Interview – Jack’s Mannequin’s Andrew McMahon
– by Victoria Defoe
Some came dressed for the occasion while some did not, but everyone was on the same page when it came time to welcome Jack’s Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon and his band mates to the Vogue Theatre stage the night before Halloween.
The set was a mix of tracks from all three of the Orange County band’s full-length albums, including the 2005 debut Everything in Transit and its 2008 follow-up The Glass Passenger. This balance gave everyone the chance to hear their favorite Jack’s Mannequin song, and the venue was filled with energy through the entire set. Just when you thought the atmosphere couldn’t get any more intense, McMahon gave us the special treat of a Something Corporate (his previous band) track during the encore.
I had a chance to sit down with Andrew earlier that day and talk about the tour and the band’s new album, People and Things.
Victoria DeFoe: This is your third record with Jack’s Mannequin. When you look back at when on what was supposed to be a sideproject, what do you think of the journey it has turned out to be?
Andrew McMahon: Well, it certainly chronicles my turbulent twenties, that’s for sure. It’s wild – I’ve never been one to spend too much time looking back, and Jack’s started as just this thing I was going to do for fun, to clear my head. And obviously through the process of getting sick [in June of 2005, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia; he’s since made a full recovery] during that first record and all of the weird sort of coincidences and things that happened along the way it sort of felt like “Well, you know I think this is the path that I’m supposed to be on”, rather than it just being this sort of side road. It will take years to figure out exactly what I think of all it but it’s been fun.
VD: You’ve mentioned there were a few bumps along the way during the process of recording People and Things that made getting the record out take a little longer. Was there a specific event or moment that really pushed you to want to complete it?
AM: The big turning point was, I went out to play this benefit show for a friend of ours who had suffered from a stroke. I was in Richmond, Virginia and I decided I was going to rent a car and I was just going to drive and clear my head and the night before I left I put on my headphones and I put on the record, as it was up to that point, and I was just like, you know what? I don’t think this is it. And so I spent the rest of that drive formulating my plan and gaining my strength and my confidence and just said I was going take these songs, write a couple more maybe and grab the guys who I play with and who I’ve played with for years and we are just going to learn to play them together and go into the studio and call it a day.
That was a really empowering moment, where I just kind of said this shouldn’t be this difficult, we have been touring for five years and we are a pretty good live band and we should be able to learn how to play these songs and take that into the studio and execute them, and that’s what we did.
VD: This, being the first Jack’s Mannequin album to have co-writers, does it feels less personal at all to you?
AM: I actually think it got more personal in a weird way. The writers that I brought in were probably less writers and more friends, you know what I mean? The guy who I wrote three of the songs with on this record, this guy Matt Thiessen [of Relient K], is a guy who has been in a band that I’ve known for years and we’ve been really close buddies for the past few years at least.
So I flew out to Nashville and in two days we wrote “People Running” and “Amy, I” and then came out to California and in another day we wrote “Platform Fire”. I think in that sense it became more personal because they became conversations with friends and that’s kind of what I loved about writing on this record.
VD: One of the tracks that really stood out to me on the album was “Restless Dream”. It’s actually one of my favorites, was it different to record a song with no piano?
AM: It was a total experiment. It was actually the fastest I had ever written and recorded a song. I wrote the song in two hours and I went into the studio right after that and I put down a piano track and I started putting a vocal to it and was like this isn’t right, it didn’t feel the way I wanted it to feel, I was hearing that finger picking in my head.
For me it was refreshing to have my voice against a different landscape. This is my, what? sixth record in ten years and it’s the first time I’d ever really stepped out and done something like that and it felt really like awesome evolution.
Album trailer – Jack’s Mannequin, People and Things:
VD: Which lead me to the realization that when listening to the album on shuffle with the previous Jack’s Mannequin albums you notice the more subtle approach with the piano. Does this give a different element to live shows now that you’re are on tour?
AM: I think because of the nature in which we developed the tunes, which was kind of like brothers in a room putting these songs together, I was arranging from very much more from a band perspective than, say, like a front man perspective.
That’s really where I put my energy; it was like, let’s make a great band sound. It’s not about any one guy. It’s not about the piano. It’s not about guitar. It’s about the song.
VD: Is there a song off of People and Things that you really were excited to play on this tour? Or one the audience seems to really respond to?
AM: I’ve really been enjoying doing “Amy, I”. I love that song and that’s kind of been a fun moment. I think a lot of kids have been liking that song and I also have been doing “Restless Dream”, actually, at the piano on this tour with some of our friends from Lady Danville singing backup vocals.
VD: If you had to describe each of the albums you have put out with Jack’s Mannequin with one word what would they be?
AM: Transit, “manic”; Passenger, “sick”; and this one I would say “married”.
Jack’s Mannequin tour dates:
Nov 01 – Edmonton, AB Edmonton Event Centre
Nov 02 – Calgary, AB MacEwan Ballroom
Nov 04 – Missoula, MT The Wilma Theater
Nov 05 – Spokane, WA Knitting Factory Concert
Nov 07 – San Francisco, CA Regency Ballroom
Nov 08 – San Luis Obispo, CA The Graduate
Nov 09 – Las Vegas, NV House of Blues
Nov 12 – Pomona, CA The Fox Theatre