JACK'S MANNEQUIN isn’t just a brand name or a band moniker, it has become a person in Orange County, California’s Andrew McMahon. From his 2005 diagnosis of and battle with leukemia McMahon became more than just a catchy vocalist with some really delicate prose. He became a fighter, and his war with cancer became a backdrop to some pretty intense albums. Jack’s Mannequin, which performs at the House of Blues Friday night, is an artist with a story, but in actuality it is the story that made the artist.
McMahon is currently a healthy 29-year-old with fabulous piano hands, and a respective comparison to Ben Folds. He released his third Jack’s Mannequin album, People and Things, back in October, adding yet another chapter to his personal music memoirs.
On the Download had a chance to catch up with McMahon a few weeks ago before he headed out on a national tour...
How was that walk with your dog on the beach today? I much enjoyed your tweet picture.
I’m recovering from The Late Show performance I did last night, so I appreciate you working with the change in scheduling with me. I did, I took a little bar of time earlier to decompress and take my pup for a walk on the beach.
I’d rather have the interview later, and a more quality Andrew, rather than earlier and have you stressed out and tired.
You got it, this is more quality Andrew, I’m sipping a cup of tea and sitting outside and all is well. I’m at home in Orange County, it is very relaxing, and also it’s 70 degrees out here right now.
A lot warmer there...
I’m actually really looking forward to the winter tour, as much of a struggle as it can be, somehow I feel like the energy is always really good... when [people] get warm together and listen to music...
It’s true, in the winter, you get people out to the shows and it’s like it’s the first time they’ve left their house in three days – you get all kinds of pent up energy.
So, I know you probably don’t want to start out with this one, but… can we expect anything from Something Corporate in the near future?
[laughs] Definitely not soon! Logistically, it’s almost impossible. What I mean, I definitely have seen the Something Corporate guys, I see them pretty regularly, and we live pretty close together now again. But everybody’s got real jobs, and lives, and are a higher priority at this point. I hate to go on, and give anyone false hope – because I think it’s a little farfetched, but, like I said, we’re all still buddies and still see each other, so you never know. Maybe one day, but, not anytime soon.
I see what you’re doing, you’re building anticipation.
I swear to god, it would be virtually impossible. It’s like; it’s a piece of my history. You never thought of that when you go to revisit those first things. And I think it never ends up being what people had wanted or hoped when they were hanging on to that hope, if that makes any sense? I think at this point, it may be best to just let sleeping dogs lay.
There seems to be a much larger and different sense of influence in the new album, People and Things, what might it be from?
Gosh, it was kind of an opportunity to approach the record in a more strip down fashion than I’ve done on other records. And kind of more from the angel of a line production of the band playing together in a room, and it sort of happened in a more old school method to rock production. Just as the results, and how sort my old influences kind of came through. Like Billy Joel, and The Heartbreakers and things like that. I feel like we were in a similar environment to the way a lot of them recorded their records; circumstances, that helped. It was kind of a cool moment to kind of give a nod to some of those that made such a huge impression on me when I was growing up, starting to write and play.
How much of The Glass Passenger was influenced or written based on your battle with Leukemia?
I think there is certainly a handful of songs on that record that are pretty directly referenced the experience, like “Caves,” “The Resolution,” “Swim,” mainly, oh and “Bloodshot” perhaps. I think in a way, the illness really informed my living, and how I felt and what I was going through at the time. To that extent, you could say all of it was heavily influenced by that experience. But, I do think that I made an effort that I found a little more solid, speaking on a broader scale – about the idea of struggle, and hope, and how that plays out when you’re in a tricky spot. I think of that record, as less of a record about surviving leukemia, and more of a record.
Since it is election season, do you get politically involved?
There have definitely been times when I’ve been a lot more politically involved, or excited in politics. There are certainly a lot of issues that I pay close attention to on a political sheer. But I think the reality is that so long as our politicians are able to be owned by major corporations and wealthy people, I don’t think we’re ever going to have politicians that are working for the common person. I just don’t think it’s possible. I hate to be so dower about it, but I’ve gotten in these situations where I really believe in the candidate and I believe in what they’re saying. But it’s rarely ever found at the point that it ends up making a great change. For me, I try to keep aware, but I don’t really pick sides anymore. I just think that both sides are completely out of their minds. It’s terrifying, I feel like as long as their special interest money, and corporate money paying for political campaigns, we’re never going to have a government for the people. To that end, I hope that eventually we actually have a candidate that comes along that makes that a part of their platform, and changes the campaign finance laws. I think that’s the only that’s going to change our country.
What modern or classic art do you find the most inspirational? I know you have a starry night tattoo on one of your forearms.
For me, I’ve been finding that lately architecture has been an art form that I’ve been more interested in than anything, as of late. Also, even with graphic design, I’ve been studying the hell out of it. Like old rock and roll posters, and book covers and sort of the evolution of graphic design over the years has become a focus, not a huge focus, but definitely a hobby while I’ve been looking through art magazines, and books, and sort of informing myself on aesthetic.
Do you have any tattoos planned in the future?
I’ve got a couple of ideas; I’ve started on the path to maybe re-up on some tattooing. But, I’m going to keep it to myself because the last time I told people some of them showed up with that tattoo before me.
Let’s talk about Light the Night [a walk by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's in order to build awareness of blood cancers and raise coin for research and support of patients and their families]. What sort of steps forward has it taken since you became involved after your recovery?
It’s been great, I mean, we didn’t hit our mark this year – but we got more than half-way there. It was a difficult year on fundraising. I talked to a lot of people that do non-profits, and work on fundraising professionally, and the economy really set in a bad way for non-profits this year.
But that said, I’m really proud, I’m pretty sure we’re well over $50,000 for the year with Light the Night. Putting us at nearly half a million for the past six years. Which I’m incredibly proud of. We just continue to plug away; I think with the economy goes up and down, and people become a little bit less attached to their money, and it becomes a little bit more available that number will grow back again. Conversely with that we’ve gotten a lot donations, and with the Dear Jack foundation (which I think is doing better this year, than last year). We’re sort of off-setting one with the other and still being able to affectively make a pretty good change.
I have a friend that teaches music at a high school in New Hampshire, and he uses your music to help describe the use of piano in modern rock to his composition classes. How do you feel about modern rock music being used to help educate students on music?
I feel great about it! The reality is, if you really want to dig in and understand music theory there’s only so far that I think pop/rock music will get you. Even for me, I started even playing the songs I heard on the radio, but I actually had to study classical music just to get that general innovation, and ovation for the future. But I think anything that you can do to get people excited, and teach them about form and the idea of relating that back to songs that they know and they care about – I think you’re going to have a much better catalyst for getting people to play.
I think learning songs that you love is a really good way to get you excited about learning. I think that’s a great model. People who study music, inherently as they learn, after the songs they know – the next place that’s natural is classical or jazz, or other forms that are more technically difficult. I think pop music can major back to classical, or vice versa, it certainly has in my case.
JACK’S MANNEQUIN + JUKEBOX THE GHOST + ALLEN STONE | The House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | February 3 @ 7 PM | all ages | $28 to $39.50 | 888.693.2583 or hob.com/boston