Interview: Andrew McMahon
Returning to New York Where It All Began

With Song River

Having been diagnosed with cancer back in 2005, Andrew McMahon found himself in a place after he went into remission that pushed him to become, “more alive,” as if to prove to himself something beyond. Maybe it was his own way of dealing with such an overwhelming emotive disease, who knows, but after all these years McMahon decided it was time to return to New York where all this began.

To celebrate, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness' new album, “Zombies on Broadway” they will embark on a national headlining tour of North America, along with Atlas Genius and Night Riots.

The lead single receiving airplay, “Fire Escape” shares the experiences of being in a city that never sleeps having already reached #17 on the Alternative radio. The story of the album came about as a rewrite when McMahon decided it was time to go back and face a ghost.

Song River: What is it about New York that seems to either eat you up and spew you out or it becomes a story of the "Princess and the Pea?" 

Andrew McMahon: New York is the city where my life, which seemed to be moving in one direction very fast, was upended. I’ve always associated it closely with my cancer diagnosis and early treatment. In the years after turning in a clean bill of health, I often found myself in the city raging late into the morning trying to prove I was more alive than before. Many years have passed since that strange fork in the road presented itself and I’ve made a good deal of peace with the city and what happened there and after. Nevertheless, my visits tend to wake up some old ghosts.

Song River: Commutes give us great opportunities to think and observe. Especially commutes where you are riding and not driving yourself. Describe a commuting morning and afternoon Andrew from Boston to NY.

Andrew McMahon: I’ve only done the Boston to NY Commute a few times, but in the course of the creation of Zombies I commuted from Brooklyn to Manhattan daily. I’ve always found commuting to be a time to meditate and prepare for a day. I’m a coffee guy, so the morning always started at the cafe across the street from my apartment. I would take the L train from Bedford to Union Square and NQR to 49th or 42nd if I wanted to walk with the tourists through midtown. I listen to music on the train if it’s crowded and there's no place to sit but if there is a seat I like to write. 

Song River: Somewhere in the 'middle' it would seem happens to all of us if we live long enough. 

Andrew McMahon: I suppose it could also mean the center.

Song River: What were some of the demons you felt needed to be addressed?

Andrew McMahon: My predisposition towards vice when I’m uncomfortable with my situation.

Song River: The imagery/video and melody speak an upbeat tune, yet the words of "Fire Escape" what was on your mind?

Andrew McMahon: The song is a cataloging of a few wild nights out with my friends. Nights where I ended up in strange places with a cast of characters I’ve known for years but rarely see due to living in other parts of the world.

Song River: Do you recall exactly where you were and what you were observing when the vision of "Zombies on Broadway" all the sudden became clear?

Andrew McMahon: That's a loaded question, those moments of clarity happen regularly after a project is finished and the meaning will evolve and change. I think the first moment like that was playing the album from start to finish for a close friend of mine. It was the first time I’d listened to anyone and the story came together for me in that moment.

Song River: Since it was difficult to settle things with an old ghost, you decided this album would be your rewriting it and it became a different ending. First, how did you go about giving yourself permission to write a different ending? Second, do you think the rewrite might just be better than what it would have been?

Andrew McMahon: I think life has to lead when it comes to creating. New York was no longer a place where I felt able to create and live so I came home. It wasn’t about permission it was about personal and creative health. I lived a new ending so there was no option but to rewrite it.

Song River: Alt-rock and diversity fuels itself throughout your songwriting. Does it feel comfortable to you maybe not having an exact genre in which the industry can label you?

Andrew McMahon: That’s a tough one. I love that it can be hard to place my music. The truth is I listen to so much and I’m influenced by so much and that filters down into what I create. It can make it difficult for the industry to assign me which can have its drawbacks. Ultimately, though, it’s what makes my music my own and I think it has given me longevity, so I accept it and keep moving.

Song River: As a survivor of Leukemia and as you reflect back almost 11 years ago, can you share what was transpiring in your personal as well as music life during that time?

Andrew McMahon: I think the most honest reflection that can be found is in the “Dear Jack” documentary. So much of that feels like another life to me now. I don’t know that I could do it justice here.

Song River: What were some of the key elements you used to fight and move forward?

Andrew McMahon: I was incredibly motivated to live. Everything falls away and you just want to survive. I was also desperately driven to have the world hear ‘everything in transit.' It meant a great deal to me that it came out while I was alive and I worked hard to make sure I was there for that moment. 

Song River: Living with cancer, as with living with anything life altering, can lead one to open their hearts to starting a group or foundation to help others. Talk to us about your Dear Jack Foundation.

Andrew McMahon: We advocate for adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors (15-39 years of age). The demographic has the lowest improvement in survival rates in over 30 years and we are trying hard to call attention to the problem. We also work closely with patients and their families both in treatment and through survivorship in an effort to bring focus to their struggle and keep them hopeful throughout. 

Song River:  Watching you sit down to play the piano is quite magical. You almost seem to become one with the instrument Andrew.  Do you have a favorite piano you adore playing on the road? How about in studio or at home?

Andrew McMahon: Thank you! I have two favorites. The brown grand piano that has been with me onstage for many years and the beat up Something Corporate upright with the stickers all over it.

Song River:  Do you recall the name of your first piano teacher?  What was the first tune they made you play at a recital?

Andrew McMahon: I couldn’t even spell her name here, it was very German and difficult to pronounce. I played a lot of classical but insisted on some Billy Joel at recitals as well. 

Song River: With your love of life and passion for music- have you been opening those same doors for your daughter, Cecilia?

Andrew McMahon: We listen to music constantly. We have a rule that I get to play one new song she hasn’t heard of for every one of her favorites she wants to hear. We spend hours in front of the turntable.

Song River: As you look to what 2017 can bring musically and, the touring to support the new album with your band, what is your relationship like as a band, and how does touring inspire all of you? With family, what would you and your wife Kelly and daughter Cecilia like to venture together to do this next year?

Andrew McMahon: I’ve been with my band for years now, my drummer for more than 10. It is a brotherhood, but also a mission to get the songs heard. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that dynamic but I can honestly say this is the happiest I’ve been onstage and off. This year will be filled with shows and the task of introducing the world to the new album.

My family will be traveling with me through most of it. Every day becomes an adventure because I end up seeing these cities I’ve visited a million times through the eyes of Cecilia. It’s a brand new world now!

For more information:

"Fire Escape"

1. Zombies Intro
2. Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me
3. So Close
4. Don’t Speak For Me (True)
5. Fire Escape
6. Dead Man’s Dollar
7. Shot Out Of A Cannon
8. Walking In My Sleep
9. Island Radio
10. Love and Great Buildings
11. Birthday Song

3/17/2017       Kansas City, MO @ KC Live! Power and Light District
3/18/2017       St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
3/21/2017       Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
3/25/2017       Indianapolis, IN @ Egyptian Room at Old National Centre
3/26/2017       Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew's Hall
3/28/2017       Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart's
3/29/2017       Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
3/31/2017       Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues
4/1/2017         Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
4/4/2017        Toronto, ON @ Opera House
4/5/2017         South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
4/7/2017         Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore
4/8/2017         Boston, MA @ House Of Blues
4/9/2017         New Haven, CT @ Toad's Place
4/11/2017       New York, NY @ Webster Hall
4/12/2017       Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
4/14/2017       Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore
4/15/2017       Norfolk, VA @ The NorVa
4/17/2017       Charleston, SC @ Music Farm Charleston
4/18/2017       Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom
4/19/2017       Atlanta, GA @ The Buckhead Theatre
4/21/2017       Lake Buena Vista, FL @ House Of Blues
4/23/2017       Gainesville, FL @ Florida Theater
4/25/2017       Baton Rouge, LA @ Varsity Theater
4/26/2017       Houston, TX @ House Of Blues
4/28/2017       Dallas, TX @ House Of Blues
4/29/2017       Austin, TX @ Emo’s
4/30/2017       Tulsa, OK @ Cain's Ballroom
5/2/2017         Scottsdale, AZ @ Livewire
5/5/2017         San Diego, CA @ House Of Blues
5/7/2017         San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
5/9/2017         Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
5/10/2017       Seattle, WA @ Neptune
5/12/2017       Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot

5/13/2017       Las Vegas, NV @ Top Golf