Interview With Manchester Orchestra

Written By:

Amber Clements

17th November 2009
At 12:40 GMT

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November has descended on the concrete quarter of England's second city, the sharp, cool winds and the stark, barren urban sprawl would dissuade most people from venturing outside.

Tucked away inside one of the nondescript architectural shells, there is, fortunately, a warm beating heart as Manchester Orchestra take to the stage for a short support slot and yet another chance to impress the assembled onlookers with their warm, emotion-fuelled song-writing.

Just a couple of hours earlier Strange Glue gatecrashed the Manchester Orchestra tour bus to catch up with the band about their incredibly prolific year of recording and touring with the hope of getting at least a few nuggets of insight about their future plans.

Lead singer and master lyricist Andy Hull is relaxing before the show starts tonight. We soon put an end to that, and made him explain himself.

Strangeglue: [Insert pleasantries] How's the touring going for you all so far?

AH: We've been touring pretty much for twelve straight weeks now, two weeks with Biffy Clyro and I've only had one day at home in between. We really like Biffy Clyro though, we've been good friends since a tour in 2008 when they supported us in the States, so we had the idea to swap places over in the UK  since they're more well known over here and then they're going to come over and support us on our tour next March. It's been a blast though, they're all really good people and we hang out all the time.

SG: Tell us about the album then (Mean Everything To Nothing), it almost seems like an album of two halves, the first energetic, the second more fragile. Was that the idea behind the album?

AH:  That was intentional, definitely. I felt like the second half sounded more like our earlier stuff and that's why I decided to do things in that order, because whenever we go to make a new album we like to challenge ourselves but also we like to challenge the listener to stick with it and I think the album really does that. The first part of the album is the storm and then the second part, starting with "I Can Feel A Hot One", is the forgiveness part.

The other goal was to completely crush the emo rumours, which we undeservedly got, maybe from the bands we were touring with at the time of the last record but hopefully this album shows that we're not nineteen.... we're twenty-one.

SG: What was it like working on the album with producer Joe Chiccarelli?

AH: It was great, he's more of an engineer/producer rather than a producer/engineer and when recording he was brilliant at finding the best sounds and mic positions. So there really wasn't too much productions involved. We'd do about 25 takes a day and he'd assemble the final mix from those takes. It's a really great way to make a record and I think we'll be doing the same with the next album too.

The last album we were only doing around five takes but with this one we'd start early and by the twentieth take we're much more likely to try different things and that really made the final album what it is.

SG: The new video for 'Shake It Out' plays almost like a 4 minute remake of Sylvester Stallone's frankly awful 'Over the Top', only without the awfulness, what drew you to the idea of the video?

AH: We just really liked the treatment when we saw it, I did find it hilarious that I had a black son and no one's said anything about it.

SG: What other bands did you seek to emulate, or draw inspiration from when you set about recording your latest album?

AH: Well we made it a point to tell Joe (Chiccarelli) that we wanted our new record to sound exactly like Pinkerton (Weezer's 1996 masterpiece) and Matt Sharp (former Weezer bassist) was involved in the mixing of this album so yes Weezer are a massive influence on us. Obviously we're good friends with Brand New and any comparisons we get to them are welcome.

SG: What are your top tips for albums that our readers should listen to?

AH: David Bazan's album Curse Your Branches; Damien Jurado's Songs For David; The Colour Revolt with Plunder, Beg and Curse as well as Mountain Goats & Kaki King's Black Pear Tree.

SG: What would you say is your favourite track to play to people live?

AH: Probably "Pride", i really enjoy playing that track live, though Biffy Clyro always want us to play "Where Have You Been", on this support tour we don't really have time but in Glasgow they changed the schedule to give us a few more minutes to play it.

SG: And in addition to all the well-received live shows, you've also been busy on the festival circuit. Any fond memories drawn from these experiences?

AH: Well we've played Lollapalooza the most times, this year was our third time and we got to open the main stage to about 8,000 people which to us was a real privilege. In the UK our biggest crowd was at Reading I think there must have been about 12,000 people watching us there.

SG: What's next on your itinerary?

AH: After this tour we're in Europe for a few shows, I think we're doing about eight altogether. Then we're going back to the States to play Brand New's Long Island shows.

In 2010 we're going to be recording the new record in June and hopefully we're gonna get some time to take it easy because this year we've been touring forever. I've just bought a house so I need to get home at some point and start unpacking boxes.


With the questions now behind us, our attention was drawn to the subject of new material from the band. Hull was eager to play us a couple of demos which will be on the new album. The currently-untitled two tracks we heard were subtly different in style to the current album, perhaps even more mature. The first track started with a multi-track overlaid vocal from Hull before breaking down into a rockier chorus, the sound was interesting, maybe with a small hint of Modest Mouse influence in the vocal style.

The second new track we heard was much more contemplative. Hull remarked that he wrote the track after a family friend suffered a miscarriage, with the track exploring the emotions of wondering what might have been. Hull's vocals quiver over a minimal stripped-back acoustic guitar with a little bit of vocal reverb adding atmosphere to the track. We suggested that there was more than a hint of Fevers and Mirrors-era Bright Eyes swirling around the track, Hull was understandably enthused by such a suggestion, before adding that his favourite Bright Eyes album Letting Off The Happiness may have also contributed to the style.

After goodbyes were said and tears were shed (mostly ours), we left for the warmth of the main venue where a few minutes later the boys came on stage to a sold-out Birmingham Academy. The world around them may be soulless but Manchester Orchestra have proved time and time again that they have the ability to slice through apathy and create some of the most intelligent emotional music we've heard over the past few years. Just don't call them emo, they're much too old for that.

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