With a captivating melodic piano rock sound Jack’s Mannequin have been winning the world over since their first release in 2005 but after 8 years, three full lengths and a heap of EPs, Jack’s Mannequin are ready to make some changes. While in Australia for the Soundwave Festival, touring of the back of their third release "People And Things", vocalist and founder Andrew McMahon took some time to sit with Kill Your Stereo and discuss being in Australia, the creation of the new album and what is next for Jack’s Mannequin.
Hey Andrew, how are you doing?
I’m doing well thank you, and yourself?
I am doing great thank you. Sorry we couldn’t provide some nicer weather for you.
I think it’s out fault, I think we brought the bad weather with us, so I apologize.
Enjoying your time in Australia so far?
Yeah, I love being here, its great. It’s fantastic.
As people might know, you are here for Soundwave Festival, You have already played two legs of the tour. How have they been so far?
It’s been great. We have done two festival shows and one sideshow so far. The first day was definitely like ironing out the kinks, you know what I mean, and then just sort of figuring out the rhythm of travelling a little bit lighter than we usually do, but actually that show was still fun and Sydney was great and the sideshow, well we love getting into the nightclubs and stuff so that was also a lot of fun.
Jack’s Mannequin also played on 2009’s Soundwave. How different has the festival been for you this time around?
I think, it’s hard to say, its similar in some senses obviously we have got a lot more music under our belts since we came here for the first Soundwave, I think the biggest thing just logistically is we are on a little bit later in the night now and it seems more people know us then the last time we were here, and having a lot of people in front of our stage is definitely a nice addition to the trip for sure.
How do you go about picking songs for your set list, is it something you find difficult because you have so much material to choose from or is that what makes it fun?
It is definitely more fun, I mean it is still difficult, it is always difficult, well I shouldn’t say it is always difficult, sometimes you sit down to write a set and it just comes quickly and then other days ill literally be writing the set for the entire day just trying to rearrange things. I think its tricky when you only have 40 or 45 minutes because now there are a lot of songs that people wan to hear but when you are working a new record you want to introduce people to new songs they might not have heard yet so it’s a little bit of juggling but I’d say overall it makes for a better set and it makes for more variety for the band so everyday I think we feel a little bit more inspired towards the show because its not like repeating ourselves.
So, have you been changing up the set list every show?
Yeah, yeah, I throw in from day to day I try, especially now that we have got three records I try never to play the same set twice , at least not within close proximity to one another.
Which song has been your favourite to play on this tour so far, and why?
Well, I always love playing Release Me, which is the single off the record right now, is always a lot of fun to play, it’s a good track for live and for the four piece and seeing people react to a new song is obviously exciting. As far as the old stuff goes I think Mixed Tape always gets a very great reaction when we play it out here. I think its got some extra love because we were on One Tree Hill with a performance for that song so I feel like a lot of people who maybe don’t know much about the band still have, sort of, a frame of reference from that song from the past, so I like doing that one as well.
As you mentioned before you are also playing 2 sold out sideshows while you are here, congratulations on that.
Thank you very much.
How was the show on Monday night?
It was great. We are playing with Chris from Dashboard and with the Relient K guys, all of which are old friends of ours, so getting to do the sideshows with people that we really have a common bond with and people whose company we really enjoy keeping is pretty pleasurable and so that show we did, myself, a couple of guys from my band and a couple of guys from Relient K joined Chris to close out his set doing one of his songs and I feel like the energy has been really great from all the crowds. The sideshows, of course the intimacy is hard to beat.
How are you feeling going inyo tonight’s show. Just as excited?
Yeah! I would be lying to say that being in Australia isn’t one of my favourite places to be, so yeah I’ve been enjoying myself pretty thoroughly.
How different are the sideshows from your Soundwave set?
Well we have a little more freedom, I definitely try and throw in a slow song, where as when we do the Soundwave stuff, considering the company we are keeping at Soundwave, we definitely do a little bit more of an amped up show, just because its 40 minutes so you try and do the big rock stuff when you have that short a period of time. With the five extra minutes we can slide in a couple of extra songs, so with that ill throw in a quieter tune and so I think the set, in that sense, is a little bit more of a dynamic and more of an arc than maybe our festival set.
Do you have a personal preference between large festival sets compared to smaller venue shows?
Truthfully, they all kind of have their place for me. Its like a lot of things in this business, you know, recording versus touring, or small shows versus big, I kind of, I find that after doing it for so long you really start enjoying the diversity of the kinds of shows that you play. I wouldn’t want to play all small clubs but I wouldn’t want to play all big festivals or theatres or stages either. You get something different from each. At clubs you’re getting that really personal, intimate connection with your audience and at the big shows you’re getting this sort of buzzing energy of so many people collected in one space and also the idea of maybe there is some people who have never heard us before, that we are just gonna like, instead of playing already to the converted you’re really fighting for an audience of new fans and I think they all have their place.
I think that is the beauty of Soundwave, that when you don’t have a favourite band to see you will go and see someone that you might not know so well.
Exactly. I think we are winning lots of Lamb Of God and Marilyn Manson fans no doubt (laughs).
Towards the end of last year you released your third album as Jack’s Mannequin. How have audiences been reacting and interacting with the material off People and Things so far?
Its been great. We are obviously still getting a feel for it here in Australia because it came out later in Australia then it did in the States but we just finished out state side tour, our second leg of the People and Things tour, and within a few months of the record being out there it was actually just so invigorating to see the crowd knowing the new songs almost as well as the old songs and kind of feeling like they were really easily integrated and it didn’t really matter if it was like an old song or a new song or everything in between it all sort of felt like it was married in this set pretty well together. Out here we’ll notice a little bit of a difference because I think people are still finding the record and learning the songs and all that but its been pretty good.
What was the writing and recording process like this time around? Was there anything new of different about it or have you found a system that works well for you?
No, I mean, there is nothing really systematic about the way I write (laughs), I think the reason I like writing and have been attracted to it since I was so young is because I’ve never been much for patterns and repeating myself and the thing about writing is that it is always kind of a mystery, like how you get to that finished point of a song being done can arrive in so many different ways and so many different incarnations. Id say with this record specifically, I wrote songs on this record with, there are a few songs on this record that I wrote with friends which is something that I hadn’t done on one of my records before and that was really refreshing and kind of a new exploration in the song writing process and definitely unique to this album. As far as the recording goes I think we really got into a place where instead of doing what I had done in the past which was, I would take a song into the studio and just put down the piano track and then put a vocal over the top and then we would sort of build the arrangement in the speakers in the studio, with this record having been on the road and touring with my drummer and my guitar player, Jay (McMillan) and Bob (Anderson), we decided instead of building songs like we had in the past we went into rehearsal spaces together and learned a bunch of these songs that I had demoed and recorded over the course of a year or so and took, kind of, the product of that experience of arranging into the studio and recorded the basic tracks live which is something we have never done with Jack’s before. So that was definitely a new adventure on this album.
Is this new option something you are looking to bring into the future?
I think there is a time and a place for everything. It felt right on this record, I think a lot of me felt like this was sort of the third and final installation into the Jack’s Mannequin saga or whatever you’d call it (laughs) and so I think the idea of bringing in the band that I had grown so close with over all these years, to really sort of play these songs as a band rather than as kind of this broken up engine that you piece the parts together, it felt like the right thing to do and I am sure in the future I will kind of do a combination of both styles.
When you say the ‘third and final installment’ what do you mean? Could you expand on that?
I mean, I can only expand, I guess, as far as I know within my own head and heart, which is a pretty vague and ambiguous answer, probably. I think there is a lot of me that is ready to leave some of this sordid history behind. I certainly am in a great place and I feel inspired and I certainly don’t have any intention of not playing with my same band mates or not playing this music in the future, I just don’t know that I will call it Jack’s Mannequin. I think there is so much of this album, or of these three albums, and of the life that was lived that created them, that is attached to kind of a snapshot in my history that I am proud of but I wouldn’t mind a little bit of space from and a little bit of time to kind of reflect and move forward. I think maybe just having the entity of what I call Jack’s Mannequin being there, in that future might keep me kind of locked to it. So I don’t know, we will see what happens.
As you were saying, all your songs are very personal stories to you, but do you find influence or inspiration from other artists or art while writing?
Oh yeah, oh gosh, absolutely. I try and walk around, when I’m at my best I think I sort of walk around like a sponge just sort of soaking up whatever it is I see and the benefits of the people I meet and the places I get to travel and I find inspiration in everything from music to architecture and photography and writing prose rather than just writing songs and reading everything from kind of like schlocky pop novels to philosophy. I think for me my life is sort of enriched by the more that I can get my hands on and my ears on and the more I can surround myself with and I certainly find inspiration in so many of those different sort of artful avenues.
A few days ago I saw a photo from, I think it may have been Alex (DeLeon) from The Cab, posted of you just writing in a warehouse.
Oh really? (laughs) yeah yeah. That’s something he would do (laughs).
Is that something you have been doing a lot of on this tour?
It is definitely something I have been doing a lot of on this tour. I do it a lot, period. I’d say right now I’m in sort of a more prolific place then I have been in a really long time. I think ever since I made the decision or at least vocalized that I was ready to kind of take a step in a new direction I started making that step. And so I do, I spend pretty much all day with a journal in hand and sort of just looking around with my little iphone camera or whatever I can and just trying to reinterpret the world as I am seeing it at that point.
From one Jack’s full release to the next there seems to be a 3 year gap.
I know right? (laughs).
Is that time period a conscious decision to take that break to right and release smaller eps or is that just ultimately the way it pans out?
I think it is something that just kind of happened, and truthfully it’s not something that I aspire towards or really want. My hope is very much that whatever comes next comes more quickly and is released in a more fluid way and isn’t kind of shackled to the traditions of the music business model and all those kinds of things. I think they’re just realities to the person that I am as it relates to making art in that major label music machine kind of approach that it can be tricky to get something cohesive done quickly just because there are so many moving parts and there are so many people that need to be talked to and I think I’m starting to devise a strategy and a plan and a way to sort of circumvent some of that and try to be a little bit more fluid and have things come out a little bit more quickly. I hope (laughs).
Have you checked out many other bands at Soundwave so far?
I have seen…pretty much the only things that I have seen on Soundwave so far have been that bands that are playing directly around our set time on our stage. The reason for that being a couple of things, some of them have had travel happening on the same day as the show or the proximity in the venue or just the fact that we don’t get there until right before our set time, but certainly as we get into these last few of the Soundwave festival legs I am going to try and sneak out and sort of catch some sets from the bands that I’m looking forward to checking out.
What band’s are definitely on the go-see list?
Well namely, I definitely want to check out some friends we have back in the States called The Dangerous Summer that I have wanted to check out, I saw them on a Warped Tour a while ago and we have been buddies with those guys, and The Cab I haven’t gotten the chance to see them play yet. On sort of the metal side or the heavier side I have to catch Marilyn Manson, I feel like I would be missing out not seeing what the Manson set looks like, I am actually really looking forward to seeing Mastadon and the Lamb Of God sets as well. I am not a metal guy myself but my band is hardcore (laughs) and a lot of nights on our tour bus are spent in sort of the haze of a late night metal event and over the years Lamb Of God and Mastodon have been kind of two of the only bands for me that have stood out as something that me from sort of a more melodic and pop songwriting standpoint still I find pretty satisfying so I am looking forward to seeing those sets as well.
Have you been getting up to much in your spare time here?
Well my spare time, truthfully, I spend usually walking around whatever city we are in. I don’t tend to go look for like a touristy thing to do or like an event per se as much as I kind of like to just point myself in a direction outside of my hotel and just start walking and see what I can come across, that’s sort of how I have always travelled and how I always like doing my days off on tour, so there has been a lot of that, just cruising around and snapping photos and again some time I have spent locked up in the hotel room writing and working on stuff as well.
Is that basically what is on your to do list, to just experience as much as you can?
Yeah yeah. Well I think I might get tattooed tomorrow, which I am kind of excited about. I went to, is it Brunswick? Down on Sydney Road? Yeah, and spoke to somebody down there about doing some work tomorrow on my day off and I have heard that there is a lot of really good street art down there. So I think I am probably going to venture out down there and do a little photo essay or something like that tomorrow.
What artists or bands have been getting the most play on your ipod lately?
Right now, I am kind of in like a discovery period. I have got a bunch of new stuff on here. A lot of local artists, Goyte has been getting a pretty good amount of love on this ipod, I had a friend send over a bunch of new music recently so I am listening to a band called The Heartless Bastards, Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys I listening to a bit of his solo stuff, Niki and The Dove there is a track by them that I am just blown away by. I’ve got an old Penguin Café Orchestra tune that I have been doing a lot of listening to and then there is this band called Friends, that has recently put out a couple of singles in the States, I’m not sure if they have made their way out here yet, but that’s another artist that I have really been digging too.
What does the rest of 2012 hold for Jack’s Mannequin?
The great unknown. Truthfully, when we get back from this we are more or less off, we have like a handful of weekends of college shows back in the States, but I am going to do something that I haven’t done in seven years which is just take kind of the rest of the year off and try and, almost speaking to that point that we had talked about before, like how there has been this long span in between records and a lot of that I think is due to the fact that I tour so often that it becomes hard to get in a rhythm sometimes, and it takes a little bit longer to sort of assemble the pieces of these out of step creations. So I think I am just going to go home and spend a good six months just putting every thought I can down and whether it is in a song or in a picture or in a journal or whatever and then just try and snatch up as much of that as possible and see if it is going to help push that ball forward a little bit quicker.
And outside of Jack’s Mannequin, what does it hold for Andrew McMahon?
I think a combination of writing and just being home with the people that I don’t get to be at home with as often. I have really come to appreciate my close friends a lot over this past year or so. I moved to Los Angeles for five years, kind of away from where I originally grew up in Southern California, and I loved LA in a lot of respects but it brought me closer to the business of making music and a little bit further from the friends and the life at the beach that has historically inspired that music, so I think I am really just eager to get back and kind of play into the hands of the life that I really enjoy which is me and my friends and my family and my wife and my dog and my little house by the beach and just really trying to get absorbed in that and see what comes from it.
Well thanks a lot for taking some time out to chat with us.
It has really been my pleasure.
Good luck on the rest of the tour, will definitely be catching you at Soundwave.
Yeah, yeah it will be fun, it will be a great set. I love Melbourne so I am looking forward to the festival here for sure.