Five Questions with Andrew McMahon

Andrew McMahon, the former front man of Jack’s Mannequin recently released his solo debut, The Pop Underground. It’s a four-song EP full of the kind of catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics that McMahon is known for and (as he discusses in a Q+A with Xpress) a project he feels especially proud of.

McMahon plays The Orange Peel tonight at 8 p.m. Allen Stone opens. $25.

Xpress: I love the video for “Synethesia” (currently running on the home page of your website).  It seems to build, with imagery, on the emotional impact of your song – bittersweet but really beautiful. How much input do you have to your videos?
Andrew McMahon: This was a really special video for me. I actually had my cousins direct it. We have spoken for years about collaborating and with a song containing so many references to family it seemed like time. I always give my input on the videos but I think it’s important to give a director the room to interpret the song as their seeing it in their head.

For your solo debut, you released an EP (Pop Underground). Personally, I think that how we listen to music has changed and EPs are a often better fit that LPs. I’d love to know your thoughts about EPs vs. LPs.
I like the format, personally. In this case it gave me the opportunity to experiment with some new sounds and get something out quickly, which I felt was an important statement to make so soon after winding jack’s mannequin down. That said, I still believe a really well executed LP is the pinnacle art form for popular music.

On the eve of the album release, you wrote a really thoughtful blog about your process moving forward. You wrote, “I will meet two people for the first time and we will talk about life and art and try and write a new song. The next day I will do the same, because that’s what this is all about when it comes down to it.“Now, a few months out, is that how the process has unfolded? In what ways has the world’s response to the album surprised you?
There was a lot of love and realization for me in that post. I’ve definitely continued to write and meet with other writers and producers making songs for myself and other artists.  It’s a regular practice for me when I’m off the Road. As far as the reaction to the record I’ve been really pleased. I think there were a lot of chances taken on this little EP and I am pleased with the way they’ve paid off.

Photo by Amy Lane, from McMahon’s website

The phrase “Pop Underground” is very evocative, in part because it’s logically an oxymoron. What does it mean to you?
It has a lot of significance to me. On one hand it’s a reference to the fans who have followed me from one project to the next and the bond that we have built through this music. On the other hand it’s a term I’ve applied to the music itself. I’ve had a long history of writing music in what I consider the pop form, and while I’ve been successful on a lot of levels it’s never found its way to the masses per se.

You did a cover of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” as a b-side. That song is one of my favorites, part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Why does it speak to you? And, with your updated, contemporary version, were you hoping to introduce it to a new audience or simply recreate it according to your own vision?
I truthfully, just love the song and wanted to play it. It’s such a well written tune and I felt like it would translate well on the piano. 


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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