Andrew McMahon Stares Down His Demons in New Memoir Three Pianos — and Finally Makes Peace
For as long as he can remember, Andrew McMahon's piano has been a confessional, a place for him to unpack life's up and downs through a set of ivory keys.
Twenty-one years after putting out his first record, the former frontman of beloved indie outfits Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin is still coming clean — only this time, it's not through song, but on paper, in his upcoming memoir Three Pianos, out Tuesday.
"I was like, 'I'm going to turn 40 in another year. I don't want to be followed around by my history,'" McMahon, 39, tells PEOPLE. "And I think the book largely gave me a vehicle to make peace with some of that."
Three Pianos offers fans a behind-the-scenes look at McMahon's life, from his nomadic childhood as the perpetual new kid in school, to his musical breakthrough with Something Corporate and eventual mainstream success with his current project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
Between a narrative thread that serves as a love letter to each of the three pianos that have belonged to him throughout his life, McMahon recounts deeply personal stories of his father's drug addiction and the strife it caused his family, his own public battle with leukemia at age 22, and the turbulent love story with his wife Kelly, with whom he welcomed daughter Cecilia in 2014.
"There's obviously a lot about my family in this book and the addiction that was sort of threaded through a lot of my upbringing," he says. "I was just in a position where I was finally forced to confront that. I think in a lot of ways, this book became a way to sort of process that out and make peace with it."
The book doesn't shy away from McMahon's high highs and low lows, often taking on a wistful and reflective tone as he recounts some of his life's most impactful decisions — and the way they affected others, regardless of intention.
"I cover a lot of my own personal mistakes that I've made along the way. Just talking about them helped me sort of bury and get rid of these resentments. Or things I couldn't forgive myself for, or things that I had a hard time forgiving myself for, because it really showed me the humanity of it all," he says. "And trying to see things through the lens of other people and understand where they were coming from. It closed the loop on so many difficult situations that I hadn't made peace with."
"For me it was kind of like writing that forgiveness into my life and into my heart in the process of doing this," he adds. "And for that, I wish I had done it sooner."
The "Cecilia and the Satellite" singer had mulled over the idea of writing a memoir before, but the idea stalled when the publishers pushed for the end result to focus on his 2005 cancer diagnosis.
When, like the rest of the world, the musician found himself with a suddenly endless amount of time on his hands due to the coronavirus pandemic, he revisited the idea, starting with an essay written for his piano.
Though he jokes that Three Pianos' tagline should be "A memoir from somebody without a memory," the book helped lay bare patterns in his life that he'd been blind to before.
"It was reliving a lot of it," he says of capturing some of his life's darkest moments in ink. "I was raised in a household with a lot of secrets, and then I sort of started building that for myself in so many ways. When you start seeing that these things are just cyclical, and they're very human, and we all do these things… I think in that sense it was super healing."
Though McMahon says his relationship with his father now is "good," he admits that describing his dad's descent into addiction and multiple stints in rehab in unflinching detail put a strain on things.
"This was not something that he wanted to be in writing, for sure," he says. "That's been really tough on us and our relationship, but we love each other and he certainly didn't get in the way of it. I know it isn't something he's very glad about, but what I can say is that he's fought a very hard battle for himself, and gotten to the other side of it, and I'm super proud of him. I feel at the bottom of my heart that when people read this, they're going to see that side of it, and understand this is a very human experience that people go through. It was such a big part of my story, I couldn't not tell it. But it's not been the easiest thing for us, for sure."
His wife Kelly, on the other hand, was "very encouraging" of McMahon opening up about their time together, which includes the launch of the Dear Jack Foundation in 2006 as a way of helping others realize they're not alone in their cancer journey.
These days, life is calmer for McMahon, who is currently on tour through December and hopes to have a new record come together by summertime.
"I've spent more than half of my life on tour now, and in the studio, and making music," he says. "I just want [the next one] to be an important album. I want whatever I do next to feel like a calling card, and to feel seminal, and I won't put it out until that's the case."
As for what he wants his readers to take from his book, he hopes that Three Pianos will serve as an eye-opener into the duality of addiction.
"So many of us will face addition in our lives, it's just so common," he says. "And for all of that that my family endured, there was so much love. And I think that that's why it's such a tragic disease, because no matter how good a person you are, how much love you have in your heart, these things can rob you of a whole lot. I'm really proud of my family, how they survived it, and gotten to the other side, and continue to do so."
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
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