Orange County singer, songwriter and pianist Andrew McMahon is three-for-three. His bands Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin each blended popped-up punk hooks with, yes, adult contemporary (his name is Andrew, after all), resulting in a fetching din that sat comfortably (and miraculously) between Green Day and Billy Joel. McMahon, you'll recall, made piano tinkles sound natural in the tightly conformed alt-rock game. Yet he developed a loyal, fervent fanbase. Jack's Mannequin split in 2012, though they reunited for a tour a few years back. In the Wilderness is McMahon's new baby. The sound doesn't stray far from his previous combos, but there's worthy evolution and a kind of maturity, so you won't find McMahon pulling the 6-to-10 p.m. shift at the Omaha airport lounge anytime soon. In fact, to our ears, McMahon's recent battle with leukemia has only added gravitas to his work, added weight and a true sense of importance. He's sounding better than ever, ready to be uttered in breaths with true piano men of song. He hits Tucson this week, and we chatted with him about the five albums that changed his life:
1. Billy Joel—Greatest Hits Volume 1 and Volume 2: That was the record that my parents gave me when I first started writing music back when I was 9. I was playing piano and writing songs, and I remember getting that album as a gift because I think it was my parents' best guess for me. They said, "Well you should probably listen to Billy Joel." Those two discs were stuffed in my CD player for probably two or three years on repeat, as my first education into popular music. That was huge for me, and kind of my Bible in the early days of songwriting and playing.
2. Counting Crows—August and Everything After: I think that was the first band I really discovered myself. I was probably in sixth grade, and I remember seeing them perform "Round Here" on Saturday Night Live, and just immediately freaking out. I remember going out to pick up that album at the record store, and learning it. That first time when you discover a band and it's your band, and you're telling your friends about it, freaking out about it—that was huge for me.
3. Ben Folds Five—Ben Folds Five: When considering the idea of maybe starting a band and trying to actually do what I had been doing for years as a writer but do it professionally, coming out of grunge when everything was guitar-centric and keyboards were a little bit out of fashion, let alone a live acoustic piano, this was huge. Seeing an artist like Ben Folds and his band becoming popular in an era where there just were not a lot of piano players playing rock music—it was more your adult contemporary acts that were playing piano.
4. Weezer—Weezer (Blue Album): This is sort of tied to my love of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, because I feel like there's such a thread of Beach Boys in that first Weezer record. To me, the Blue Album was just the archetype for a perfect pop rock 'n' roll record. Melodically, I can still listen to that record today and it feels timeless. I get the chance to play with those guys now, a bunch of shows, and I'm eternally impressed.
5. Tom Petty—Wildflowers: That was a record I discovered when I was like 10 or 11, and listened to on repeat. Somewhere down the line, like 10 years later, when I was about 20, I rediscovered it and it hit me in 8 million different ways than it did when I was 10. It's a timeless record of a great songwriter who also was sonically making one of his best albums. That just has such a great and dynamic range of songs. Some are deep and beautiful, and others are very barroom honkytonk.
With ARIZONA and The Greeting Committee on Friday, July 21 at 6:30 p.m., The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., $30, All ages.