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McMahon’s songwriting—with Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin— has been marked by confessional outpourings of a decidedly gentle, even philosophical bent. But the song that shot Something Corporate to national stardom—and perhaps prompted its composer to eventually pursue another project—is entirely out of character for the genuinely nice guy. Based on a real-life near-altercation, “If U C Jordan” is vindictive, mean and juvenile but extremely catchy. The song—included on the band’s 2002 major-label debut, Leaving Through the Window—features multiple “fuck you”s and closes with “I don’t care if you dye your hair/You’ll always be a little redhead bitch.”
“There was tense animosity there when I wrote it,” McMahon said in an interview with this reporter in April 2002. “I know it sounds really cheesy to say this, but I wrote it more as a coping thing. I was so frustrated. I’ve never been challenged to a fight in my entire life. I went in my garage and wrote this thing in, like, 15 minutes. I basically just took a piss with the song.”
Now, sitting in the rehearsal space, his publicists—one each from Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate—in another room, McMahon reflects on the song he penned in a fit of teen rage. He leans forward, and although a recorder sits in clear view, he speaks as if sharing a secret. “I got to be honest,” he says in a near-whisper. “What ‘If U C Jordan’ did for us, I will always be thankful for. Just in the sense that it really was what launched the band, and we’ll play it live when we go back to Bamboozle because it’s so synonymous with the band. But of all the things I’ve created in my life, I’d say it’s probably one of the things I’m least proud of.
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“I don’t find a lot of inspiration now, or even in the Something Corporate catalog, in anger. For whatever reason, it became such a thing when it wasn’t supposed to. We put the EP out because [label] Drive-Thru[/Geffen] was just like, ‘Do a little introductory piece.’ Nobody knew who the band was. Our assumption was that we were going to put out this little EP and kind of heat up the waters, and then go and do a full-length record that would be a real release. And then KROQ just grabbed ‘Jordan.’ We didn’t push it. I mean, obviously, we made a video for it to follow the success, but I did it as a joke. And to the extent that there’s a human being on the other end of that story, I don’t feel particularly pleased with myself to have dragged that so far out in public.”
Did McMahon ever contact “Jordan”? Apologize? Did they make peace?
“You know, this is probably not the place to talk about it,” he says, with a bashful yet assertive smile. “Y’know what I mean?”
* * *
In 2003, Something Corporate released a follow-up, North, which hit No. 24 on the Billboard 200—back when having a Top 40 record still meant serious sales and money. But the promise of larger paychecks couldn’t prevent an acute case of burnout.
“In a hotel room in Australia in 2004, we all sat down and had the conversation,” McMahon says. “As much as we might have nitpicked one another and fought and done all these things when it came to making the music, we were super-serious about getting on the same page and making it work. We had just reached a point where our relationships had deteriorated enough [that] to bring that into the studio just seemed like a bad idea.
“It was just that moment of relief when we knew it had gone as far it could go before it imploded,” he continues. “And we had seen a lot of friends in other bands on other labels sharing the stage with us at the time who did implode. We were taking those as a cautionary tale and saying, ‘Let’s not to do this.’”
McMahon returned to Orange County and spent time with family and old friends, cleared his head and frequented familiar places such as Gina’s Pizza and Pastaria, the Draft Choice, and the bar at Harpoon Henry’s. “Just Dana Point Harbor in general, for me, when I was living and working on records down there, you could find me at the harbor on almost any given day for just two or three hours, just listening, staring out at the water, making notes,” he says. “For a long time, I lived right above, right on the bluff of Dana Point with my family, so walking down to the bluffs and looking out at the harbor was a huge part of my life down there.”