6 Q's With Andrew McMahon from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
I might have once played the punk rock princess to his garage band king in a music video for his former band Something Corporate, but fast-forward a few years and Andrew McMahon is now married and a dad to daughter Cecilia (the inspiration for the hit song “Cecilia and the Satellite”).
He’s on tour for his new album Zombies on Broadway, which is amazing, and has transcended his years in the business continuing to write and create incredible and relevant music.
I got to ask him a few questions about fatherhood, his music, his favorite daddy products and how his battle with adolescent cancer has inspired him to help others facing similar experiences with his charity The Dear Jack Foundation.
YOU HAVE A NEW ALBUM, NEW TOUR, YOUR CHARITY IS CONTINUING TO GROW AND…YOU ARE A FATHER! HOW DO YOU BALANCE IT ALL? WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?
How do any of us balance it—some days better than others. The big thing for me is, I try to keep my wife and daughter with me as much as possible, that seems to help. Touring with a band is not always the easiest way to stay grounded, so having my family on the road with me certainly helps that mission. Lots of meals together, coffee in the morning, that does the trick as good as anything.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE OR TEACHABLE PARENTING MOMENT YOU CAN SHAREWITH US?
The biggest thing, I don't know if it’s a particular moment, but the thing I try to focus on as much as I can is: I’m the person who’s very sorta go go go. Not to say that I’m not a reflective person, but I’ll need to go 100 miles an hour for months at a time and step back and go, “What just happened?!” That’s not the easiest thing when you’re raising a little person. I think the biggest thing for me is sort of trying to acknowledge those moments when my daughter is asking me to do something specifically. My inclination is to say like, “No, no, I gotta do this...” Especially as I was gearing up to leave for this particular tour, she’d be like, “Why don’t we get on the couch and snuggle?” and any of those amazing and sweet moments that it’s hard to make time for—and I’m trying to just take the time out and do that and enjoy that, because I’m sure in about 10 years she’s not going to want anything to do with me. So I figure I might as well take advantage while I can.
HOW HAS BECOMING A FATHER CHANGED YOU AND INFLUENCED YOU AS AN ARTIST?
I think as an artist, if you talk to other people who create for a living, it’s sort of this fearful moment of how do I maintain my edge, will I have time to do the things I need to do to honor my craft. These are the kind of questions that come up before, and what happens is it has this sort of galvanizing motion to it, where you realize you have this BEING to take care of—you can hear it in the lyrics of “Cecilia and the Satellite.” It’s sort of a forced moment of reflection. Beyond that, it forced me to want to do my best work and dig into whatever my inspiration was at the moment or if I’m feeling uninspired to dig into and make my best music. You have this person, I hate to say, that you want to impress and be a good role model to and be someone they aspire to be or look up to, at least. And for me I think it’s lit a huge fire under me to be a better version of myself, in my best moments of course. There’s still the other moments as well. But in my good moments I’m striving, for sure.
ARE YOU THE TYPE OF FATHER YOU IMAGINED YOU’D BE? WHY OR WHY NOT?
It’s funny, whether right or wrong, I don’t think I ever attach too much expectation to what’s coming. I’ve had enough sort of shakeups in my life. I try to keep my head down and focus on one foot in front of the other. You know, I laugh when I have those moments where I find myself saying the same things that my dad or my mom said to me as a kid. You know what I mean, like “Because I said so.” Those phrases are so much closer to the front of my mind than I even realized. I definitely have those moments where I find myself going, “Are you kidding me? Did you just say that to your kid?!” There’s a laugh in that. I am lucky my wife is a total badass, she’s super organized in all of the ways I’m not, and she’s so honest about how hard it is to be a mom. I think it’s very helpful to get that perspective instead of the alternative of that idea that every woman is somehow superwoman. I think she does such a good job at the nitty gritty sorta detailed stuff that I can’t always be around for. And I try my best to fill in and look out for her as best I can, too. We try and be as relaxed as possible. Sometimes I let my daughter’s free flag fly and let my daughter change her clothes 10 times a day, and we just let her. I think that’s the part of being a dad I like more than I thought, like playing dress-up with my daughter, I think that part was unexpected and has been a lot of fun in my day-to-day with her.
IF YOU COULD TALK TO YOUR PRE-PARENT SELF, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE HIM?
I know it’s the cheesy thing, but “don’t sweat the small stuff” is the easy answer for that sort of thing. I think anytime I can tell myself at any stage to just relax. The thing I didn’t realize is how hard it can be on your marriage. As much as you are focusing on this new person, I think the reality of having a healthy marriage is twice as relevant somehow because that is what your little person is looking at. So I think whether you are married or not, just to be stable and have a house with a lot of love in it is really the number one thing. I just don't know that I realized that, and it’s something my wife and I have had to really learn, because that’s what can make Cecilia the strongest that she can be.
YOU MAKE DAD STYLE LOOK EASY. CAN YOU SHARE ANY FAVE PRODUCTS TO HELPUS STILL LOOK LIKE HIPSTER ROCK STARS POST-KIDS?
Because of what I do I am able to surround myself with people who dress way better than me, so they can get me to look like I have fashion sense that I don't actually have. We are pretty casual—I live in Southern California so I have a pair of rainbow sandals, and I wear Levis and collared shirts like Ben Sherman shirts that are my go-to. The biggest thing for us was the Baby K’tan wrap! My wife and I had those K’tan wraps for the first year she was born and then we still use the Ergobaby now. As a dad I would tell all my friends who are dads or becoming dads that was the number one thing. I had Cecilia in a wrap three days after she was born, the two of us cruising around town together to give my wife a break. And that is how we got so close so quick—I just always had her strapped to me whenever I had the chance. That K’tan baby wrap, I swear by it. And then we switched to the Ergo that I also swear by. Those were always really huge. Those are the two things I would tell any dad to get.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST FEAR?
Big picture-wise, it’s losing my ability to do what I do and take care of my people as a result. I think it probably sounds a little vain in one respect—my career is obviously something I hold very dear to me—but it has become the way I take care of my family. I operate in a very fickle business and I stay hyper focused on trying to stay relevant in music and create and stay ahead of the curve for what I do. Ya, I think that’s a fear I carry with me and I try not to let it invade my thought process, but when you’re awake at night sometimes that one comes popping in.
YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH A LOT HAVING SURVIVED CANCER AS A YOUNG ADULT. HOW DID THAT EXPERIENCE CHANGE YOU?
Well, you know, I’m a young-adult cancer survivor, and in the aftermath of that in my survivorship I started a charity called the Dear Jack Foundation. What we do is we advocate for young adults who are cancer survivors. My wife and I had broken up for a bit of time leading up to my illness and to some extent found ourselves getting back together in a hospital room, so it’s a very real part of our lives. We had to do IVF because my treatment rendered me infertile and there’s a lot of things that went along with that and that’s why I started the charity, because this is a really underserved demographic of the cancer population, people ages 15 to 39. I look at that as what are your seminal years, you know you are graduating high school, falling in and out of love for the first time, graduating college, getting your first job, starting your career and family. It’s this window that is grossly underserved and sees the least improvement and survival ratings in over 30 years, so what I try and do on a daily basis through interviews like this is to let people know within that demographic that it is a lonely place but that it doesn’t have to be. And that there are charities like Dear Jack that are trying to connect them with one another so they know they have other voices in the fight alongside of them. And to keep people aware. When you are in your twenties, everyone is so fearless that it can be really alienating to all of a sudden be the person dealing with something so serious. So we just try to help that path for people if we can.
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
Well, this is going to be my full-time mission for the next year plus. My hope is that this record gets traction over the next year and into 2018. And hopefully by that time it’s run its course and I’ve earned myself a little, uh, three-month vacation somewhere in the planet that is quiet and playing a piano for a hot minute. But ya, the future at this point, I just want this tour to be a success and start getting these songs in as many people’s hands as possible and then we’ll see what comes afterwards. If my last 16 years is any guess, probably a lot more music!
I finished the interview with this…
ANDREW, ONE LAST THING, I WAS THE PUNK-ROCK PRINCESS IN SOMETHING CORPORATE’S MUSIC VIDEO!
No! No! Why didn’t you lead with that? To this day, that is one of my favorite videos. When you come out to the show, we have to do a “that was then, and this is now” picture!
Andrew, I will definitely be checking out your L.A. show and we’ll try to get that pic!
And trust me, you want to hear this album! You can get it at the link below and find tickets to see him in YOUR city!
Also, to learn more about his amazing charity and what they are doing, click here: http://www.dearjackfoundation.org
*Edited by Ella Stewart. Ella has been a copy editor and editor for 15 years, working in both print and online publishing. She's currently a full-time stay-at-home mom to two little ones as well as a freelance editor.