Lauded for creating emotive, astute rock with his L.A.-based bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, a sea change occurred for prolific pianist-performer Andrew McMahon around 2014. The old-school model of the music biz had collapsed, allowing McMahon freedom, but a wealth of open doors also brought pressure. McMahon was truly operating In the Wilderness. It was an apt descriptor for a beauty and wildness that was at once terrifying and freeing. As McMahon walked through his creative open door, he wondered, “What does me making music 14, 15 years into my career look like?” His answer: “It was about incubating my creative process with a handful of trusted people, for a journey and end result that’s spiritually fulfilling and a purely artistic endeavor, not a commodity.”
That raison d’etre comes full circle on Upside Down Flowers, McMahon’s third full-length In the Wilderness release. It was produced by Butch Walker (Pink, Weezer, Panic! At The Disco) –who also plays drums, bass and guitar on the album–along with guest keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. of Beck fame, with real strings recorded by Emmy-winning, Tony & Grammy nominated arranger/ composer Rob Mathes at Abbey Road. Upside Down Flowers’ 11 songs began in McMahon’s Orange County, California home studio, amidst the nostalgia of the neighborhood where the songwriter lived with his family as a teen.
If locale and history inspired some songs–the poignant, autobiographical album opener “Teenage Rockstars,” for instance–collaboration was also key, as McMahon explains: “I used the art of writing with other people in a way that steered me right back to the thing that always inspired me from the beginning, which was sitting behind a piano and forcing myself to look inward and be imaginative. It’s rare for me to dig so far into my memory, but in the case of ‘Ohio,’ the call was not one that could go unanswered. The song is about my family’s pilgrimage from a small town in Ohio to the coast of California. I call it a pilgrimage because that’s how it felt. At least that’s how I remember it. I suppose it’s one thing to run away, but it’s another to be pulled down the road by what feels like the hand of fate.”
Tickets to McMahon’s forthcoming Moore Theatre performance can be found here.