How Andrew McMahon’s ‘Tilt At The Wind No More’ makes peace with his past
Andrew McMahon has amassed a whole slew of loyal fans, whether he’s making pop punk as the piano man of Something Corporate, signing about California with Jack’s Mannequin, or fronting his current project, Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness.
Read more: Every Andrew McMahon album ranked
With his new album, Tilt At The Wind No More, out today, AltPress caught up with McMahon on Zoom to explore the release. McMahon talked about falling off inflatable pool toys while crowd surfing, the difficulties of reuniting Something Corporate now that everyone has a day job, and how his daughter, Cecelia, is his No. 1 fan (and sometimes collaborator). Below, he also opens up about how making peace with history led to his latest record.
During lockdown, you were doing so many at-home concerts on Instagram Live. A lot of people were asking for deep cuts. Did any of those inspire anything on this new album?
In a more abstract way. During the pandemic, I was writing the book at the same time. There was a sense in me that I made peace with a lot of that history. It was more focused on the beauty of those days as I moved out of Something Corporate into Jack’s Mannequin, and out of Jack’s Mannequin into the Wilderness era.
Hearing the requests for my catalog, and then working through some of the history that led to me dismantling both of those projects, made me feel a little more reverent of my history and able to look back at it. I don’t want to see through rose-colored glasses, but with the combination of forgiveness, and joy and pride [for] what I created with my friends in those moments. Some of that is written into this record, this idea of looking backwards, not so much with a critical eye, but with joy and saying, ‘This is where it came from, and I’m proud of it.’ I can make my next step into the future and what comes after this moment feeling good about all of that. Certainly, the wave of nostalgia that started breaking at the tail end of the pandemic aligned pretty well with that vision of things.
Were you working on the memoir while you were writing some of the songs?
I wrote “New Year Song” in the midst of my deep dive into the memoir, but for the most part, the book was so consuming. I gave myself the permission to for this one rare moment…just focus on something other than music. Tying up some of those loose ends freed me up to write a different kind of song and approach my writing in a bit of a different way for this album.
What was the reaction like to the memoir?
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the one that goes seeking reviews. I’ve found over the years that it’s a recipe for insecurity and second-guessing. I wanted it to read well, and I feel like it did that, but it also helped me immensely in taking the next step forward into whatever the second half of my life is going to be.
For the second half, you’re going out on tour soon in promotion of the new album. We’ve seen the llama, we’ve seen the cape — what do you have planned for this one?
My good friends at The Windmill Factory — who have been my partners over the years on production and on making a lot of the music videos as well — pitched all of the wackiest ideas you see onstage, [including] riding around on a rubber duck, pulling gym class parachutes out over the crowd, having wacky waving inflatables onstage with me. I’m excited to say that we’re getting together for this next round of touring to try and concept out some updates to those gags and add some more.
Do you ever get nervous that someone will drop you?
Absolutely. I am a big fan of the medium risk to high reward model. I’ve fallen off plenty of things at this point in my life that I’m pretty sure I’ll be OK. I’ve been launched off of the rubber duck on a couple of occasions, including the very first night of the Dashboard tour this summer. I brought out an inferior inflatable that was not quite as big as what I was used to. And it was super hard to ride. I ended up on the floor looking up at a crowd, and they were horrified. They didn’t know what to do. It’s made me a little more tentative about my llama ride.[Photo by Connor Lenihan]
I saw you at Audacy Fest, and there was one moment where you were telling the crowd, “OK, get me back to the stage now.”
That’s where it’s most dicey. When it’s a concentration of people who know me, they can read me. Many of them have been in rooms with me for a long time. You get into the festival, and a lot of times the crowd takes on an energy where they’re like, ‘Let’s see how far we can get this guy.’ It adds an element of fun and a little bit of danger into a show that keeps me on my toes, and helps break down the fourth wall a little bit.
Speaking of Dashboard shows, was that the first time that you’ve toured with Chris Carrabba?
We did a round of dates in Australia, where we were on the same festival together. This is the first proper, weeks-long tour where we were playing together every night. He’s such a wonderful man. He’s an incredible father and husband and a kind person and a super hard worker. I’ve always related to Chris and connected with him and looked up to him and been glad to call him a friend, but being together every day deepened a mutual affection.
Speaking of people you bring on tour, you’ve started bringing out Cecilia, and she’s singing on one of the songs on this record. What does she think of your music?
She’s a fan of her dad. She grew up on the tour bus. I’m sure that will change over time. I imagine I’ll become less and less cool with every passing day. Actually, I already am now that she’s 9, but she’s super into it and supportive and sweet. She hears the songs before almost anybody does. She comes in and I play her things, and I try to read her reaction. It’s kind of terrifying now because I do look to her to see if things are connecting.
Her desire to get out and sing along onstage at first was nerve-wracking for me because these are crowds. You worry as a dad, but she’s so confident. The first time it happened, she ran on the stage, out of Kelly’s arms and grabbed a microphone and started singing.
What does she listen to?
Right now she’s on the new Miley Cyrus single. So I have to learn it so her and her friends can sing it at the talent show. That’s the next thing that I’m working on.
Are you accompanying them at the talent show?
I think so. We did “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves for her talent show a couple years ago, which was pretty cool.
Does she have musical ambitions?
She’s very into theater and singing, and she started piano lessons this year. My parents really did a great job with managing my ambitions, by getting out of the way but being there to support it when I asked for help. If she stays on this track, I could certainly see her pursuing something on a stage, but I’ll follow her lead on that.
Coming up, you’re reuniting with Something Corporate for When We Were Young, and you did a show with them in California. Can people expect a few more shows?
At the moment, there isn’t a plan for more. More so now than ever before, everybody’s open to it and has expressed a willingness if the situation is right. If we can all work out our schedules, we’re down to do it. Touring is a little trickier for us because everybody’s got real jobs and lives, and most people don’t want to take their couple weeks of vacation away from their families to go on tour with their band. I can respect that.
We all are at the most reverent that we’ve been for our history and the most proud that we’ve been in. I could see it inspiring us to get out and at least get to the East Coast where we had our largest fanbase. If nothing else, try it over the course of a year or two — pop around and get some dates in that are meaningful for the fans that have been waiting for a long time.
Was that the first time you were fully reunited?
There was a Dear Jack Foundation benefit show where I did a set with the Wilderness, Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate and that was the first time that we had the full lineup on stage. We did a 10-year reunion without William [Tell, guitarist], with Bobby filling in. This felt like the first time in a lot of ways because the benefit was so stressful for me. I was so close to all of it. I had a hard time being as in the moment as I needed to be.
[For the recent reunion], there wasn’t pressure on us selling tickets. We could fuck up the whole thing. And it’s still going to be sweet because we’re doing it as a gift. Everything flowed freely, and it was all smiles all the way across the stage. It motivated us to want to get back and do these festival shows.
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