Like many musicians, Andrew McMahon writes the most when he's going through a tough situation. In the past few years, the 26-year-old has fought leukemia, broken up with his old band, Something Corporate, and started Jack's Mannequin.
Even though McMahon has been through a lot lately, writing still offers what it did when he started making music at age 9 - a way to express his creativity while releasing emotions. Along the way, however, he's had to make changes to his creative process.
"I've gone through all of this, and I can't make some record about some stupid bullshit," says McMahon in a phone interview. "I've got to actually write something of value, and hopefully it's something that can be valuable to other people in a tough situation."
The title of Jack's Mannequin's new album, The Glass Passenger, comes from a song that McMahon wrote about a week before he found out he had cancer. The song didn't make it onto the album, but the symbolism and ideas behind it are reflected throughout. The "glass passenger" is a reference to McMahon himself. He was driving across the country on tour with a van of smelly dudes without any knowledge there was an "evil thing" in his body. He was living his life without even knowing how fragile his body was. McMahon said the album focuses on his discovery that we don't always know what's going to happen, but sometimes we just have to accept what life throws at us. "We travel through our day-to-day lives not realizing how impermanent situations or relationships - things that we can take for granted - can be," he says.
Now that he's fully healthy again, McMahon is trying not to take anything for granted. He's putting his energy back into Jack's Mannequin, which also includes guitarist Bob Anderson, drummer Jay McMillan and bassist Jonathan Sullivan. The piano-centric rock band booked smaller venues because the bigger ones were already busy. But now the guys are excited about playing for intimate crowds.
"When you get to see a band you like, and you get to see them up close and personal and everyone is sweating all over each other - you can't beat that kind of experience," says McMahon. "I think it's gonna make for something very special and intimate."
And even though a good relationship with fans is important to the members of Jack's Mannequin, it's not the only connection it tries to maintain. The four work collaboratively in practices and the studio to establish a mutual respect for one another.
McMahon says each member adds musical talent to the band and is able to contribute his ideas without fighting for "dominance and all those sort of things that end up happening when you put a bunch of guys in a room." That relationship carries over to the road, when the guys get to do what they truly love. Although the recording process has grown on McMahon, he says his first love has always been performing.
He's a force to be reckoned with on the piano, thrashing about spastically while he sings. It's a wonder that his piano stays intact after all those nights of aggressive banging. Yet the rest of the band holds the songs together when McMahon goes wild. It's a team effort, which seems appropriate.
"We're just a bunch of dudes out there trying to make music for a living and trying not to get day jobs," he says.