Andrew McMahon goes solo on ‘The Pop Underground’

Andrew McMahon 'The Pop Underground'

Andrew McMahon

He’s been headlining concerts for over a decade, but singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon is just now for the first time seeing his name printed on ticket stubs.

Formerly the frontman of bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, McMahon has been releasing his signature blend of piano rock since 1998. But for the diehard fans that have followed McMahon throughout his career, hearing songs from both bands’ catalogs played within the same setlist seemed like a nearly impossible dream. Until now.

This year, the 30-year-old is embarking on an all-new journey. With the April 30 release of his debut solo EP, The Pop Underground, McMahon has finally decided to retire the monikers of his previous musical identities. And by doing so, he can now place all the songs in his repertoire under the same umbrella: his own name.

“It seemed like the most logical thing, which was to get by on my songs and my own name and make it possible to play all these songs I’ve written at various times in my life and let them live in one space as Andrew McMahon,” the musician recently explained to The Village Voice.

In anticipation of The Pop Underground’s release, McMahon is currently trekking across the country on a largely sold-out tour that finds him revisiting his entire body of work while slipping in teasers of what’s to come. These shows act as a follow-up to a recent stint opening for fellow pop-rockers Fun. on their winter outing, and as a preview of his upcoming gigs this summer with O.A.R. and Allen Stone.

On April 12, McMahon played to a sold-out crowd at Warsaw, a kitschy venue that proudly declares itself as “where pierogies meet punk” in the heart of Brooklyn’s largely Polish neighborhood, Greenpoint.

Opening the concert with the Something Corporate ballad, “Walking By,” McMahon sat at his piano stool center stage, while other musicians slowly started to fill in the instrument stations behind him. By the time the song was over, there was a full band on stage, allowing McMahon to crank up the energy as he smoothly transitioned into “The Mixed Tape,” the infectious and soaring first single off Jack’s Mannequin’s debut record, 2005’s Everything In Transit.

As the night progressed, McMahon cleverly weaved his way between Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin songs. He made sure not just to perform each band’s greatest hits, but also to include some lesser-known and fan-favorite songs throughout the course of the concert’s 19-track setlist.

Yet judging by the audience reactions alone, one would never be able to guess which song was a single and which was an unreleased B-side. With the opening notes to each song, the crowd roared with the kind of boisterous excitement often reserved for the winning touchdown of the SuperBowl or a Real Housewives reunion night in Hell’s Kitchen.

It was this undying dedication and adoration of McMahon’s music that made his first show in Brooklyn such a unique experience. Fans were just as excited to hear tracks like “Watch The Sky,” a seldom-performed bonus track from Something Corporate’s last album (2003’s North), as they were to hear the encore closer, “Dark Blue,” a musically genius Jack’s Mannequin song that’s commonly referred to as a gateway into McMahon’s work. No matter how obscure or random McMahon’s song choice may have seemed, it was hard to find a pair of lips in the audience that weren’t mirroring McMahon’s and singing along to every lyric, treating them as gospels.

Another benefit of McMahon embracing his solo identity is that it allows him to show just how much he’s evolved as a musician over the years. Anyone hearing him perform songs from throughout his entire discography immediately understands why the journey to becoming simply Andrew McMahon has been such a long one.

As part of Drive-Thru Records, Something Corporate is widely heralded as one of the most iconic bands in the emo/pop movement of the early 2000’s. Their music often tackled the struggles and disappointments of adolescence. It was fueled by that common teenage sense of urgency to grow up, while simultaneously only really figuring out what that meant (i.e. first heartbreak, discovering one’s true identity) along the way.

But then tragedy struck. Three months before the release of Everything In Transit, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Thankfully, his illness was caught early enough that he was able to make a full recovery, but the experience completely changed McMahon (for more on this, check out his moving documentary, Dear Jack).

As a result, Jack’s Mannequin became a band whose lyrics no longer demanded so many answers from life, and instead focused on celebrating it. Songs like “The Resolution” and “Swim” (both of which McMahon proudly played at the Brooklyn show) challenged listeners to overcome their obstacles and never to give up on hope. With each of Jack’s Mannequin three records, McMahon no longer used his music as a resource to dissect life’s little trials, but to emphasize that, in the end, the only way to survive is to let all those setbacks help make you become the best possible version of yourself. Thus, Jack’s Mannequin acted as an uplifting and logical sequel to the youthful franticness and uncertainty of Something Corporate.

So what will the new music of a solo Andrew McMahon bring? It’s hard to say without hearing The Pop Underground. But based on the two songs that the musician injected into his live show (including the feel-good “Learn To Dance”), his fans will hardly be displeased.

With The Pop Underground’s lead single, “Synesthesia,” McMahon adds a layer of synth pop to his signature brooding piano stylings. Sonically, the song is a natural progression for McMahon, as it injects a pulse of electronic energy to the sun-kissed California surfer-pop sound of his earlier work. And with a booming and upbeat chorus that kicks off with the lyrics, “I see colors when I hear your voice,” it seems that McMahon’s latest musical offerings will be just that: colorful, big, and most importantly, fun.

McMahon’s story has been nothing short of remarkable so far. But with next week’s release of The Pop Underground, the singer/songwriter is embarking on a journey that could easily become his biggest career success yet.

Catch Andrew McMahon on tour now. And click here to pre-order ‘The Pop Underground’ EP.

Andrew McMahon 'The Pop Underground'

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.