In our next installation of our interview with Andrew McMahon touches on some personal endeavors that are particularly important to him. In this second part, the singer spoke to The Travel Addict about writing a book during the pandemic, the When We Young Festival and The Dear Jack Foundation’s annual fundraising concert.
This week marks the 13th annual Dear Jack Benefit which will be held at House of Blues Chicago on Friday, November 11. The Dear Jack Foundation’s mission is to fight adolescent and adult cancer. McMahon is a cancer survivor and in year 17 of remission.
Did you have any really emotional moments when you were writing your book, ”Three Pianos”?
Oh, I mean, I was just a fucking open wound for like a year, you know? I worked alone until the end and then I had my wife and Zac from my band – who’s a brilliant literary mind – act as my second and third editors. I would work four to six hours a day, usually in a straight shot.
It was emotionally draining, but it was really therapeutic, too. In a sense, it really did clear the deck of so many things that I thought had been settled. When you actually start reliving moments in your life, putting them on a page and reading them back, there are whole other layers of things you move through.
I’ve been writing and working on music for nearly my whole life and I’ve realized it’s the same process as writing the book. you just have to show up and write; you have to be there to catch the vibe. If you don’t sit down for it, it’s not going to find you. The hard part is showing up sometimes, but it’s rewarding when it works.
I honestly don’t care if anybody reads my book. I mean, I like the idea if people want to. But it was, selfishly speaking, such an important thing for me to have done leading up to this birthday.
I wanted to roll into 40 feeling lighter on my feet and like I was ready for what was next. The book really helped me say, okay, cool, I can put a lot of this stuff down now. I’m done with it, you know? And that made making the record a lot easier and a lot more fun.
I feel bad saying how good I feel right now, you know? I’m not taking it for granted because obviously we’ve seen how quickly things can change, but it’s nice to be in a moment where I feel free from a lot of shit. I can just have fun on stage and be with my friends or with my family and it’s pretty great.
With the When We Were Young festival popping up and people feeling nostalgic, do you ever feel like reviving one of your previous projects?
There was a point, especially going from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin, where I wasn’t going to play Something Corporate songs. And then going from Jack’s to In The Wilderness, I was a lot more amenable to playing the older stuff because I wanted people to associate my name with the music I’ve written throughout the years.
Of course, I always favor what I’m currently working on at the time. But maybe because I’m a little wistful and nostalgic, too, I feel a lot less precious about really cordoning off where I came from and where I’m going or where I am. On the latest tour, we’re really mixing it up every night and playing Something Corporate songs that I almost never play, it’s just a really well-rounded setlist from all three projects. It’s been a joy, you know what I mean? It really has been super fun to revisit those songs, but also to see people light up so much to get to hear them.
I certainly don’t rule out doing a Jack’s Mannequin show here or there. I’m never going to rejoin Something Corporate, nor could I, because the guys from that band are all super successful doing other things with their lives. But if somebody decides they want Jack’s Mannequin to play a show, it’s pretty fucking easy to do all those songs since we are the same band that played them then. My band now is pretty much Jack’s Mannequin plus my amazing keyboard player Zac.
I think there’s just a yearning to access memories from before the pandemic. People are wanting a space where they don’t have to be reminded of how gnarly the last few years were. When Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional) and I decided to do this tour, we did it because we wanted to provide that space and we wanted to be in that space, too. I didn’t even make music during the pandemic because I didn’t want the gunk of that thing on me or any music I made.
The book made sense because we were already going through a cultural trauma and I felt like I could unpack my personal trauma in that environment, but I didn’t want to make a record about trauma. I wanted to make a record about joy and life. I think people are packing out shows because they want to feel the way they used to, pre-pandemic or when they were young and I’m like, fuck yeah, let’s do it.
On that note, let’s talk a little bit about the Dear Jack Foundation benefit concert you have coming up this week.
I’m a cancer survivor. As of a few weeks ago, I’m 17 years into remission. I was diagnosed when I was 22. My wife and I got engaged in the middle of that. We were married in the very early years of my remission. And frankly, it was a really lonely time for me. I felt very alienated from my peers.
I felt really confused about my place in the world. It really uprooted so much for me, being sick when I was sick. I think I didn’t realize that there are so many people out there in the adolescent and young adult demographic that are so under served and who don’t realize that they’re not alone.
So, we started the Dear Jack Foundation with the goal of trying to provide advocacy and support services to young people facing cancer diagnoses or who have survived cancer. There are mechanisms in place for pediatric cancer and on the other side, for the older folks who get cancer, there are so many research and support groups, but for that particular group of people ages 15-39, there wasn’t a lot.
We have built two really incredible programs. LifeList is a wish granting program, almost all Make-A-Wish, but it’s a little more intensive. We have patients write out lists of what they hope to accomplish while they’re in treatment or what they look forward to when they complete treatment.
I have an amazing support staff that facilitates that. Breathe Now is to restore balance to relationships on the heels of surviving cancer. I know when you’re sick that if you have an advocate or a partner, so much of that person’s care goes into you and rarely do people look after the caretakers or the partners. When you come back to life after treatment, there’s a huge imbalance in a relationship.
We do the Dear Jack benefit concert every year. It’s at the end of our big fundraising season and fans start teams and then they can do whatever they want, like they host auctions or go out and bang on doors. We try to raise a quarter of a million dollars leading up to the benefit show, which is on the 10th and 11th every year in November.
This year it’s in Chicago, at the House of Blues (11/11) and the VIP night is at Thalia Hall (11/10). I do an acoustic set and it’s a chance for us to talk about Dear Jack. It’s a chance for people to meet the patients and survivors that we’ve had the good fortune of working with and whose lives we’ve tried to make a little easier. And all the money that we raise goes back into the charity for our programs.
[If you can’t attend in person you can purchase a ticket to the livestream to help.]