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Andrew McMahon arrives at Mates Studio in North Hollywood wearing a form-fitting Police concert T-shirt and tight black trousers. His features appear chiseled compared to the roundish 19-year-old face that became famous in 2002. McMahon’s body—lean, muscular, healthy—looks nothing like the frail, cancer-ravaged figure seen in Dear Jack, the haunting November 2009 documentary that details the Dana Hills High graduate’s battle with leukemia. Entering the large, generic rehearsal space used by McMahon’s band Jack’s Mannequin, the piano-pounding front man clutches a cup of Lamill coffee he purchased near his Silver Lake home overlooking Sunset Boulevard. It’s a balmy, blue-sky February day around noon, and McMahon—although admitting to being busier than ever—radiates the focused verve of a man in complete control of a career that just might be peaking.
His other band, Something Corporate, the seminal Orange County alt-pop act that went on hiatus in 2004, announced in December they would headline the second day of Bamboozle at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. It will be their first time onstage together since 2006, when the group played three songs following a full set by Jack’s Mannequin. McMahon, grinning, dishes that Something Corporate spent the previous week in Santa Monica recording together. “We just hung out in the studio for a week,” he says from a black, metal folding chair near his piano. “First time we had been in a studio together in, God, probably four or five years.”
While in the studio, the band revisited a couple of demos that never received proper releases: Guitarist Josh Partington’s “Wait,” which had been played acoustic before, enjoyed the full-band treatment, and the band revamped McMahon’s “Letters to Noelle.’” Rough cuts of both songs originally appeared on the super-obscure Galaxy Sessions EP that McMahon gave away to members of Something Corporate’s mailing list who sold more than five tickets to the band’s May 11, 2001, show at the House of Blues. (The group became the first unsigned OC band to sell out the venue.) The freshly recorded renditions of those songs will appear on an as-yet-untitled “best of” compilation scheduled for release in late April or early May on Universal Music Enterprises, McMahon says.
The 27-year-old remains tight-lipped about the future of Something Corporate. “You’re gonna pry it out of me—is that the deal?” he asks with a laugh. “Look, we are having a great time playing together and seeing one another, and we had a great time in the studio, but I think, for me, Jack’s Mannequin is my priority, and making music in that wing of my life is where my head is at. But, at the same time, if we are having a blast, I don’t rule anything out.”
McMahon wrote much of the material for the upcoming Something Corporate retrospective as a teenager and had not listened to those songs in years. “It was definitely a trip down memory lane,” he says. “Definitely a lot of ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe I said that.’ But for the most part, it has been a celebration for us. To have the four of us back together, interacting on that level and putting things together for a record and getting ready to do a show—it’s been exciting. It’s been fun. It’s been a good way for us to kind of mend some fences from the time when we didn’t completely reconcile.”
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Music has more or less dominated McMahon’s life since a very young age. Born in Massachusetts, he moved with his family to New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio before landing in Orange County; his parents live in the same Dana Point house where Something Corporate practiced in the garage. Lin McMahon recalls her son immersing himself in music after the loss of his uncle. “Andrew and he had a special connection, and he was devastated,” she says. “Andrew played piano and wrote poems and music at age 9. We knew then he had a unique gift. But more than just the talent, he had a huge desire to talk to people with his music, just to be heard. It was never about the fame or the money or being a rock star.”
In the spring of 1998, while a high-school sophomore, McMahon attended a party where he met guitarist and fellow songwriter Josh Partington, a junior attending nearby Aliso Niguel High. The teens both loved old blues artists and other music that predated Green Day. After numerous jam sessions, they decided to form a band; McMahon brought in Dana Hills pals Kevin Page (bass) and Brian Ireland (drums), and Something Corporate took shape. “I knew this kid. There was something about him, something I wanted to be a part of,” recalls Partington. “Andrew is easily one of the more talented people I have ever met. He was born to be a lead singer.”