Piano rocker Andrew McMahon has lived punk rock music since he signed a record deal as the frontman for Something Corporate and began a cross-country tour before he graduated high school. After forming a second band, Jack’s Mannequin, which went on to achieve more commercial success than his previous effort, McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia. His new album, People and Things, was just released Oct. 4 and is the 11th most downloaded album on iTunes. McMahon spoke with QSaltLake about his new record, his upcoming tour stop in Utah and gave his own ‘It Gets Better’ moment.
Jack’s Mannequin will be at In The Venue, 219 S. 600 West in Salt Lake City, on Oct. 25 with The Academy Is.. and Lady Danville, tickets are available through SmithsTix.com for $26.
Congratulations on the new album, People and Things. It’s fantastic! It sounds like the combination of Glass Passenger and Everything in Transit. What was the process like in writing and recording it?
I think there was sort of an effort to merge the two previous albums. It came from a balance, taking into account all my recent history. The process itself in hatching and writing it was very similar to Transit. And the recording process was a lot like Passenger, so I think that’s maybe where you can hear the blending of the two.
I felt like you took some risks and played with some sound experimentation with this album, for example, the acoustic “Restless Dreams” and less piano playing throughout the record. Were you playing with new sounds and how do you feel about the finished product?
It wasn’t that there was some intention to leave the piano off. I think the piano was taken off as I took the roles of producer and arranger. We looked at each of these songs once they were written and we wanted to prop them up in the best way possible. The piano fell where it fell. With Transit I would record the piano and vocals first and build the band around the vocal track. People and Things definitely has some give and take between the instruments.
I feel like the album is best listened to as a whole. When I hear the transition from “My Racing Thoughts” to “Release Me,” I can’t help but feel that was intentional. Did you have any goals of specific design for the album?
I feel like there was a significant intention behind how things were arranged. While I’m not doing singles, my albums need to be very carefully crafted. We need to make it an experience. We don’t just put songs on the record and call it a day, and I think you see that a lot of times with some musicians today. I take the album-making very seriously and we really do try to create that experience and give fans a reason to listen and buy the album.
With songs like “Television,” I almost feel like I’m listening to ’80s power rock with a Jack’s Mannequin twist. Who would you say were your biggest influences for the album? Who would I find on your iPod right now?
My older influences were the big singers, you know, guys like Billy Joel, Neil Young and Elton John. I also think you can hear some gravitating back toward those sounds of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and U2, so that’s maybe why you hear that power rock sound. Right now I’m listening to bands like Phoenix, MGMT, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire; the independent rock stuff is some of the most positive that I see from the modern generation.
How is the new tour coming?
It’s been great. In the first three shows we really started to integrate the new album into a set of other songs. We still feel cohesive and we’re still connecting to material that’s a little older.
What can fans expect to see at your show? Will you be playing mainly from People and Things?
We’re doing probably eight of 11 songs off the new record and building an 18 or 19 song set. You’ll see a good helping of People and Things, along with everything else.
For those that haven’t had the privilege of seeing you live, what can fans expect to see at a Jack’s Mannequin show?
I think you’ll see a pretty honest rock ‘n’ roll concert. Jack’s hasn’t ever been about gags, gimmicks or party tricks. We’ve got a new record and new songs, and we’re going to show that off. We just play music and have a good time and that’s always been what I’ve been trying to do.
Do you remember anything about your Salt Lake City shows?
They’re rowdy. Salt lake crowds have always been. You might anticipate a more mellow crowd in Salt Lake, but that’s just never the case. There are always a few surprises like the number of people that come out and the intense, high energy. Talking to other bands, they always say things like, ‘How about that Salt Lake crowd?’ I remember playing at In the Venue, there’s a walkway that runs out across the second floor and people would be jumping down from it into the crowd. Salt Lake is always pretty amazing, always high energy.
Do you have any advice for young gay people living in a conservative environment, your own ‘It Gets Better Moment’?
Not to say that this is a similar struggle, but when I was younger, I was overweight. I know that’s not even a fraction of cruelty that young gay kids can face, but it was certainly something that marked me as a young person. The pressure I felt often made me not want to step out and be myself. I know there are whole campaigns about this, but I would say the reality is that as you get older and as you start associating with others and those you relate to, life does get better. I would just recommend getting into a place where you can step out and associate with people who are reasonable and not so marked in their thinking by bias.