By: Joe Walsh
It is 10 a.m. on April 26, 2009. The sun kissed 80 degree Sunday only hampered by the mild clouds of college hangovers. Andrew McMahon, lead singer and pianist of Jack’s Mannequin, moves gracefully along the Marist College riverfront where he is taking the stage in six hours. His easiness is a great contrast to the place he was in just over a year ago.
McMahon is not the type to come across as a nervous wreck, however. He embodies the laid-back Californian attitude that is always noted any profile done on a musician, actor, etc. That does not mean that he is immune to stress though.
The Glass Passenger, Jack’s Mannequin’s latest album, was released in September of 2008. On April 14, 2008, the band played for a sold out audience in Poughkeepsie at The Chance. At the time McMahon and his band were debuting potential songs for the new album.
“I’ve come to the point with this record where there’s a chance that I may sit back and be
like, ‘ok I love this record, but it’s not the perfect record in my mind,’” McMahon said. “I think that the only reason might be is that the period of time it represents is so vast…that I may never be able to totally pin this down.”
That insecurity was lost on the crowd at the Marist riverfront who had months to let the album grow on them since its release. Of course musicians don’t necessarily want to make albums that need to grow on people; McMahon included.
“I’m so addicted to immediacy. Like when I play the record for people…I wanna see people lock with the song on the first go around. Even though I know rationally speaking, when I listen to a record a lot of times, a couple songs pop out on the first listen. Then next time a couple other songs pop up. On this record…I think I put too much weight in the tracks having to hit immediately.”
His tour manager Sean Johnson, better known as Casper, knows how important crafting new songs are to McMahon. His demeanor is slightly more tense; having to make sure the show at The Chance goes as smoothly as possible. When he sits at the bar, it is like he really could use the rest from running around.
“Andrew loves talking to his fans,” Johnson said. “You see some guys just want to get on stage and get out. “He wants to let the people whose lives he affects with music, influence him as well.”
Someone like McMahon, who has the main creative control of Jack’s Mannequin, is the type to be hard on himself regardless. Even during his show at The Chance, months before The Glass Passenger’s release, the crowd was feeling the vibe of the new tracks. Fans who arrived early enough to hear him do sound check were even buzzing about “Cell Phone” through the muted walls.
“It’s kind of a different arrangement that I have with the band,” McMahon said. “I did Something Corporate and that was my ‘band.’ And I think I learned through that process that for me to get what I wanted out of Jack’s Mannequin was to have veto power.”
Veto power for McMahon seems to be working for everybody. Fans have reacted very well to the new album.
“I had it preordered for months,” Marist College junior Ryan Mital said. “Maybe I’m being corny but I just have a real connection to the stuff Andrew McMahon puts out.”
McMahon’s approach to music is what allows for that kind of connection.
“With a record I could be singing about a completely different subject matter and really cutting into my own core, and the listener can be taking it in a completely different context that applies to their own lives. In that sense it becomes so deeply personal because it not only becomes personal for you, but for everybody else. That’s always my goal: people can take my experiences from what I’m writing down and apply it to their experiences and live that song through in their own life.”
That perfectionist drive he puts forth to make his music so relatable goes beyond making something just for people to listen to.
In the fall of 2008, mtvU recognized McMahon, but not for music. His charity, the Dear Jack Foundation, received the “Good Woodie” for social impact at the Woodie Awards. The main beneficiaries of his charity are research centers for pediatric cancer and leukemia.
McMahon himself is a leukemia survivor. He never tries to call attention to it during interviews. He doesn’t want anyone’s pity; he’s just happy to be helping. To date roughly half a million dollars have been raised. “For me as a human being, that is something to be hugely proud of.”
Jack’s Mannequin takes the stage at Marist College just after 4 p.m., the sun unrelenting. The singer that walks on stage is one who is at an accomplished point in his life. A successful album that laid to rest any insecurity he had, and a foundation that is making use of his celebrity status for good. Always the optimist, he put it best back in that darkly lit bar on that cold April day a year before, without knowing the continued success he would experience:
“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of those kinds of moments that have been milestones that have helped me to punctuate my life musically and artistically.”