When Alternative Press connects with Andrew McMahon on a Friday afternoon in Anaheim, California, an unusual tropical storm is raging with high-speed winds and torrential downpours. Fans are already lined up outside of the venue roughly eight hours before McMahon is set to perform, braving the weather to ensure that they can be center stage to see their favorite artist play a career-spanning set in his hometown of Orange County. Tonight is a well-deserved victory lap for McMahon. Not only is he finally home after an extensive amphitheater tour this summer with Dashboard Confessional, but it’s also his 40th birthday celebration. Tonight, McMahon is planning something extra special to ring in the next decade of his life.
McMahon is no stranger to reinvention and evolution, seamlessly launching three successful musical projects (Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness) over the course of 22 years, due in large part to his sincere, autobiographical lyrics and impeccable sense of melody. His delicate piano-driven and anthemic sound coupled with his genuine, humble nature have made him one of the most gravitating presences the scene has ever witnessed. Turning 40 years old is a momentous occasion for anyone, especially for McMahon, who has gone through so many chapters in life both good and bad.
In 2005, when McMahon was only 22 years old, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia just three months before the release of Jack’s Mannequin’s debut album, Everything in Transit. However, he persevered, fought and subsequently won the battle with cancer. With a clean bill of health, he’s proceeded to release a prolific output of influential and uplifting music that’s not only inspiring to so many but is also rooted in a clear mission to provide hope and relief.
Through adversity and suffering, McMahon is a testament to the power of love, friendship, music and optimism. When face to face with McMahon backstage before his soundcheck, he’s all smiles, basking in the excitement of the day, and the presence of his best friends and tourmates — all while taking the time to crack joke after joke. Little does the public know, but McMahon will reunite with his first band Something Corporate tonight after a 12-year hiatus. McMahon is beaming with excitement in anticipation to hit the stage with his best friends, whom he formed the band with back in high school in Orange County during the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
Something Corporate released two albums during their short tenure as a band but immediately became one of the most respected groups in the scene with their incredible hooks and emotionally transparent music. Since the band’s first hiatus in 2005, fans clamored for some form of a reunion, and in 2010, they got their wish with select dates at the late Bamboozle Festival along with a short tour, which was coincidentally highlighted 12 years to the date for an Alternative Press cover story in 2010. After their reunion shows concluded, the band quietly went back on hiatus, and ever since, the demand for their return has only grown.
[Photo by Connor Lenihan]
At 9:15 p.m., McMahon takes the stage, and instantly the crowd erupts with a palpable feeling of electricity and excitement in the air as he blasts through an expansive selection of his best songs across his three musical projects. McMahon is pulling triple duty: He’s one part performer, one part host and one part acrobat as he constantly jumps off his signature grand piano before crowd-surfing a life-size rubber ducky through the entirety of the venue. Halfway through the show, McMahon is presented with a birthday cake from his parents, wife and bandmates. At this moment, it felt like everyone in the room was a part of a beautiful and intimate celebration of someone who has given so much of himself for so many years.
Forty-five minutes into the set, McMahon reveals the highly anticipated return of Something Corporate. One by one, every original band member grabbed their respective instruments, including guitarist William Tell, who was noticeably absent from their previous reunion in 2010. As soon as the band kick off the first song, their collective smiles nearly illuminate the room, and their musical performance immediately proves one thing: They haven’t missed a single beat. Something Corporate played just about every song you’d ever want to hear from their classic album Leaving Through The Window, which has stood the test of time in more ways than one. When the reunion portion of the set wraps up, it’s not without a series of hugs between bandmates and shared sentiments about their longstanding relationships with one another.
Following the reunion set, McMahon finished out the show with several notable songs from his recent project Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, including latest single “Stars,” which resulted in his entire backdrop falling during the song’s last chorus to reveal a beautiful constellation of twinkling stars and glowing visuals. By the end of the set, it almost seemed like he would need to be dragged off the stage as he continued to play song after song to the delight of his loving and supportive fanbase. The night was truly magical — 40 has never looked so good, and the future couldn’t be more bright.
Alternative Press sat down with McMahon hours before his 40th birthday celebration for an exclusive interview to discuss his career, legacy and the reunion of Something Corporate.
Over the course of the last 22 years as a touring and recording musician, what are you the proudest of, and do you find yourself reflecting on your legacy more?
I’m proud that I’m still doing it and doing it in a way that is more harmonious and with less friction and tension. I’m proud that I have done the work to be a better collaborator, less reactive and run a band that feels like we’re all on an equal plane.
Evolution and reinvention have always been a constant for you. What is it about your music and lyrics that still connects with people on such a profound level that your fans are willing to follow you on any of your creative endeavors?
I think it’s because I use music first to figure out what my truth is and what I’m trying to work out in life. I think a lot of those things are very universal subjects, whether that’s moving, love, finding family, going through trauma or heartbreak — they’re at the core of all human experiences. It starts as art therapy and then becomes a craft. I started doing this when I was a teenager. We had those teenage moments of angst and then these coming-of-age moments with Jack’s Mannequin or the cancer stuff — we’ve been walking through life together. As much as I hear people say, “You’ve been the soundtrack to my life,” weirdly I feel like they have been to mine as well.
[Photo by Connor Lenihan]
Speaking of newer endeavors, you just released the ‘80s-inspired track “Stars.” Is this a hint at what we can expect from the new Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness album?
I knew my birthday was coming. I was turning 40, and so I wanted the songs to reflect my experiences, mark time, what I’ve learned and what I want to do next. “Stars” is an indicator of where I’m going next. It’s a super adventurous record, and since I came in with so many songs already written, it made it possible to make the production process not solely about writing but make them their own universe within the album.
You recently completed a massive tour alongside Dashboard Confessional, and while it has to feel nostalgic, it also feels like a perfect celebration of your careers and a reminder that the journey is just getting started. Would you agree?
To the extent that the tour was nostalgic, we actually meant for it to be. When Chris [Carrabba] and I connected about doing this, we said, “Let’s give fans a space to relive these memories and give each other the space to dive back into them.” He was the perfect guy to do it with, and we were also the guys playing quiet love songs against bands that had mosh pits [back in the day]. [Laughs.] It ended up being magic every night, and we did this because we wanted to give people a place after this nightmare of a couple of years.
Not to mention you both haven’t aged a day.
We go to the same guy, you know what I mean? [Laughs.]
Today is not only your birthday celebration but also marks the live return of Something Corporate. Why did now feel like the right time to revisit these songs?
Truthfully, it’s rare that all of us can even get together, and the guys from Something Corporate are all individually successful in their own rights and other businesses. It felt like, “Here’s a chance where we don’t have to make it a show about that, but also have them play some songs with me and a chance for us to freak out together.” No one knows this is happening, so I like the low-pressure version of this. I don’t get to see these guys together all in one place, and a birthday party is always a good excuse to get your friends together, so here we are.
[Photo by Connor Lenihan]
What do you think will go through your head when you perform these songs onstage for the first time in so long with your best friends?
I’m a big fan of going into things with no expectations, but I would not be surprised if there is a thread of memory that springs up in me for sure though. I think the first thought is going to be, “This is happening, and let’s just lean in and make it good for everyone.”
Back in 2010, it felt like Something Corporate were on the verge of a full-scale reunion, but after a few festival appearances and select tour dates, it was radio silence by 2011. What was the dynamic like at the time, and were there plans to keep things going?
I don’t know who it seemed like that to. [Laughs.] Here’s the thing: All of these things are chapters in my life. We got back together in 2010 because Something Corporate ended so abruptly. We didn’t plan to stop playing together in  — we were going to make another Something Corporate record, but life just worked out differently than anyone could have planned. I got sick, and when I got better, I made this Jack’s Mannequin record that was everything to me, and it just didn’t feel like there was any going back. Not so much personally, we all love each other and are still great friends — we just moved in different directions. I love these dudes, and if there is another opportunity to get on a stage and play songs with them, I certainly welcome it. However, the chances of it leading to full-on tours and records when we all have families and lives seems very low. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that there might be another day or time at a minimum when we can get onstage somewhere. I’ll put that into the ether and hope it comes back.
[Photo by Connor Lenihan]
What songs from the Something Corporate catalog mean the most to you?
For me, up there for my favorites is “The Astronaut” because it was written in the studio, and everyone showed up and kept adding to it. It was built in the speakers, and it felt so magical. “I Woke Up In A Car” will probably always be at the top of the list for me because it was the intersection of our early lives. The song was a roadmap of what it was like to be on the road in the van and watch this dream come to the surface. Coming home, writing the song and putting it together as a band — and then watching it become one of the tunes that woke the world up to what it was that we did, it’s just a beautiful artifact of what it means to be in Something Corporate.