“I think, for me, more than anything, [the name] Jack’s [Mannequin] had run its course,” reflects Andrew McMahon, the engine that had driven Jack’s Mannequin from solo experiment to full-fledged movement. In 2012, however, McMahon retired the moniker of his more intimate solo project that manifested during a hiatus from cult-favorite band Something Corporate. The songwriter and pianist had had successful careers with both acts, but they seemed to exist in separate spheres of a Venn Diagram where his voice and lyrics of love and personal growth acted as the only intersection. “It seemed like the most logical thing, which was to get by on my songs and my own name and make it possible to play all these songs I’ve written at various times in my life and let them live in one space as Andrew McMahon.”
For some fans, the line of separation had been at times a nearly 10-minute epic tale of “torturous” young love, as he puts it, that broke a million different rules and conventions of a pop hit. Written by the singer at 17, Something Corporate’s trademark song, “Konstantine,” has held weight for the loyal and equally young fans who often pay tribute “to Jimmy Eat World and those nights in my car.” “When you feel something for the first time, a lot of times you capture it in a very perfect and raw way,” reflects McMahon on the continuously intense love that Something Corporate fans associate with “Konstantine.” Because of that love, he felt the need to keep the song very noticeably left out of Jack’s Mannequin set lists. Forging a way to wholly transition to a new project without disrespecting his history, McMahon’s ability to captivate and connect with fans via words of confessional intimacy created a new history to work from.
With a transition to using his own name comes a new use of “Konstantine” among the songbooks of his two projects. “In a lot of senses, I think this transition is about owning my history and being able to be proud and stand behind the songs that were in both Jack’s and Something Corporate, which did open the door to doing “Konstantine” as a part of the set list,” he says. “It certainly seems appropriate to kind of break the chains off and let people hear it. They’ve been waiting for a while.”
As he tries out the mingling of his histories in a fresh light, McMahon has begun exploring new sounds, songwriting styles, and approaches to music that stretch farther away from the garage-emo of Something Corporate and the piano-driven power pop of Jack’s. The forthcoming EP The Pop Underground—named for the communities of music-driven fandoms that have helped him sell a million albums with little radioplay or direct commercial influence–draws from more playful influences, like Niki and the Dove, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, and Phoenix. The first single, “Synesthesia,” shows a diversion from the earnestness of past tracks like “Dark Blue” or “The Mixed Tape” of his Jack’s Mannequin days. It’s fun and colorful and a nice chaser following up his usually raw truths.
As he prepared The Pop Underground, the songwriter also embarked into the world of musical theater via television–he joined the slew of new artists tapped to pen songs for NBC’s Smash. “This is the first I’ve ever been able to really dig in and commit songs to a television program that [are] specifically written for another piece of art or whatever you call it,” he says of the latest step in his career. While unfamiliar territory, though he had grown up on musical theater as a kid, his songs “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” and “Reach for Me” proved to be successful attempts for McMahon. With no immediate plans to dive deeper into the world of television, McMahon says the third song he created for the series, “I’m Not Sorry,” will debut within the next few weeks, and the other two will most likely be rehashed for the remainder of this season.
McMahon has become an artist fully in touch with his past and the possibilities of his future. As he puts it, he’s taken ownership of his identity and image. In the more literal sense, his liberation came with control of his social media platforms. “I finally took ownership of me through my Instagram, first and foremost, then eventually through Twitter,” he says. “While I’ve been shy to do it in the past, I really found in this year or so that I’ve taken those things under my own charge that my connection back to the fanbase has been not only stronger, but a little bit easier.” Taking the personal connection fans felt in the past to different heights, McMahon may have ownership and his foot firmly placed upon the accelerator, but, in the end, it’s the loyal, fervent fans that each divergent road leads back to and how they were paved in the first place.
Andrew McMahon performs tonight at the Highline Ballroom and Friday at Warsaw. The Pop Underground is available for pre-order and will be released on April 30th.