Earlier this year, Andrew McMahon shared his newest album as Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, the newly released 11-track record Tilt at the Wind No More, which is out now via Nettwerk Records.
It comes almost five years after the singer's 2018 album Upside Down Flowers. And according to McMahon, it's an album of making peace with his past and accepting his personal growth and the fact that he's now 40 years old and married with a family. And he's perfect OK with that.
"I'm an old man," says McMahon with a laugh while speaking with Variance on the back patio of Parlay House in Austin, in between shows during SXSW. "Like, my first South By was 2005. But I think the energy of this one actually feels pretty similar to that."
Now four albums into his "Wilderness" era, McMahon is hardly a stranger to the music industry, having spent more than 20 years putting out records, including three albums with his old band Something Corporate and another three records as Jack's Mannequin.
At this point in his career, McMahon says he's learned the importance of appreciating how far he's come and not losing sight of the reason he makes music.
"I've definitely shown up to festivals where it felt like a grind," he recalls. "But I also think, like, 'Shame on you because you're getting to do this!' I didn't have that perspective at a certain point in my career. You just have to have a good attitude about it. Like, you make fucking music for a living. People work in conditions that are abhorrent and all they want is a leg up, and the worst of our day is sitting on a patio and having a margarita and talking about songs. Get over yourself. Yeah, it's a grind. But life is a fucking grind."
Of course, over the course of multiple variations of his musical persona, he acknowledges the music has changed—because he's changed. He's grown as a person and as a musician. And sometimes it's terrifying to put out new music and wonder if the fans will connect with it or understand it or if they'll care.
"I'm fine with it now," he says with a smile. "It doesn't make it less scary every time. Maybe because of what we do and it's a business. You see how fast artists come and go. And for me, I've been so fortunate to effectively have three careers in the last 20-plus years. But sure, it keeps me up at night sometimes wondering, 'Are they going to get the next thing? Are they going to listen?' And that's been what's fueled me. But at this point, I've had to make some version of peace with all of it so I can actually be a productive human and take care of my family."
He says that part of making that peace with himself is simply accepting that he's not as young as he was before, and that's just fine.
"I can't pretend I'm still 17," he says. "I'm married. I don't break up with anybody anymore. But I do fight with my wife sometimes. You know, we go through real shit. And so I'm going to talk about these relationships and my experience. Maybe I'm older now, but it's about, how do you make your life universal? Because we're all going through the same shit. And that's the magic of music, how you can connect with complete strangers and whatever they're going through and meet them there. That's what I still chase."
While McMahon is determined to look forward rather than backward, his history with Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin is hard to escape, especially in this age of "millennial nostalgia" as music acts and bands from the early 2000s and 2010s are reuniting and or playing festivals. In fact, after a few mini-reunions over the past few years, Something Corporate is making a splashy comeback later this year playing the very throwback-heavy When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas, which will feature the likes of blink-182, Green Day, All Time Low, Yellowcard and others.
McMahon says, for the most part, he tries not to dwell too much on the past or what ifs. But he says he understands the nostalgia as his previous acts were part of his own coming-of-age just as they were so ingrained in pivotal years of so many fans.
"I think I know enough as a fan of music to know that you can't compete with people's memories," he explains. "You can't compete with when somebody finds a song of yours that matters in a moment that is pivotal in their life."
But he also adds: "What's funny is the entire Jack's Mannequin band is still my band. And I think I feel the most distant from Something Corporate because that was just such a different time in my life. But with Jack's Mannequin, that was during my coming-of-age, my cancer and everything after that. I think the only reason I retired that project and that name was, I was ready to be done with that particular moment in my life and to move forward. And that's how I've approached everything in the years since. Like, OK, what's next?"
He's quick to clarify—and the When We Were Young announcement should confirm—those changes weren't "an indictment of the music or the band." He says: "It was just a different time. I'm the same person. I am writing from the same place. And I'm grateful, because it's the best job in the world."