Within a year of releasing his breakthrough gold single “Cecilia and the Satellite,” singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon headed to New York City and found himself overwhelmed with new inspiration. “I’d write all day and then go out at night and experience the city in a way I never had before,” says McMahon, who’s lived in Southern California for over two decades. The songs took on the mood of what my life felt like in that time, everything from a beautiful sense of celebration to being completely exhausted and wondering when I was going to come up for air.”
Zombies on Broadway, the second album from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness echoes that emotional scope with a selection of songs both powerfully life-affirming and closely attuned to everyday tension and pain. The album’s brightly textured alt-pop builds off the anthemic yet nuanced sensibilities shown in McMahon’s 2014 eponymous debut, revealing a new level of sophistication and insightfulness within his songwriting. And thanks to McMahon’s intimately detailed storytelling and knack for crafting a transportive melody, Zombies on Broadway ultimately creates the feeling of being wholly immersed in the kinetic energy of New York City.
While Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness came to life in the tranquility of Topanga Canyon, creating Zombies on Broadway in the heart of New York City proved just as conducive to the soulful reflection that shapes McMahon’s songwriting—and to the profoundly infectious joy that infuses so much of the album.
Here, in his own words, McMahon elaborates on the making of Zombies on Broadway:
“There is a thread of pressure, tension and uncertainty through many of the songs on Zombies. So much of this album was conceived with me in the midst of hoping, waiting, working and finally celebrating the success of the first installment of the Wilderness project. If Wilderness One was about starting over, Wilderness Two is about the fight to make that gamble pay. Songs like “Dead Man’s Dollar,” “So Close” and “Shot out of a Cannon” are about pursuing dreams and the insecurities and hope that goes along with such a pursuit. I’ve never been one to do anything halfway, and in my search for a great song and the platforms that get them heard, I have been guilty of wandering down the wrong roads or putting space between myself and the people who care for me the most. A good portion of this album meditates on this theme. “Walking in my Sleep,” “Birthday Song” and “Island Radio” find me in various stages of some voyage away from and back to the life I’ve built for myself. Music tests the bonds that keep me earthbound. It’s a struggle that found me in more bars than I’m proud to admit throughout the creation of this set of songs, but the redemption found in “Fire Escape” and “Love and Great Buildings” might be what I was searching for all along.
This brings me to New York City; the backdrop for much of this album’s writing and recording. Years ago I found myself ill in a hospital near Central Park. Up to that point, I had planned on making a home of the city and working there for the follow-up to Jack’s Mannequin’s very West Coast first release. The sidelines I found myself on temporarily, and the ghosts the city seemed to conjure in the aftermath, kept me from pursuing that destiny for more than 10 years. Consciously or unconsciously I began to toy with the idea of making good on that creative impulse and, in the summer of 2015, in the midst of a whirlwind tour and promotion schedule, I finally booked my ticket. That first trip gave birth to a wellspring of inspiration, the first single off the album and a collaboration that cemented my desire to return and finally make my New York album. The year I spent there working on Zombies tested me, and sent me packing for California before the last notes were written. At first, I wondered if this was a failure, if the city had truly beaten me or if it had in fact done its work and done it well. Dancing around a back house in Venice Beach with “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me” coming to life over a breakbeat in a few short hours, I started to believe the latter. “Island Radio” followed shortly after, and somewhere in there the reality of what this record represented did as well.
I have always been two people: one in search of peace and the other in search of whatever makes my hair stand up and my heart beat faster. Ultimately time and taste will be the deciding factor in the success of this East Coast experiment. It’s funny how that works. Sitting at my computer looking over the tracklist and its short running time, I have to laugh about the sacrifices I’m willing to make in the name of popular music. Simply put, it’s the one drug I keep coming back to.”
Mainly produced by Gregg Wattenberg (A Great Big World, Goo Goo Dolls), Zombies on Broadway was also made in collaboration with producer/songwriters such as Jake Sinclair (Sia, Matt Nathanson) and Tommy English (BØRNS, Ladyhawke). For McMahon, forging those new creative partnerships went a long way in expanding his artistry and charting new sonic terrain throughout Zombies on Broadway. “I’ve spent most of my career writing in a room alone,” McMahon points out. “For this album, it was exciting to work with other people and push my creative process, and really discover what could grow from that.”
Raised on the East Coast and in the Midwest, McMahon began writing songs at age nine, drawing inspiration from singer/songwriter/pianists such as Elton John and Billy Joel. While still in high school, McMahon co-founded an early incarnation of pop-punk band Something Corporate, whose 2002 major-label debut hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. In 2004, he formed Jack’s Mannequin and then—on the cusp of releasing the band’s 2005 debut—was diagnosed with leukemia at age 22. Eventually fully recovering, McMahon went on to release two more studio albums with Jack’s Mannequin, in addition to composing songs for the NBC series Smash (an endeavor that earned him an Emmy Award nomination in 2013) and established The Dear Jack Foundation one of the first Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) specific cancer foundations which advocates for and supports initiatives that benefit AYAs diagnosed with cancer.
In 2014, he released Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness which featured the gold-certified single “Cecilia and the Satellite” a Top 5 hit across both Alternative and AAA radio, Top 10 hit at Hot AC and also climbed up the Pop chart. McMahon lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 10 years Kelly and their daughter Cecilia, for whom the hit song was penned.