Analogue Music | Andrew McMahon

Andrew McMahon

By Matt Conner

It's been an uncharacteristically nostalgic season for Andrew McMahon.

As someone who insists his posture and process is always facing-forward, the truth is that the last few years have called McMahon to reorient himself toward the past. During the pandemic, he immersed himself in the writing of his first book, Three Pianos: A Memoir, chronicling his life as a musician and more. These days, he's wrapping up a tour with Dashboard Confessional that celebrates his expansive catalog and the 20th anniversary of Something Corporate's Leaving Through The Window.

Through these exercises, McMahon now realizes it was the ideal time for him to take a breath and look back in time. From well-deserved celebration to painful self-discovery, the trips down memory lane have only clarified his vision going forward as a songwriter in rare territory with so much experience yet relevance at the same career stage.

McMahon told us that some new singles will be spilling out between now and the end of the year with a new album on the way in 2023. Until then, he opened up about the last few years and what he's learned about himself and his craft.

Analogue: To what degree have you and Chris crossed paths before this tour?

Andrew McMahon: Chris [Carrabba] was signed to Drive-Thru before Something Corporate was, but it was around the same time. We’d run into each other at shows. There were more cases where Jack’s Mannequin and Dashboard would play together. We did a festival run in Australia where we did all our side shows together. That’s where I got to know Chris and his camp the most and that had to be 2010 or 2011 maybe.

Over the years, we’ve kept in touch. I think the idea has been floated a couple of times and finally the timing was right with the summer and just as the dust seems to be settling on the pandemic. It felt right to bring our fan bases together and celebrate doing this as long as we have.

"It felt right to bring our fan bases together and celebrate doing this as long as we have."

Analogue: I’m sure there are 100 directions you could go with friends or career angles, so was this easy to bring together? What made it that primary consideration?

Andrew: It came together pretty easily. I think one of our managers just put the bug out there, probably eight or nine months ago, and I couldn’t even tell you who it was.

For me, the consideration is always, ‘What are you promoting? What are you trying to get out of being on the road?’ The intention behind everything I make is to make something new and relevant and not to rest on my laurels or my previous success or something. I’m trying to move into the future, so usually packages that are heavily reliant on nostalgia have not been my jam, per se. [Laughs] But honestly, with Leaving Through the Window turning 20 this year and this being my 20th year on tour and my 40th birthday coming up, there was something even in me that was craving that trip down memory lane and that ability to reflect that I’ve come from.

I think the music that I’m working on, a lot of it is a reflection of where I came from and what I’m looking to do next, so it seemed the right moment professionally and culturally—especially with how fucked up everything has been for the last two or three years—to create an environment that people can show up to and be transported to a moment before all of his chaos and upheaval felt good. When it got brought up as a possibility, it was out of character for me but I thought, ‘That’s exactly what we should be doing right now.’ [Laughs] I was glad Chris felt the same.

Analogue: Yeah I was going to ask if you two had talked about those sorts of reflections.

Andrew: Yeah, we’ve talked a lot leading up to the tour, and most of that was just, ‘Hey buddy, so excited we’re going on tour.’ But we were both in a similar mindset that this was the right moment for it.

'Three Pianos: A Memoir'
'Three Pianos: A Memoir'

Analogue: This has been a real reflective season for you with the book coming out last year and this tour.

Andrew: Yeah, for so much of the last couple of years, I’ve been locked in the process of writing the book. It was definitely a healthy exercise, but it was a difficult one. I think it brought up a lot of things I really hadn’t worked through in my life and all the way back to being a kid and my upbringing. But it’s essential.

I’m glad this book came out of nowhere. I mean, there was the instinct to do it, but there was also the time. Usually I’d be on the road or in the studio, but the pandemic gave me the time to just sit and be uncomfortable and really dig deep on some things that, even as a dude who has done multiple years of therapy, there’s nothing like actually being forced to write it down to really get to the heart of the matter. So it was a really healthy exercise for me. It also made it possible that when I finally got back to the studio to start focusing on songs, I felt like, ‘Is this what you want to say?’ going into a seminal birthday for me.

Also there aren't a lot of people who make it this far doing it this many years who are hopefully making relevant music. I really want this to be one of my biggest records, so I had to ask myself, ‘What are you talking about in this moment?’ and put a lot of intentionality behind how I approach making new music and how I’m approaching being on the road right now. So I feel pretty clear-headed which is a nice place to be in this moment.

Analogue: So what answers do you find when you ask, ‘What do I want to say?’

Andrew: As a dude who has had hiccups and hurdles I’ve had to barrel through, and there’s also a lot of tension and heartache that I’ve created for myself, too, but in a weird way I found myself thinking a lot of those self-made obstacles. It was the idea that maybe you don’t want to put those hurdles in your way anyway. There’s a lot of discussion about where I came from but also where I’m hoping to be in the moment.

Analogue: By the way, with the book, was that a totally new writing style for you or had you immersed yourself in that kind of writing before?

Andrew: It was completely new. I mean, I’ve always kept journals and written longer essays but almost always for myself. This was a completely new process to write the book. If I’d have known how hard it would be, I’m not sure I would have chosen to do it in the end. But you do the deal and get 50 pages in and realize, ‘Oh, shit! There’s no turning back now.’ [Laughs]

"This was a completely new process to write the book. If I’d have known how hard it would be, I’m not sure I would have chosen to do it in the end."

Because I have a process in songwriting and it came naturally to me—it is in a lot of ways a reaction or an instinct—sitting down to force yourself not just to commit words to a page but string them together in a coherent way that tells the story of my life and where I came from was a real process. It required a ton of discipline that, frankly, hasn’t always been my strong suit. I chose music over college and all of the traditional routes because I’m not a very disciplined person. I’m a hard worker, but I like to wake up and have the day be different every day. So getting myself to sit down for six to eight hours a day every day was hard. I did it but it took every ounce and every hour to pull it off.

Analogue: Are there any parallels to writing a book that felt like songwriting?

Andrew: When it’s good. [Laughs] That’s where it’s most similar, when you find that flow state and the words really come together and you stumble into these beautiful passages or sentences that somehow lock perfectly with the thing you’re trying to say.

I’ve always wanted to make beautiful things. At the core of it, that’s the mission to create something beautiful and true. In moments where, whether it’s a lyric and melody that comes together and it aligns with your subconscious and you’re like, ‘Holy shit!’, there were those moments sitting in my studio in the back of my house and working on the book. All of a sudden, you’re just in it and there’s a lot of energy and your hands are barely able to keep up with your brain. At that point, it’s a lot like songwriting.

VISIT: Andrew McMahon