Life was never the same for Andrew McMahon after he experienced a Billy Joel show as a prepubescent during the 1990s. The future singer-songwriter sat captivated in an Ohio arena as the Piano Man sang, played and engaged the audience.
“That was the perfect show for a kid like me to see,” McMahon said while calling from San Francisco. “I was blown away by Billy’s performance. It totally inspired me.”
It’s obvious that McMahon, 35, took some notes, since like Joel, he writes sonic narratives and connects with the audience.
“I pride myself on writing songs that are about something,” McMahon said. “I love telling a story via song. It’s an art form.”
It takes a few spins to comprehend the sonic tales spun by McMahon throughout his second solo album, the passionate and dramatic “Zombies on Broadway.”
The electro-pop is filled with clever tunes, such as “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me” and “Love and Great Buildings.”
“Walking in My Sleep,” which possesses some Joel-esque elements, was inspired by the grind of the road.
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“What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s not easy being on the road,” McMahon said. “There are times when I land in an airport and I only have a few minutes to travel through three terminals in order to catch my flight. It’s not easy. I put that into the song with that one.”
McMahon has essentially been a solo recording artist since he recorded under the moniker Jack’s Mannequin in 2004. However, the former Something Corporate frontman has been collaborating with a number of songwriters when crafting tunes for his two solo albums.
“You’re either comfortable working with other songwriters or you’re not,” McMahon said. “I like the whole process. I have embraced bringing talented people into the room with me to work on my music. When I work with other people, I end up on a new course and I like that. Different is good.”
Location has always been significant for McMahon, who has been playing piano since he was 9. He wrote and recorded “Zombies on Broadway” while living in New York. Much of his earlier material was influenced by California where he spent much of his life. His latest song, “Ohio,” which debuted last month, was inspired by his elementary school years in Bexley, Ohio
“Where I’m at is a big deal,” McMahon said. “It influences where I write.”
Perhaps a song about Iowa is in his future. During the early stages of his career, McMahon spent much of the winter in Iowa. His road manager’s grandfather resided in Iowa.
“I can’t remember what city this was in Iowa since it was so many years ago,” he said. “I can’t even give you the exact year. I can say that I was really young and that I really enjoyed Iowa. Am I going to write a song about Iowa? We’ll see.”
Expect McMahon to work on a new album, which will include the single “Ohio.” The new tune will be delivered when McMahon performs Monday (5/28) at the Englert Theatre. It will be a loose acoustic evening since McMahon will be sharing a stage with his singer-songwriter pals Allen Stone, Zac Clark and Bob Oxblood, who backed McMahon during the Jack’s Mannequin days.
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“It’s the ‘Pen and The Piano’ tour and it’ll be fun mixing it up onstage with my friends,” McMahon said. “Allen Stone could headline this show by himself, but he’s gracious enough to be part of this. I love doing tours like this.”
However, fans shouldn’t wait for a Something Corporate reunion or a Jack’s Mannequin jaunt.
“I know there are a lot of bands out there marking the 10th anniversary of an album, but I would rather not do that,” McMahon said. “I want to write new material and I want to challenge myself. I still do some songs from Jack’s Mannequin but I don’t want to go night after night touring behind that album. No offense to that period, but I’ve grown up and moved on.
“There is so much that I would like to do. I think I’ve only scraped the surface of what I can do.”
WHAT: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness & Friends, with Allen Stone, Zac Clark and Bob Oxblood (of Jack’s Mannequin)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday (5/28)
WHERE: The Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
TICKETS: $37.50, (319) 688-2653 or englert.org
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Andrewmcmahon.com