Gerard McMahon (pronounced McMann), or G Tom Mac, as he's more recently known, is one of those artists you may think you've never heard of.
Reading the accolades heaped upon him by artists you do know, you may find yourself wondering why you don't know of the guy. No less personages than Roger Daltrey and KISS sing his praises - and his songs. Film director Joel Schumacher describes one of his works as "a religious experience." He was sampled on Eminem's latest album and he's been in the business since 1971, criss-crossing the country, from Kansas to New York to Colorado to L.A.
And you still don't know who he is. A pity, too, because you've sung along to his songs, maybe even danced to them, heard them on TV during Smallville, Gossip Girl, Scrubs, the Sarah Conner Chronicles and even America's Next Top Model, and in Dolby sound in films like Terminator, Chasing Amy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and many others.
If nothing else rings a bell, this will: he wrote - and performed - the iconic goth rock anthem, "Cry Little Sister," from The Lost Boys, which he recently updated into a bluesy gospel-fueled tour-de-bayou "Blood Swamp version" for the hit TV show, True Blood. (As a Louisiana native, I am pretty picky when someone tries to interpret my home state, but McMahon did a gorgeous job of updating this hit while at the same time rolling it in Mississippi mud and making it ooze with down-home Bon Temps character.)
This weekend McMahon makes an appearance in Salt Lake City for the Salty Horror International Film Festival on November 5 and 6.
I spoke with McMahon over email and asked him a lot of questions about his writing process, especially how he manages to continue to write relevant, up-to-date music for such a wade variety of audiences in a career that has spanned four decades.
SLUG: You've managed to be very successful in a business that generally rewards a few very well, while chewing through the majority of people who get involved with music. What have you done to succeed for so long in a difficult industry?
McMahon: [I] never got locked into nostalgia feeling and thinking. I don't look back. I love freshness in music, fashion and points of view. Along with some luck!
SLUG: How do you approach the writing process? What techniques do you use to write a song? Do you start with lyrics or music?
McMahon: I generally get a musical idea and [I] have a journal of experiences and song titles that I draw from, depending on the mood of the melody, chord and groove I'll apply.
SLUG: In what ways does your process differ when you write for your own albums and projects as opposed to when you write for television, films, or other bands? Do different types of projects (horror movies vs. lighter television fare, for example) require a different process?
McMahon: My process is somewhat different on assignment for a film or TV theme etc, but I still have to be inspired to have it be compelling, or just plain work for a work-for-hire song. When I write for my own album project, I write 30 some-odd songs to get 10 or 11 to all be a thread that play well throughout. It's crazy but I still like the idea of an album of songs and so do my fans apparently.
SLUG: It seems like about half the commercial work you do is related to horror or at least "dark" programming and you perform at a lot of horror-themed events. What, if anything, draws you to these kinds of projects and events, or is this perception even accurate?
McMahon: Actually I have more of my music in drama TV shows and shows like Ellen DeGeneres, Gossip girls, Extra (of all things) so on & on. Now Eminem just sampled me on his new album, and the Horror convention thing I just started to do 2 years ago, as a means to meet and reach more fans, which turned out to be quite fun. I also scored all the music to the new Horror film Emerging Past.
SLUG: Your work has been sampled and covered, and of course you've written for other artists. How do you feel about your words and vision being interpreted by others?
McMahon: I'm flattered and complimented by it, as that's the real pay off to one's long journey in how you end up validated for your creativity.
SLUG: You've been at this for a while, and technology has changed a lot in that time, especially for the production of music. Which advances do you appreciate, and which could you do without?
McMahon: I've always accepted technology as a means to create and to communicate. Today is a very exciting time with the advantages of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. What I don't do is overuse these tools. [I] try to use them when it's important to communicate with my fans' awareness. Otherwise, I hate rubbish. I believe technology can overkill with information as well. If I've got great music and something to say that I believe in, you'll know it.
SLUG: Who are you listening to these days, and what music has really grabbed your ear recently? Any guilty pleasures or surprising favorites?
McMahon: I have long loved Phoenix, the French band who have now become a successful band. Temper Trap is another who lean pop and write cool songs and my Lady Gaga guilty pleasure is here to stay!
SLUG: You did a fantastic job on the Swamp Blood version of “Cry Little Sister”. I especially loved the gospel singer in place of the children's chorus. Again, I'm curious about your process. What did you do to inject the swampy, bluesy atmosphere of Louisiana into a song usually considered to be a gothic rock anthem?McMahon: I've always loved the music that originated from any rural back woods or road, so it was an interesting approach when HBO had me in for a meeting to discuss the potential of me taking “Cry Little Sister” in the direction in which True blood lives musically. Made me realize more of my song's longevity as well.
SLUG: On your website, you have individual tracks available for download, for about the same price as tracks on various websites that sell music, but at a much higher quality (and thank you for that!). I think this is brilliant, and probably the future of artist-driven sales, taking a cue from Trent Reznor and others who have experimented with this. Can you talk to me a little about this? How successful has it been? Do you think this forecasts a change in how the music business works? McMahon: My music sells better on iTunes than it does on my site, because I think it's the brand aspect to the buying public that sees it in iTunes. Perhaps when my brand becomes more established, my fans will see to it [that] I get more of the income from my site. Still I make a hell of a lot more from iTunes and other online sources than I would from an established record company. I believe the future of many artists will be to partner with established clothing / apparel companies. More importantly, artists should think about creating properties that their fans will be interested in, such as short clever films, graphic novels and a life beyond the CD and t-shirt merchandise.
SLUG: What musical plans do you have for 2011?
McMahon: I'm finishing my new album, due out in Spring of 2011, and I'm producing a film documentary with two-time Emmy winner, director Peter Jones called Invasion, as in British invasion from 1963 to 1968, and other music driven film projects as well, over the next three years
So now that you know who he is, don't miss G Tom Mac at the Salty Horror International Film Festival, taking place November 5 and 6. On Friday, November 5th, McMahon performs with Brooke McCarter at the Salty Horror after party at the Hive Gallery on the second floor of Trolley Square Mall.
On Saturday, November 6th, McMahon will be part of the Saturday panel discussion on marketing to the horror industry, taking place at 2pm at the Salt Lake Public Library, and as part of a Lost Boys reunion, Q&A and signing at 7pm at the Tower Theater. His latest song, Soul I Bear, is featured in Thomas Churchill's new film, Emerging Past. The film will be featured at 5pm on Saturday, November 6 as a special Salty Horror screening. saltyhorrorfilmfestival.com.