Andrew McMahon shares his ‘love for Ohio’ and Detroit

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness comes to The Fillmore Sunday for the Zombies in America tour

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Andrew McMahon isn’t afraid to admit to a Michiganian that he likes a certain state down south.

“I grew up in Buckeye country, I won’t lie,” the singer-songwriter laughs on the phone, a few hours before a show in Omaha last week. “I lived outside of Columbus for a few years in my elementary and middle school years, but just for three, so don’t hate me. I’m not a born Ohioan, but I do have a lot of love for Ohio.”

Yet the 34-year-old lead alternative pop singer and pianist of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness is well aware some University of Michigan fans want the whole state to be “erased from the map.”

“I understand,” he says, chuckling.

McMahon will return to the Midwest Sunday when he performs 6 p.m. at The Fillmore in Detroit for his Zombies in America tour. This won’t be the first time McMahon has stopped in the Motor City. He guesses he’s been here two to three times a year since touring with Something Corporate — the pop punk band he formed in high school — in 2002.

Originally scheduled to play at Saint Andrew’s Hall, promoters switched the venue to The Fillmore due to high demand.

“This will be the first time I’ve played it in a while, and was so excited to see the original show sell out so fast that we were able to bump up,” he says, remembering the last time he performed at the nearly 3,000-capacity Woodward venue, it was known as the State Theatre. “So I’m really fired up to get back.”

The show also featuring Atlas Genius and Night Riots promotes his second Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness album — “Zombies on Broadway” — released Feb. 10 through Vanguard Records.

While he’s written the majority of his music on the West Coast for the last decade and a half, he says he switched coasts and wrote this album in New York City to “source inspiration” from the locale.

“It’s certainly a sonically adventurous album for me,” he says. “There’s a little bit of a dance influence on this. There’s electronic elements factored into the early ‘Wilderness’ project, the first album I put out, that I think we continued to make good on this record.”

Though he says it’s “tough” to pick a favorite out of the 11 tracks, McMahon names “Love and Great Buildings” as one he feels “pretty close” to. The chorus screams New York City, but he could be singing about Detroit, or any resilient city.

Love and great buildings will survive

Strong hearts and concrete stay alive

Through the great depressions

Yeah, the best things are designed to stand the test of time

“It was written toward the end of the record, and there’s the old adage that you always love the last thing you wrote the best,” he says, adding, “I think there’s a lot of heart in a lot of these songs.”

There’s heart, and a bit of struggle. And McMahon knows struggle.

After Something Corporate went on hiatus, McMahon formed the rock band Jack’s Mannequin in 2004. A few months before releasing the debut album, he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at age 22. He beat the cancer, thanks to a stem cell transplant from his sister, and has been cancer-free for 11 years.

In 2006, he founded the Dear Jack Foundation to support adolescents and young adults with cancer ages 15-39, or what he calls “a pretty underserved demographic in the cancer population.”

“It’s the only demographic of cancer patients in the last 30 years that hasn’t seen an improvement in their survival ratings,” he says. “It happens to be the demographic that I fell into when I was sick, and certainly it’s the age of a lot of my fans. It’s the age where, gosh, you graduate from high school and college, got your first job, and fall in love, and had your first break up and all these important seminal moments in your life happen in this age bracket — and you happen to get cancer.”

While in treatment, he had an outpouring of support from fans who wanted to contribute to causes in his honor, which inspired him to establish the foundation.

The nonprofit has since spurred a number of programs, like the “Life List,” where patients can request anything they’d like Dear Jack to help them achieve. The first Life List from a 28-year-old woman battling leukemia included attending “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and renewing her wedding vows with her husband.

“Nothing big (no dress, no suit), just immediate family,” she wrote.

“We try and give adolescents and young adults facing a cancer diagnosis something to look forward to while they’re in the hospital and while they’re in treatment,” McMahon says of the program.

His annual Dear Jack Benefit Concert on Nov. 11 (the date nods to the “Something Corporate” song “Konstantine” that has the line “I always catch the clock it’s 11:11”) raises funds to support the initiatives. Last year, the show raised nearly $70,000. McMahon says he’s seeking a location for the eighth show this year and hopes to host it someplace outside the west coast, where it’s typically held.

“We have a lot of fans who travel to go to that show, so we’re going to try to find a satellite location this year so that we can bring it to another territory and give them a chance to see it,” he says.

For now, he’s looking forward to his concert, presented by 89X and 93.9 The River, in Detroit.

“It’s been one of the better markets for my first two bands,” he says. “I have a lot of love for the audiences I’ve played for out there because there’s always been a pretty passionate base of people out there that have made their way out and have sung out loud.”

He adds this is “the biggest production” since touring with Something Corporate.

“It’s definitely a lot of fun to get to give a show that big,” he says. “So if you’re going to catch one, this is a good one to make your way out to.”


(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

The Fillmore

2115 Woodward

6 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25 and up

(313) 961-5451