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Andrew McMahon's story is a Behind the Music executive producer's wet dream. Soon after graduating from high school, the singer-songwriter-pianist scored a Drive-Thru Records deal with his Orange County, California, quintet, Something Corporate. Upon releasing their 2001 EP, Audioboxer, the emo-leaning piano-pop wavemakers were upstreamed into MCA Records (now part of Geffen) for their 2002 full-length, Leaving Through the Window. The band soon toured with the likes of New Found Glory and graced the main stage of the annual Vans Warped Tour. By the time McMahon and company took to the road in support of 2003's North, they were already in mid-orbit.
Only McMahon hadn't quite prepared himself for the launch. Returning home after a year of touring Australia alongside the Offspring, McMahon was physically, mentally and creatively burned out. His pale appearance -- magnified by a massive beard and dyed-blond hair hanging past his chin -- reflected his psychological state.
"I didn't cut my hair for three years; it looked ridiculous," he recalls. "It's definitely funny to look at those pictures and be like, 'Dude, what were you doing?'"
McMahon shaved his head, locked himself in his room and wrote a string of personal tunes that he was certain had zero commercial prospects. But once friends heard what he'd been working on, the project took a new turn, particularly once Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee joined him in the studio to record drum parts for what would become Everything in Transit, the debut effort from a side project McMahon ultimately called Jack's Mannequin.
The album was a vast departure from Something Corporate. More sentimental, more cinematic and concerned with much more than generic heartbreak and teen angst, Transit chronicled a year spent looking inward, breaking from a life held in permanent-vacation stasis, pushing loved ones away and seeking redemption. But as the tracks progressed, McMahon's first-person narrator became more in tune with himself and his place in the world. Soon Transit found a home at Maverick Records.
That May, though, after seeking medical attention for prolonged laryngitis, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia.All Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin tour dates were subsequently canceled, and McMahon began a series of radiation treatments, which left him once again hairless, as well as susceptible to shingles and a near-fatal case of pneumonia. Then, on the day that Transit was released last August, McMahon received a stem-cell transplant from his sister, Katie. The album debuted in the Top 40 of the Billboard 200 album chart -- and, more important, the procedure was a success.
"Surprisingly, I feel pretty much back to normal at this point," McMahon says today. "I guess a lot of that is going to be relative to a very tough year, so maybe technically I'm not. But compared to where I was, I feel a million times better, so I'm not complaining. I still get monthly blood tests and whatnot, and I still go to the doctor to have my meds adjusted accordingly. And then around the year mark, I'll have a new bone-marrow biopsy done."
He's been feeling so good, in fact, that he recently began to write and record again. He says his current demos are a departure from anything he's done before.
"I've just now reached the point where I'm ready to write a new record and not stress about the old one as much," he concludes. "Having that fire to write music again feels great."