this album and the group as a whole to stand out amongst their competition for years to come. McMahon went on to release two follow up albums under the title Jack’s Mannequin, but the same reason that made Jack’s Mannequin special and unique was the same reason McMahon ultimately decided to yet again move his career in a new direction. McMahon felt this project was too associated with his illness and he was ready to move on, this time as a solo artist.
McMahon recognized his lengthy career and success in the spotlight with the debut EP as a solo artist, The Pop Underground. McMahon spoke on his leadership and his tenure in the “pop underground” in a piece with the Huffington Post at the time of the EP’s release:
I am proud that night after night and album after album, a mass of humanity I now refer to lovingly as the pop underground, come together and sing. Whether it's in theaters and concert venues around the world, in the privacy of our own homes or the constantly shifting landscape of social media, we are a scrappy tribe and we stand for something: Music that is found, shared and cared for despite access to traditional outlets; music that lives virally and through word of mouth; music that tells a story that people want to retell.
When Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness released its debut self-titled album in October of 2014, McMahon saw success and reached new levels like never before; the group has had continuous radio play since the release of the album and a greater number of television appearances than any other group he has previously performed under. However much success has come from this relatively new group, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness has kept a low profile and is currently playing small, b-rate clubs. The group has roughly 4.5 million views on their hit song on YouTube, nearly 330,000 followers on Facebook, close to 75,000 on Twitter, and is currently opening for Weezer and Panic! At the Disco on their summer tour.
With a family at home, being well into his 30s, and having a lengthy resume, maybe McMahon’s strategy this time around is being low-key, heartfelt, and having fun. And although he keeps a low profile to the public, McMahon’s concerts and performances show quite the opposite with large production set ups and audience interactions throughout his set.
Perhaps McMahon likes to keep things fresh with a new band every few years, perhaps he likes to keep it weird, perhaps he like things on a low-profile, or maybe he just doesn’t know how to take the standard root of a band. One way or the other, McMahon has yet to disappoint his cult like following and continues to gain radio airplay as well as stand out performances at all of his shows. From copies of Something Corporate albums on vinyl selling for upwards of $200, Jack’s Mannequin reunion tours being completely sold out, and the rising popularity of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, McMahon must have some trick up his sleeve that has yet to fail him yet.
Andrew McMahon will be leading his band as the opening act on the Weezer and Panic! At the Disco Summer Tour 2016 across North America including the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA on July 1st, as well as sporadic concerts and events surrounding the dates of the tour such as on June 27th at Fête Music Hall in Providence, Rhode Island.
For more on McMahon, see his website - http://www.andrewmcmahon.com/