SANTA MONICA, California — When Andrew McMahon knocked on his piano bench in the studio last week, he wasn't tapping out a rhythm.
The Something Corporate singer, who was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia in May and received a stem-cell transplant from his sister in August, is now in remission and, knock on wood, in the process of a full recovery.
"I have a doctor's appointment every week and they check my blood counts. Everything has been good, and then in another 50 days or so they'll test my bone marrow," McMahon explained. "I was already in remission [from two rounds of chemotherapy] once I went in to get the transplant ... and the idea is that you send in the new good cells that will ultimately pick up where the old ones left off, but actually if there is anything [cancerous] left in there, they are supposed to kill it off as well."
McMahon originally thought he would have to undergo a bone-marrow transplant, but his doctors were able to extract the cells from his sister's blood, a less painful procedure, especially for the donor.
"It's like a regular blood transfusion, which doesn't really hurt, but the way that it all transpired [was frightening]," he explained. "The guy rolls a cart into the room with dry ice and these bags of stem cells and all these people are around and they pump it into you. I was a little shaky with what was going on. They kept on saying, 'Oh, it's really uneventful, it's really uneventful.' And me and my whole family are in the room going, 'What's going on?!' It was definitely a weird time."
The recovery process is a long one, and McMahon is still rail-thin, hairless and exhausted.
"I got finished with the transplant and everything was smooth sailing, as has kind of been the staple of both my hospital visits, and then at the end I got really sick again and came home really sick for like a week or so, but recovered," he said. "This is definitely a little bit of a slower process than just doing the chemo, because you're essentially adopting a new immune system."
Last week, though, McMahon gathered the strength to return to the studio where he recorded his solo album, Jack's Mannequin's Everything in Transit, which was released on August 23, the same day he had his transplant.
"I had this idea when I was in the hospital," McMahon explained. "It seems like every year I always have different people come and ask for a Christmas song and it seemed strangely appropriate for me this year because Christmas is the time that I am supposed to be sort of back and up and running and whatnot. So I just wrote a song about returning from this very interesting journey and kind of getting back to normal and getting back to work and my regular life."
The song is called "The Lights and Buzz" and also addresses the irony of spending the winter holiday in sunny California.
"Truth be told a lot of people are just going to be discovering the Jack's record when they hear this, so I kind of made it the winter companion to the summer album," McMahon said. "Like the record, [the song] is about coming home, but just kind of coming home from a different circumstance."
"The Lights and Buzz," which will surface online and/or on a holiday compilation later this year, will be credited to Jack's Mannequin and was recorded by the same team behind McMahon's solo album, including producer Jim Wirt (Incubus, Hoobastank).
"It has some trippy sounds," McMahon said. "It's kind of got more of a Radiohead vibe than a lot of the stuff we've done. We wanted to experiment a little bit just 'cause we didn't have any expectations or anything."
McMahon's next return to the studio will likely be with the rest of Something Corporate sometime next year, but before then, he wants to give Everything in Transit the promotion he thinks it deserves.
"It's hard, because I feel like I've got this record that I'm so psyched on and I want so many people to hear and unfortunately with radio and stuff, a lot of times you have to give to get," McMahon said. "You've got to be able to go out and play a show for the station and do this and that, and I want to, but at this exact second, I can't travel. ... But my hope is that I can start working back into at least somewhat of a schedule where I can be doing promotion."
For more on McMahon's battle with leukemia, check out "Andrew McMahon: Fighting For His Life."