That mission has continued with the winter leg of the People and Things tour, as the band continues to share songs from the new album. The concerts on the tour have featured a healthy dose of the new material and McMahon says the songs have translated well to the live stage.
Fans have responded enthusiastically to the People and Things material, which was written and recorded quite differently than Jack Mannequin’s first two albums, the main difference being that it was a genuine group effort.
“Most of the other two Jack’s Mannequin albums came from me in the studio,” McMahon says of his usual, more solitary methods. “Sometimes we’d have to rearrange the songs so we could do them live. With this record, we figured out how it feels, how it works, (with all of us) in a room together. We’ve been on the road playing songs every show for so many years. We have a skill we’ve developed over the years that a lot of bands don’t have. Why don’t we exploit that?”
The songs still originated with the prolific McMahon, but the rest of the band contributed parts to the structures — a bridge here, a line there — and the arrangements came together naturally and as they’ll be heard on stage. McMahon says when the band began playing shows again after People and Things was completed (starting with last summer’s Warped Tour stop in Cincinnati), the plan was to lightly touch on but “not to inundate people with new songs.” The band backed off of that plan while they were rehearsing for the tour because, as McMahon says, “it sounded so good and felt so good” that they ended up playing a few of the then-unreleased songs each night.
Regardless of whether the band is playing songs that are brand new or a half-decade old, Jack’s Mannequin is known for its high-energy, crowd-pleasing shows. McMahon says that comes from a sense of obligation.
“I have a real relationship with fans,” he says.
“If I don’t put on a good show or have a show and I feel bad about it, I feel guilty. If we have a bad show, that’s what they take home with them (and) you can’t have that. You do have bad nights, but you have to figure out how to connect with the audience and get through it.”
McMahon (and, as a result, Jack’s Mannequin) was almost not around to foster that dedicated fanbase. Just months before Jack’s Mannequin’s debut album, Everything in Transit, was to be released, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. On Aug. 23, 2005, the day the album came out, McMahon received a stem cell transplant from his sister, Katie.
McMahon has largely recovered from the disease, but he says it’s never far from his mind.
“It’s kind of one of those things you deal with on a day-to-day basis,” McMahon says. “As I get farther away from it, it is less of a thing I deal with in my head. I thought it would disappear quickly, but it does influence what you think about.”
In 2006, McMahon formed the Dear Jack Foundation to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. A portion of the proceeds from most Jack’s Mannequin shows goes to the foundation.
Though McMahon has been outspoken about his winning battle against the disease, he doesn’t see himself as any kind of hero.
“To the extent anybody finds any inspiration and hope, I relish that, it’s an honor,” he says. “But I try to be clear with people that anybody faced with that situation would do it the same way.”
While McMahon soldiered on as soon as he was physically able, he says getting over the cancer took longer and was likely more difficult than it may have appeared.
“It’s taken me years to regain my confidence,” he says. “You don’t have the confidence you need to be an artist after going through something like that. I definitely didn’t. I didn’t have it until, maybe, this record.”
McMahon grew up with the music of his older brothers and sisters, and his mother played piano. He started learning piano when he was 8 and progressed quickly.
“I started writing songs when I was 9 years old,” McMahon says. “The first show I saw was Billy Joel at 10. That’s pretty impressive to a 10-year-old.”
Joel and Elton John were the young McMahon’s idols, which might explain his knack for pop hooks, his unabashed showmanship and his piano-based songwriting. By the time he finished high school, McMahon was leading Something Corporate, a successful Pop Rock band that had a 2002 hit with Leaving Through the Window, its major label debut.
Two years later, McMahon turned his attention to Jack’s Mannequin, a side project for the music he felt wasn’t right for Something Corporate. Soon, Jack’s became McMahon’s primary outlet and Something Corporate faded away. But last summer, the band got back together for a series of reunion shows. The unexpected reunion left fans hoping for something more from Something Corporate. They shouldn’t hold their breath, McMahon says.
“For me, the idea of making a new Something Corporate record is a lot farther away,” he said. “I can’t see it happening. We did some shows that were a lot of fun. I can see us doing some dates every few years. But that’s it. I definitely have an empathy for people who love the old band; I’m that way with some bands. But there are some things you do when you’re 18 years old and there are things that you do when you’re 28.”
Like a lot of bands born in the MP3 age, Jack’s Mannequin is fighting to survive as record sales continue to decline. But, McMahon says, little has really changed for him since Something Corporate got signed a decade ago, at from where he stands.
“I’ve always been in a band which has had support from a record label,” he says. “You do see shifts in the record business. Those things are changing so much every day you can’t keep track. But, for me, fundamentally, what I do from day to day is the same thing I’ve been doing since I was 17 years old.” ©
JACK’S MANNEQUIN performs Friday at Bogart’s with Jukebox the Ghost.