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Bottlerock 2016, Festival Preview, Music

Interview: Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness talks Weezer tour, new music, and pre-show rituals

By: Josh Terzino 

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness at BottleRock 2016 in Napa Valley, California on May 29, 2016. (Photo: Kari Terzino/Aesthetic Magazine)

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness at BottleRock 2016 in Napa Valley, California on May 29, 2016. (Photo: Kari Terzino/Aesthetic Magazine)

Andrew McMahon has been through a lot in 32 years: like all of us, he has lived joy, pain, accident, and illness; unlike most he’s also dealt with the vagaries of the music business, the strains of tour; he has battled cancer and witnessed the birth of his first child. Life has changed and so has Andrew. If, as McMahon says, “music is a mirror to the adventure of living,” each new chapter of life deserves its own title.

During a press conference at the BottleRock Music Festival on May 29th, McMahon discussed his upcoming tour with Weezer, and Panic At The Disco, what fans can expect from his new music, his pre-show rituals, and more!

You had various projects before so what differentiates Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness from Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin?

Well each one was very representative of different points in my life. So Something Corporate was my first band pretty much in high school so it was this kind of coming of age thing. Jack’s Mannequin was sort of the moment that shifted and I decided to do something on my own. And certainly you know, if you know my story, I was diagnosed with Leukemia when I was in the middle of the Jack’s Mannequin project and I think those sort of experiences got so closely tied to my recovery where it got to a moment where I wanted to cut and start over, so to speak. And do that under my own name and out from under a major label, which I had been with for almost ten years. So that’s what In The Wilderness became for me.

So you’re going on tour with Panic At The Disco and Weezer in a couple weeks. Can you speak a little bit about that?

Yeah it’s sort of this crazy time. I opened up and supported Panic At The Disco with Jack’s Mannequin in 2006, so almost exactly ten years to that date we’re going back out on the road. So, that’s exciting and Brendan’s [Urie] come a long way and we’re really excited about that. Weezer, I grew up on Weezer. Those early Weezer records kind of defined my middle school and high school years. One of my first band was a Weezer and Green Day cover band called Tweezer. So I was a big fan of those guys, and I love their new record. Rivers [Cuomo] and the band have been huge inspirations for me so to be able to support them over the summer is huge for me and the band for sure.

Do you have any pre-show rituals that you rely on?

For me it’s a combination of singing a lot and drinking a little. Usually I mix a cocktail before the show and go to the back to sort of get things quiet and I just sing a bit to get my voice warmed up. Those are the main rituals.

So will you be drinking wine before the show today?

It’s possible. It’s not usually the best content pre-show. They gifted us a couple of very nice bottles so I’m sure we’ll be partaking after the show. I’m more of a whiskey drinker pre-show.

Your song “Cecilia And The Satellite” has been a hugely popular hit and I wondered what it is you think people connect with in that song?

You know, I think there’s a lot of levels to it. I know what connected me was this idea of my daughter being born. I wrote the song a month before I met my daughter, Cecilia, appropriately. And it gave me the pause to reflect upon my life to that point, sort of the highs and the lows that I had gone through. And I tried to use the song as a vehicle to say, you know, you’re gonna go through these things too, and I’m gonna do everything in my power to be there and watch out for you. And I think that sentiment is something, you know, whether you’re a parent or in a new love or a brother or sister, we all feel that for the loves in our lives. So I think that’s why it’s struck a chord with people.

You have several keyboardists in your band. What was the inspiration for going with that kind of rhythm instead of guitar?

You know, I toured with bands with guitars for years and years. And when I started this project it was a chance-you know I don’t play guitar-so let’s find a sound using the tools that I have at my disposal, which is rhythm and keyboards. And it developed into this kind of beautiful thing that we could create a lot of space for vocals by dodging the frequencies of guitars and focusing on piano and supporting the frequencies around the piano rather than having two mid-range instruments competing against each other. And then it kind of spiraled from there to the live show. My bass player has a synth on stage and I have an organ player who also plays keys. So yeah, it’s a keyboard lovefest on stage.

You have a pretty amazing legacy already. What do you hope people remember 30-40 years down the line from your musical output overall?

God, that’s a heavy question. For me, the goal for the music I’ve made over the years is to just try to be as truthful about my experience as I can. To be as artful as I can when I write a lyric so it comes across to people as not boilerplate simple lyrics, there’s a little bit of poetry to it. So if there’s one thing people take away I hope it’s the words. And that I tried my hardest and have tried my hardest to be true to where I am in life.

One of my favorite parts of your live show is that you always end up on top of your piano? Do you ever feel unsafe or have you ever been injured doing that?

Oh yeah, multiple times. I broke an ankle on stage in 2002. I’ve definitely fell off many a speaker stack and piano. But I think early on for me playing piano there weren’t a lot of guys playing piano and keyboards were very much not in style and I really wanted to demystify the instrument a bit and say you CAN play this as a rock instrument. This can be fun. It doesn’t have to be this stately thing like when your parents make you take piano lessons in first grade or something. And a lot of my stage show has been built around brutalizing the piano a little bit.

You’ve been able to reinvent yourself many times throughout your career, so what can fans expect from your next record?

It always feels so radical to me the changes and the shifts in sound and approach to recording, but this one feels very organic to me. It’s a big sound. I’ve had the good fortune with “Cecilia” doing so well, and “High Dive” doing well also, to get into the studio with collaborators I wanted to work with. And you realize if you surround yourself with talented people you can pull from them this wisdom that they’ve had from their career.

So I think this thing is gonna be incredibly focused. We’ve worked hard over the past couple months to create this sound that I think will be unique to this record. There are elements of alternative and indie and elements of pop. Programming beats meets acoustic instrumentation. I think it’s the most balanced record I’ve made and I’m really psyched on the lyrics, too. I think you’ll like it.

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