After Beating Cancer and Starting a Family, Andrew McMahon Finds Mainstream Success

Andrew McMahon is hanging out near the back of his tour bus in Tucson, Arizona. He’s already all packed for his summer tour, accompanying Weezer and Panic! At The Disco, that kicks off in a few days. The singer-songwriter just went for a coffee run with his dog, Doris. And in the 102-degree weather, it turned into an iced coffee run.

The Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier will be joining McMahon for his 37 performances on the 42-stop, two-month-long tour, along with his wife and their daughter

"To tour the world and stuff, I think there’s a lot of that energy in those songs — this sort of youthful exuberance and getting to see so much for the first time."

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Just shy of two years ago, McMahon announced his most recent project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, and debuted the single, “Cecilia and the Satellite,” named after his daughter. The song received pop and alternative radio play and held spots across Billboard’s Adult Pop, Alternative, Rock, and Hot 200 charts.

“It’s been incredible for me,” McMahon tells New Times. “Obviously, you take a chance doing something new on the heels of projects that have been successful in their own right. It’s something I’ve done a couple times now because the mood struck me and I felt like that would be the right path.”

Previously, McMahon saw success with his high school band, Something Corporate, throughout the early 2000s, and later with his solo project, Jack’s Mannequin.

“Seeing that taking that chance led to what became my first traditional radio song and has gotten my name out to people that haven’t heard my music before, it feels like a win so far,” McMahon continues — and he’s not exaggerating. “Cecilia And The Satellite” reached eight Billboard charts, including the Hot 100, something his other projects didn’t do. His album, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, also reached the number 4 position for Billboard’s Top Alternative album.

“There’s no stopping in this game of music that we play. You’re always trying to write the best song and do the next thing and make more fans, and we’re certainly out here on that mission,” McMahon says. “But it’s been a pretty lovely road so far.”

We caught up with Andrew McMahon to hear more about touring with a family and trying to condense his musical history into a 35-minute set list.

New Times: You’ve toured with your wife and daughter before, and we saw pictures of your dog on the bus. Who’s riding the McMahon bus for this tour?
Andrew McMahon: Doris, my dog, she’ll be out here for the whole thing. We don’t really fly with her that often so we loaded her on the bus with the band, myself and the crew. Then, my wife and daughter will join us in about a week’s time. They’ll pop on and off for the first month, and in the beginning of July, they’ll be with me for the rest of the run. We’re like the Partridge Family out here or something.
Doris is at home wherever the people are. It’s fun to get these opportunities where we get to bring her out, these summer tours are the perfect time and I’m looking forward to getting to travel with her this summer. There’s something about just having kids and dogs on a tour bus it does something to lighten the mood and keep things fun, it’s a nice addition. You gotta wake up and take the dog out. You can’t do this sleep ‘til Tuesday thing when you have your responsibilities with you.

How does touring with your family compare to touring with a band like Something Corporate?
There’s a lot more that you have to be accountable to than yourself. There’s days on a tour when you’re alone and you forget to eat and you’re asleep ‘til five and wake up for soundcheck. Obviously that’s not the program when you’re on the road with your family. I think there’s this different energy that I find to be really motivating and inspiring with having sort of a fresh set of eyes on tour when you’ve been on the road for 15 years and then seeing a two-year-old look at all these cities and seeing amazing architecture and art and all these beautiful places for the very first time, it does something to wake you up and say ‘yeah, this city is beautiful,’ again. Having my family with me makes it possible to share these things with someone, but definitely seeing this perspective of a young person seeing the world for the first time, it’s pretty powerful.

How would you describe the progression of your music?
For me really, it’s been this progression of living and charting my life with these songs and these different projects. When I look at Something Corporate, that’s the sort of chapter of my life when I’m just barely out of high school and seeing my favorite band do this thing and dreaming about it and all of a sudden, I’m getting the keys to the castle so to speak. To tour the world and stuff, I think there’s a lot of that energy in those songs — this sort of youthful exuberance and getting to see so much for the first time.

I think of Jack’s Mannequin as the diary of my 20s which, needless to say, was wrought with some peculiar side roads. [In 2005 when he was 22-years-old, just before the debut Jack’s Mannequin full-length was released, McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia. He’s since beaten the cancer and started a non-profit charity, the Dear Jack Foundation, to raise money for cancer research.] It started in what seemed like a carefree way with the Everything in Transit record, but it moved from that into a lot more serious view of life and illness and all the things that came along with that. I can certainly hear that in those Jack’s Mannequin records.

And I look at this project as finally getting to a place where I can own all of that and say, "This is where you came from and this is what you’ve been through, but it’s not all of you." And I think the Wilderness was this chance to say, "What do you want to do with your life? What do you want to do with your music and how do you want to approach it? It’s some level of control of how that moves forward knowing that you have no control, but that’s how I see this project. Getting to a place where I finally felt comfortable with myself to take a big chance and sort of redefine who I was both personally and professionally.

How do you handle curating a set list when you have so much material?
It can be difficult. It gets harder when it’s a short set list because obviously I’ve put out a lot of records and when you only have, like this summer we’ll have 30 or 35 minutes to play for this opening slot for Weezer and Panic! At The Disco, and I think we are more or less are airing on the side of playing primarily newer music because we want to expose people to the new music and if you know my old music you’ve probably seen me play before. When it comes to a longer set I have a luxury of picking songs that have connected with my fans over the years and people in the audience who have been the core support for me between three projects of music. I like to throw a song in that may have been popular for them, so you’ll hear songs like “Dark Blue,” “I Woke Up in A Car,” “The Resolution,” “Watch the Sky” from the Something Corporate catalogue and it becomes fun to put those songs next to this new material and see what the thread is that connects those songs to one another.

What’s the best part about Florida tour stops?
The beach! The weather, for me, I’m a California boy so to get to the other coast and to get my feet in the Atlantic and get to see how the other coast lives is always a beautiful thing.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
With Weezer and Panic! at the Disco, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Tuesday, June 14, 7 p.m. Tickets range between around $39-$72 before fees.
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Emily Bloch