Armed with an unrivaled pop-music sensibility and a fascinating life story that defines perseverance, Andrew McMahon will pour his heart and soul onto the stage when he performs at Levels on Wednesday night.
After his breakthrough with the influential pop-punk band Something Corporate, branching out with Jack’s Mannequin and now performing solo as Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, the 32-year-old Californian has had an unimaginable series of peaks and valleys that find him residing at the pinnacle of personal and professional success. He defeated a cancer diagnosis over a decade ago and started a family, but it’s only natural for McMahon to share these life-altering experiences with audiences.
“I tend to find that it’s hard to write any song that doesn’t have at least a thread of personal experience in it,” McMahon said. “I would love to be the kind of guy that is just able to wake up and write a song about a random story that I just imagined in my own head. Certainly there have been those sorts of songs throughout my career, but even then, for those to be successful, I think that there needs to be some sort of reflective nature to it..”
Released in October, “Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness” takes an introspective look at what it means to grow older with the prospect of starting a family (McMahon’s wife gave birth to their first child, Cecilia, during the album’s making). “Wilderness” has all of the hallmarks of a McMahon record — catchy hooks and soaring vocals that accompany his terrific piano playing — but it also includes some electronic and acoustic numbers that culminate in a truly enjoyable listening experience.
“At the heart of this record is really just my desire to connect with a lot of people,” McMahon said.
A self-taught pianist, McMahon’s talents on the keys give his music a distinguishable kick that so many other contemporary singer-songwriters lack. The timelessness of the piano and how McMahon is able to incorporate it into his writing bolsters his music.
“For me, when I’m sitting at that piano, there’s just this sort of alchemy that I feel when I put my hands on those keys; it opens up another part of myself,” McMahon said. “It’s also just so dynamic and gives you the ability to play the softest and most beautiful classical piece and then allows you to play something that’s super heavy.”
Universal themes like overcoming sickness, love, loss, confusion and connection unite McMahon and his fans and have helped him accumulate a loyal and passionate following.
“I grew up listening to singer-songwriters who were more along the lines of ‘the honest type’ and they really tried to use the songs that they’d write to deal with whatever it was that they were facing and I try to apply that same approach to my songwriting,” McMahon said. “I talk to fans after every show and I try to be as truthful as I can about what I’m facing on a day-to-day basis.”
McMahon said he takes pride in his live show and has always strived to reach everyone in the audience. When he swings through State College next week, it will be more of the same.
“The live performance is where I try to hang my hat most heavily,” McMahon said.