Andrew McMahon Trades the Wilderness for the City
Andrew McMahon was ready for a new memory and a new story for New York.
It’s a city that commands it’s own character in romantic comedies. It’s the subject of Frank Sinatra and Taylor Swift songs alike. It’s inspired a lot of stories and a lot of love.
But “Zombies on Broadway,” the sophomore album from alt-pop artist Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, who plays at the historic Florida Theater of Gainesville this Sunday, is not quite a love letter.
“I love that New York always gives me a run for my money and usually wins,” McMahon said.
Preceded by the distinctive sounds of the subway, the album’s first song “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me,” juxtaposes a dance track with conflict-ridden spoken word lyrics like “beneath this low-rise second city that’s turning good men into liars.” Whereas “Fire Escape,” the record’s first single, joyfully sings of acrobats in Brooklyn, dance halls and city lights. It’s an album that wavers between contrasting views of both the city and McMahon’s place in life.
“In some ways, it is a love letter and in other ways, it’s sort of an acknowledgement that the city, as much as I love it; a life there is not really sustainable for me,” McMahon said.
McMahon and New York have a lot of history. While on tour in 2005, when he was just 22, McMahon was admitted to a hospital near Central Park and diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It was the same day he finished recording “Everything in Transit,” his debut album as Jack’s Mannequin, his previous project.
“I think New York will always be tricky for me,” McMahon said. “I don’t think I could write my way out of those ghosts.”
While he’s always wanted to write a record in the city, it would be more than ten years before he returned to write “Zombies on Broadway.” Two years ago the West Coast-dwelling artist returned to the city. Maybe it was the moment to finally tackle it, the New York album.
“That’s when Fire Escape was hatched,” McMahon said. “It was just this very magical handful of days where I was hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and I was taking in the city.”
He eventually moved out to Brooklyn for several months to write the record, where, much like the city, he wasn’t doing a lot of sleeping. The record came to life through a hectic schedule of working 12-hour days in the studio, late nights out with friends and waking up hungover just to write again.
“I think if nothing else I was ready to have something else to associate New York with,” McMahon said. “I certainly feel like I have a new story to tell about the city and it shows up in this record and I’m really proud of that.”
While McMahon spent most of his time in Williamsburg, the undead title is a nod to the commotion of Times Square and the neighboring theatre district, where he was recording in the studio.
“It conjures this picture of the chaos of the city and how you can lose yourself in it,” McMahon said.
A reference to the shuffling crowd of oblivious tourists that it can be difficult to escape in Manhattan, it also describes himself after a manic city experience and toward the end of completing an album.
“I felt very much like one of those people wandering through the street: a little bit haggard, hungover and unaware,” McMahon said.
Riding in the backseat of a car, screaming along to “Dark Blue,” from Jack’s Mannequin album “Everything in Transit,” embodies exactly who I was at 16. But “Zombies on Broadway” feels a little more like growing up.
Now the father of a three-year-old daughter, McMahon has also done some growing up since the days of Something Corporate, his first band, which he formed in high school.
For him, this record is about figuring out how to balance the different sides of his personality to live a healthier life. The album tells a cohesive story that begins with conflict and searching and leads to the quiet conclusion of “Birthday Song,” where he reflects on the value of his family life.
“The album is to some extent a reconciliation of the part of me that’s searching for peace all the time and the part of me that really enjoys doing just about anything that makes my hair stand up,” McMahon said.
Tickets for the show on Sunday, April 23, can still be purchased for $27 in advance or $30 at the door. For every ticket sold, 50 cents will benefit the Dear Jack Foundation, which McMahon founded to support adolescents and young adults with cancer.
For McMahon, the concert, which also features opening acts Atlas Genius and Night Riots, will mark his first time performing in town.
“I’m excited to play Gainesville,” McMahon said. “It’s the home of my ultimate rock ‘n’ roll idol, Mr. Tom Petty, so I’m glad to finally be making my way out there.”