Ten Minutes With...Jack's Mannequin's Andrew McMahon
On touring with the Fray, surviving leukemia and why he's "manic"
Piano rock band Jack's Mannequin starts an amphitheater tour opening for the Fray on June 12 in Atlanta. While some groups loathe playing before dark, head Mannequin Andrew McMahon loves the light show nature provides: "For me, playing the sun out of the sky is probably my favorite [time] to play," he says. But McMahon has much more than that on his plate than the tour: he's already thinking about the follow-up to "The Glass Passenger" and is prepping the launch of his clothing line, River Apparel. Fifty percent of profits from sales will go to The Dear Jack Foundation, McMahon's charity that benefits leukemia research. He started the charity after surviving his own bout with leukemia four years ago.
Shortly before hitting the road, McMahon took a few minutes out to talk with Hitfix.
Q: Many of your songs are about coming out of the dark into the light. Is there certain music you turn to when you need to do that?
A: You know, there is and there isn't. A lot of it is sitting down at the piano and trying to write, that's where I tend to find myself when I'm at those moments...There are a ton of records that travel with me. Anything by Tom Petty travels with me. There's an old Counting Crows' record, "August and Everything After" that's a great rainy day listen.
Q: You asked for fans to send in artwork for inclusion for the new video, "Swim." Why did you want their involvement?
A: A lot of the record is very personal, obviously. That song is not really an exception, but I was trying to use what I had gone through to tap into a more universal theme. With the video, we really wanted it to be more about the human condition than my own condition. We thought a great way to do that would be to include people from my fan base and other artists and [make it a] universal meditation on hope and perseverance...We may put up a big gallery where all the art is exhibited... We'd like to do something in the fall for the foundation that I run. Within 3 days we had 150 submissions, I was pretty impressed. It's cool to see that's a common thread between myself and people that listen to my music.
Q: Jack's Mannequin postponed a leg of your Farther from the Earth headlining tour to open for the Fray this summer. You wrote a really nice note to your fans about why you did it. Still feeling any backlash?
A: You know, if there is one, it's probably contained to the internet, which is a place I visit very infrequently. From what I understand, people responded a lot more warmly than I anticipated. I was very nervous when I sent it out; cancelling shows isn't something I take lighty. ..The Fray is giving us an hour set, so if someone comes out and sees us on that tour, they're only missing about 20 minutes [of our headlining tour], and, frankly, we'll probably reschedule those dates, Hopefully, they won't hate me too much and won't stop listening to our music. It's a business and we want new people to hear our music. It gives us the chance to reach out to 10-15,000 people a night; that's not an opportunity that you pass up.
Q: Both you and the Fray's Isaac Slade play piano. Any mean duets planned on this tour of "Heart and Soul" or "Chopsticks?"
A: Right! We're roll [my piano] out and do dueling pianos. (laughs) At this point, there's not any plan, you never know. You're spending a whole summer out there. Part of me hopes that we end up working something out. Usually when we're traveling with any band, we get them up there to do something. Maybe we'll get a little duet on "Heart and Soul." Go print that; I'll be living that down for the rest of the summer.
Q: "The Glass Passenger" seems to be a way of putting your illness behind you. What are you thinking about for the next album?
A: I definitely have the beginnings of a new record hatching. That's still a pretty initial idea, but I try to wrap a record up and within the next few months start moving forward. I can't say I have dealt with every issue attached to the last few years, I don't know if that's the case. You try to clear out the residual. The hope is that thematically I'm able to pass what "The Glass Passenger" was about and I hope I will. My hope is that the next record is a more uptempo, major themed. At this point, I have a lot of ideas running around, but getting into the studio and finding the right guy to work with...
Q: Who is your dream producer?
A: I don't have that sort of thought like, "Oh I'm just going to find that guy." I've met some of the greatest guys outside of the studio that I'd love to work with, but until you're in the studio you can't tell over coffee whether you're going to like working in the studio. I would die to work with someone like Jeff Lynne; there are a few of these guys that we're talking to now. I'm a little bit manic when it comes to the studio. It will really come down to if there's someone who can tolerate me... That's why I had such a good relationship with [co-producer] Jim [Wirt]; it became easier because he was able to deal with my level of lunacy. We made five records together. I'll probably try someone else; I have to find someone else to strap onto the bomb. The unfortunate thing with a lot of these big-name producers...they want you to commit to doing a whole album after cup of tea."
Q: You do a great deal of charity work, including your own foundation, the Dear Jack Foundation. How important is it that artists who have a platform use it for good and to raise awareness?
A: It's important to me. I'd never insinuate that it's necessary or an obligation to someone else to do the same. I was in music for several years before what happened to me inspired me to use the platform to enable a charitable device. It's been really rewarding to me spiritually and personally to use some of what I do to give back. It means a lot to me, but I also see the flipside of that--if you don't have a cause, in some respects it allows you to just approach your art, but it's been a fundamental part of what I do.
Q: Who would we be surprised to know is on your iPod?
A: There's this amazing rapper named Kool Keith, who [recorded] in this other personality, Dr. Octagon. I'm an enormous Dr. Octagon fan. People would consider that a little shocking, the last few dates we've come out to stage to Dr. Octagon.
Q: When's the last time someone called you Jack?
A: It's so funny, it's pretty rare. I imagine I could count the times that rally stand out on a couple of hands. I really thought that was coming back to haunt me when I named the band. It's usually not all that common. It's when we open up for another band their fans will be 'You're Jack?" ... I usually just go with it.
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