Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin Singer Andrew McMahon: "We Are All Going To Face Our Mortality At Some Point. For Me, This Was That Time."

Categories: Q&As
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John Gilhooley/ OC Weekly
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I have thirty minutes to get to know Andrew McMahon, and I believe after two minutes on the phone, I understand why he is so grateful to be alive--and it's all because of his music and his supportive family and fans. 

McMahon has released albums with Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin, performed solo, started his own record label and written songs for Tommy Lee. However, his most enduring achievement may prove to be the Dear Jack Foundation, his charity that funds research and treatment in the fight against cancer. McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005, which derailed his career for over a year. After receiving a stem cell transplant, he bounced back and started the foundation to help others who face the same situation.

Now, he will perform with both of his bands in one magical night for charity. On Thursday, Nov. 18, McMahon, his groups and special guests Marc Roberge of O.A.R. and singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson will rock the El Rey Theatre  in Los Angeles, with proceeds going to the Dear Jack Foundation, Pediatric Cancer Research Fund and Children's Hospital Los Angeles. There will also be a raffle for prizes and an online auction, so even those who can't make it to the show can still do their part for this most worthy cause.

OC Weekly (Danielle Bacher): Andrew, for the first time, you will be performing with both Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin in one night. In which ways do you feel these projects differ?
Andrew McMahon: Gosh, it's like music from two different lives, you know? In a lot of ways, the approaches have similarities. The biggest difference is that one comes from a period of my life right out of high school and coming into my own, and the other is discovering who I was and stepping out of my element.

What was the impetus for starting Jack's Mannequin?
I think all the members of Something Corporate were burnt out. We had gone from being a high school band with a lot of ambition to playing shows all over the world for three or four years and creating three records in that period of time. I think it's a very typical thing to happen. We just reached that moment where we were exhausted with each other and the lifestyle. In the course of that hiatus, I found myself still writing music and still wanting to hear what it sounded like in the studio. 

And who is Jack?
Jack came from a song called "Dear Jack." It was one of the first tunes that I had written outside of Something Corporate. He was actually the brother of a close friend of mine.

Do you have different motivations or inspirations for the two projects? When you write, do you consciously decide, "This will be for Something Corporate?" or "This will be for Jack's Mannequin?"
Not really. I haven't written anything for Something Corporate in about six years now. I really just write for the project at hand. When I was in Something Corporate and we were making studio records, everything I wrote was for Something Corporate. When we went on hiatus, everything I wrote and recorded and was for Jack's Mannequin.

How did Marc Roberge of O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson get involved in this benefit?
They are just good friends of mine and we wanted to have some music for the show and celebrate the night. Every dollar that we don't spend on the production of the show is a dollar in the pocket of the charity. The band knew we would be better served with artists that could pull off a good music set. I've known those guys only to be great with their guitars and voices.
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Courtesy of Aware Music


You've battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia. How did your illness affect your life and your musical career?
Profoundly. If you talk to anyone who dealt with it on any level--whether it's having the disease or being close to somebody that had this or any serious illness-- it certainly does impact your perspective and the way you view life. And how did it affect my career? Well, obviously it took me off-board for a minute. The initial struggle was just getting my health back, and the following year was just all the little things that go along with being sick. I think it's like anything--we all get hit with stuff in life and we are all going to face our mortality at some point. For me, this was the time. Or one of the times, I suppose.

What have you been able to accomplish through the Dear Jack Foundation thus far?
A lot of people know the struggles of cancer and are more aware of it from their own personal experiences. For me, it's been kind of a two-way street. I'm meeting a lot of people along the way who are dealing with similar things that I dealt with and being able to be there for the patients and other people that are struggling. I'm proud to say we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the course of the five years or so that the charity has existed. We've donated that money back to projects and research that impact the lives of cancer patients, leukemia patients and so on.

Have you met many fans who have battled cancer or any other serious disease?
Absolutely. It's been a pretty regular part of my road since I recovered--meeting people in both bands that have been in a similar position to what I was in. There has been some kids over the years that I've been close with. I council through, or answer their questions. It's definitely been a part of my recovery.

Your sister Katie donated stem cells to help your treatment. What else can regular people do in the fight against cancer?
There are a lot of things you can do. It's as simple as going to a blood bank and donating blood--there's a shortage of blood in this country. Also, there are a lot of people who aren't as lucky as I was to have a stem cell donor like my sister. They need transplants and can't find matches. It's a huge thing if you are up for it--to go and get tested. It's very simple. A lot of places will send a sample kit to your house and you just swab the inside of your cheek, send your sample and they register you in the bone marrow registry. In case someone needs a transplant, they are able to find you in the bone marrow bank. There are also tons of support services in everyone's community that you can reach out and find ways to be involved.

Was the process of making the documentary Dear Jack helpful to you emotionally?
[Laughs]. I think in the long run, yes. After a number of years passing, and finally getting the nerve up to watch it--which was really a huge part in the creation of the documentary. A lot of it was just the emotion on video from the process. It was definitely therapeutic in knowing that I put down some of these harder things to talk about on film. I used it as sort of a form of video journal and definitely through the process of filming the home movies, the video camera  was a huge part of the therapy. Even the process of assembly afterward was pretty difficult because I was the one editing it with friends that were close to me. I think the first time I saw it was maybe as soon as two years after I had the diagnosis. It took a couple of years after that to actually edit. I knew exactly how we needed to put it because I lived it, but I had a hard time voicing how it needed to play. It was hard to edit every six months of another hard time in my life. The last time I watched it was around the time it was released, and I recall being really moved by how important my family and close friends were to me getting well. It was a pretty significant reminder of how lucky I was to be alive.

How did you end up writing songs with Tommy Lee?
There's a good question! At the time we both shared a manager and we were both in the same management camp. Tommy had done the thing that you do when you go into your manager or record labels office and go collect swag. I'm sure you know because you're a journalist...you just kind of clear the shelves of all the music you have--Tommy came across the North record and fell in love with "Me and the Moon." I got a call from him one day while I was the studio recording. At first I was like, "Come on, are you kidding?" and then he was like, "Hey Andrew! It's Tommy." I laughed and said, "Hey what's up Tommy...how can I help you?" He went off about how much he loved some of the songs on the album. He was writing a song about a friend that had suffered a tragedy, and my song reminded him of something that he could use. He asked if I could come over and help him work on it. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

Were you a Mötley Crüe fan growing up?
I was a kid growing up right in the beginning of the MTV generation, and Mötley Crüe was a huge part of that. I was really excited, and we became fast friends. I worked on a bunch of music for his record and he played the drums on a good amount of my Transit record. You know, we've been pretty good buddies ever since.

Why do you think your record label didn't take off?
To be honest, a million reasons. Having our funding dry up makes it kind of hard to put out records. I was like a talent scout looking for bands to sign while I wasn't on tour regularly, and incidentally after we signed our first band, one guy that worked there was fired and the other one quit. It left me holding the bag to figure out how to put out records. We were excited to do it, but unfortunately, making money in the record business is a difficult thing to do. It was a bad time, but I realized that I would rather be on the artist side of this business than the label side.

Something Corporate are back together and performing in support of your greatest hits album entitled Played in Space: The Best of Something Corporate. Why did you feel it was the right time to reactivate the group?
The fact that we stopped when we did was really an effort in preserving our friendship, you know? We had gotten to that pivotal point, and we couldn't continue as a business device and a vehicle for our own personal aspirations. We were no longer really affected by the creative component. By taking the time for that responsible decision, we kept our friendship alive. We continued to talk and remain close throughout the years we weren't playing together. Universal came to us and said they wanted to put together a greatest hits or best of--I don't know if we really had any great hits...you know what I mean? [Laughs]. We did have a lot of fans who celebrated these songs and Universal wanted to do a catalogue piece. We all miraculously were available to work. We hopped on the road this summer. I have to be honest: we had an amazing time. It was very real--what I like to consider a little victory lap to celebrate what we had accomplished. It was nice to put everything in a positive light rather than see the negative separation or disillusion of a band. People see it as a negative thing with a lot of heartache, so it was nice to see this as something to be proud of.
Did you ever believe you would have been around long enough to release a Greatest Hits?
There was certainly a moment that I didn't think there would be. I try not to really think about the future. It's never been a huge factor in the way that I make decisions. I try as hard as I can to live in the moment. I always perceived the Greatest Hits as putting out that kind of record when you had the top ten songs on the radio. I think the legend of Something Corporate is a little bigger than the reality, but we did sell a lot of records. I'm excited that there was something to put out. We had a great run together. It was a powerful and awesome time in our lives--it's also exciting to know there was a demand to celebrate that. 

You said in one interview that "Watch the Sky" was one of your favorite songs you've written. Why was this song never released on any records?
It was kind of a tricky moment in creating the North album. We finished the record effectively, and it was about to come out. There was this moment of confusion whether or not it made sense to restructure the release of the album, and I was eager to do so... but anytime your in a band, it's a democracy. We were putting out records fast in Something Corporate so it got lost in the shuffle. We just figured we would throw it on the international release on the B-side, but it's one of these things where we were going at the speed of light and it ended up flying under the radar. You learn quickly, you want to put your best songs on the biggest releases. It's definitely a regret of mine. That song, as well as "Konstantine" were never released on a major record, and those happen to be some of our fans favorite songs.

Your bassist Jon Sullivan has moved on to pursue his band Kid is Qual. Are you planning on touring with his band, since they've opened for Jack's Mannequin before? How is your new bassist Mikey Wagner fitting in?
There are no real plans with Jon. That's his call on a big thing. The reality is that they are a very different kind of music. When you tour, you want to put a band on that suits your audience and what they listen to. With that said, we are always going to support Jon and all his endeavors. Our new bass player Mike is really fantastic. He's also a great singer, and he will be performing on our upcoming shows. We are psyched to have him on board. It's definitely a ray of new light to the project. Anytime you bring on someone new,  it's a scary moment, but it helps reinvigorate a project. We've been really enjoying watching him because he hasn't toured a lot. It's cool to watch him walk off-stage after playing in front of a couple thousand of people--it gets us pretty inspired. It brings us all back to when we were on stage and the crowd jumped around to our songs for the first time. It's so powerful. I'm just really enjoying having him on stage with us.

Are you planning on doing any more benefits besides the one in Los Angeles?
Our goal is to do many annual benefits in L.A. I'm hoping that this will be something that I can do every year for the rest of my life. We'll see how it progresses from there--if there are more installations in other parts of the country, we will see as the years go on. This will be something we will do annually from this year and on.

There are rumors of Something Corporate recording a new studio album. Would you like to break any news to your hometown newspaper?
[Laughs]. Unfortunately, it's just a rumor. I'm in the midst of a new Jack's Mannequin record now. I just don't see it happening with our schedule conflicts and the group being at different points in our lives. At least not anytime soon. I hate to crush anyone's dreams of a new Something Corporate record, but I don't see it happening. That's a hard one to outlive. We should put the rumor to rest, for sure.

It's put to rest. Lastly, when will you be releasing the new Jack's Mannequin album?
In a perfect world, I'd like to see it come out sometime in the spring or summer of 2011. You know? I'll hang up this call and get right into the studio. We are all working super hard and getting into something deep, and I'm excited about it. It's just a matter of getting to the end of the year. I hope we stay inspired and get all these tunes done. 
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