Andrew McMahon is just looking for some peace and quiet. Hunched over his phone in a dirty alley somewhere in Austin, Texas, the former Something Corporate frontman and current voice behind Jack’s Mannequin laughs at his predicament, audibly opting out of his original plan, which had him conducting our interview from a nearby tree.
It’s just more than a week into the band’s first headlining tour in two years, and McMahon is about as exuberant over the phone as I recall him being in song. His statements often twist and turn through tangents before returning to their original point, and his thoughtfulness is nearly palpable. His band’s newest album, The Glass Passenger, (their first in more than three years) is not exactly a careless endeavor. To the casual listener, Passenger is no huge step away from McMahon’s previous recorded efforts. But for those familiar with McMahon’s backstory, the difference is clear-this is a story of survival.
Back in August of 2005, nipping on the heels of Jack’s Mannequin’s first release, Everything in Transit, the then-23-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia. Tour dates were cancelled, album promotion was all but halted, and the singer began a grueling bout of treatment that included chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant, which he received from his sister Katie. For McMahon, The Glass Passenger has become a means of healing, discussion, empowerment, finding closure, and giving thanks, and its optimistic message is one that resonates throughout its 14 tracks.
“It’s interesting,” McMahon said of putting it all on the table. “I opened myself up for [the album], there’s no question about that. : Even though there are a lot of specifics in this record, I think that compared to Everything in Transit, I took a little bit of a broader approach to the lyrics on this album. Knowing that so many people would contextualize it against my experience, I still wanted to make it available to them to feel what they felt about it and not just see a picture of me at some place in my life. : In some ways, I guess the fact that I have a story and people are interested in hearing what that is, at least it makes me lucky enough that people are buying my record rather than stealing it and following the band and getting out there and seeing the shows. I can’t complain.”
The fans can’t complain either. Following a string of festival and Warped Tour dates, McMahon and his bandmates opted out of touring the big theaters, instead choosing to hit a series of intimate venues in support of Passenger. This Thursday, the band will stop by UCSB’s Hub following two back-to-back sold out shows at Hollywood’s historic Troubadour.
“On this tour, we wanted to primarily play songs off of The Glass Passenger because it had been so many years since we had put out a record,” McMahon explained. “But I also felt like that sets up a little bit of a commitment to make sure we were doing that right. : We wanted to play these small rooms and keep it intimate and keep it to where the kids actually get a chance to connect to these songs, whether they’ve heard them or not. Going into these venues, you can feel it; it’s palpable. I’m eye-to-eye with every kid in the room. And I’m getting the chance to sell them the new music live, which is really what our goal was with this tour. So we’re excited.”
In addition to his tour plans, McMahon is also continuing to pump a great deal of his enthusiasm into charity work. In 2006, the singer founded the Dear Jack Foundation, a nonprofit that has raised close to $100,000 for cancer research. Still, he can’t help but laugh off those who want to put him on a pedestal.
“There is this sort of movement toward idealizing me as a person because of the fact that I survived and what I went through and what I do as a result,” he said. “But the truth is, I’m just as screwy of a [person] as anybody else. : In a lot of ways it’s given my life a purpose beyond music, which, frankly, was my only purpose for a long time. It’s not a bad one, and I like what it’s done for me. [It] has led me to connect with so many human beings in a way that I never anticipated or expected that I would be able to. I feel like a lot of the reason that I’m here, and what I’ve chosen to do for a living, and now what’s happened to me having gotten leukemia, it sort of connected me to that many more people. And that’s, in my life, what I’ve always looked to do-to reach out and touch as many people as I can.”
Associated Students Program Board presents Jack’s Mannequin at UCSB’s Hub on Thursday, October 30, at 8:30 p.m. Call 893-3536 or visit aspb.as.ucsb.edu for ticket info.