Smoke Or Fire frontman Joe McMahon’s first solo outing has been about five years in the making. Over the course of writing the songs that would eventually become Another Life, he ended a seven-year relationship, lost his house, his business, fell in love, and moved to Germany to be with his girlfriend. “The title is pretty much what it is. Six years ago, my life couldn’t be more different. I lost pretty much everything I had,” McMahon says. “It was the lowest point in my life. Now, I live in Germany, I play music full-time, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s strange how the one thing you think is the worst that has ever happened to you, you look back and can’t imagine your life if it didn’t happen and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The initial plan was to record the songs on little more than an acoustic guitar and release the album as a barebones affair, but McMahon says, “As the songs started coming together, I heard the songs full-band. The songs were depressing, and I wanted to keep the feel but do something a little different. I decided to take my time with it and really let it become what I heard in my head.”
Now, listeners can finally hear what was in his head. On Sept. 2, Another Life was released jointly by Smartpunk Records in the U.S. and Gunner Records in Europe.
The move to Germany came after a whirlwind romance with a German girl McMahon met when Smoke Or Fire toured Europe in 2013. Their first show was in Münster, and after the gig, he met his now-girlfriend, Maggie, for the first time. They kept seeing each other at shows across the tour and fell for each other quickly. At the end of the tour, he cancelled his trip back home to spend two more weeks with Maggie.
“When it was time for me to fly back to America, Maggie and I were trying to figure out a way to be together. She couldn’t move to America and asked if I would ever move to Germany,” he says. “We had been coming over to Europe to play for nearly 10 years at this point, and I had fallen in love with Germany back in 2005 when we were on the Deconstruction Tour. I told Maggie I would go back to the States and figure out a way to move to Germany within a year. I went back to the U.S. and worked three jobs, usually seven days a week. I sold or got rid of almost everything I owned, and about 10 months after we met, I was on a one-way flight back to Münster with a bag of clothes and two guitars.”
The music scene in Münster reminds McMahon of the one in Boston where he and his band got their start in the late ‘90s. “People go out to shows just because there’s a show,” he explains. “They book the shows, run the venues, and support the bands all on their own. Honestly, in the last two years living here, I’ve seen a lot of my friends from America more here than I did in the States, because their bands come through to play so often.”
Despite having started his new life in Europe and released his solo record, McMahon says Smoke Or Fire are not over yet, but he’s not sure exactly what the near future holds for the band. “I love those guys so much, so I don’t see us breaking up, because there’s no reason to,” he says. “Everyone just has their own things going on right now. [Guitarist] Jeremy [Cochran] loves his job and doesn’t want to lose it like we’ve all lost so many jobs because of the band. I respect that; he’s my best friend. [Drummer] Ryan [Parrish] is out kicking ass with his other band, Iron Reagan. [Bassist] James [Muñoz] is doing standup comedy, and he’s insanely funny. I would love to write another Smoke [Or Fire] record and record it, but it doesn’t make much sense if the band isn’t going to tour.”
For now, McMahon is focused on promoting his solo record with a slot at FEST in October and then, a tour of the East and West Coasts.