Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
“I wrote a pop record and then she showed up." Andrew McMahon laughs, cradling his 6-month-old daughter, Cecilia, as his wife Kelly lounges nearby with their dog, Doris. The young family is backstage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park relaxing before McMahon performs a sold out headlining show. McMahon is referring to his new release, the self-titled LP, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
McMahon has had a winding road to this artfully balanced life. This is a man who was diagnosed with cancer at 22 years old, on the cusp of releasing his debut album (as Jack's Mannequin). Who wed Kelly the following year and then took on an arduous schedule of touring and album releases. Who was nominated for an Emmy Award for his song “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” on NBC’s Smash. Who sold nearly 2 million albums in a little more than a decade. Who, for much of that time, was struggling underneath the weight of it all.
Despite these outward signs of success - beating cancer, getting married and an Emmy nom - McMahon says the road to recovery was “a rollercoaster ride” that took the better part of a decade. “My body healed faster than my mind and my heart. It took me years to realize that and do the work. I had to figure out how to acclimate to the world post-illness. I decided to take time away from the business of making music so I could pay attention to everything else. I left my label, my management and the name I had been making music under for the better part of my 20s. I moved out of Los Angeles. It was a metaphorical hard reset.”
The time allowed McMahon to process what had happened and to renew his passion for songwriting and record making, to refill the well of his creativity. McMahon also changed his mode of operation, taking the critical step of physically distancing his work and home lives by retreating to a cabin - “a shack, really. It had no running water,” - in Topanga Canyon (CA) to hatch the album. He would spend the weekdays in the canyon immersed in music and on the weekends travel the hour and a half back south to be with his then-newly-pregnant wife. “It was important to me to be completely present when I was home. Separating out the work actually created more space to live a life worth writing about.”
In Topanga, Andrew was able to focus intensely on song craft. He poured his feelings into his work: the anticipation and anxiety about becoming a father, excitement for meeting his new daughter, ambivalence about entering his 30s. Soon after the Canyon sessions, McMahon began working with producer Mike Viola, who McMahon calls “the album’s spirit guide.” In Viola’s Echo Park garage studio, the two of them meditated on a range of classic rock and modern artists.
At the same time, McMahon began to consider the might-have-beens of his life. “I found myself asking, ‘What would have come next if I hadn’t encountered that bizarre chapter of my disrupted 20s?’ As I was writing the new songs, I was able to revisit relationships that had evolved or been dismantled in the vacuum of that disruption.” He adds, “It’s not that I wanted to erase my past. I wanted to explore it, to go back to the point where I had lost myself, where my personal narrative was overtaken, and move forward from … Read More