Interview with Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra: The Perfect Formula Alicia Fiorletta August 3, 2011 Interviews 1 Following the release of 2009’s Mean Everything To Nothing, Manchester Orchestra’s reputation of being one of the most influential alternative acts of our generation came to full fruition. Although the Atlanta troupe created buzz in the scene with their debut full-length, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child, which perfectly highlighted lead singer Andy Hull’s cryptic narratives with haunting and hypnotic orchestrations, the sophomore effort truly showcased the band’s instrumental creativity and capability. Chock full of hits like “I’ve Got Friends” and “Shake It Out,” Mean Everything To Nothing blurred lines between musical genres by combining subtle southern twang, rock guitar rhythms, and alternative/indie sensibility and emotion. Although Hull, Robert McDowell (lead guitar/keyboards/vocals), Chris Freeman (keyboards/percussion/backing vocals), Jonathan Corley (bass) and Tim Veny (drums/percussion) meandered its way into the mainstream following the album’s release, that hasn’t stopped Manchester Orchestra from out-beating themselves. The month of May marked the release of their newest album, Simple Math, which undoubtedly upped the ante on their signature sound and the genre altogether. Journalists and fans alike have clung onto the new work, branding it a “concept album” of a twentysomething man finding his way through life and facing his demons. However, listening to the sheer angst, torment and vulnerability laced in Hull’s vocals leads one to believe that this is, in fact, his most personal album yet, as he verbally ventures through internal confrontations involving his belief in God, himself and life as a married musician on the road. Hull took time out of his schedule to discuss his mindset during the writing and recording of Simple Math, how the band mentally prepares for a performance, the video for their newest single, and the news of their recent, and much-discussed, nominations for this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Congratulations to you and the rest of Manchester Orchestra for your VMA nominations for “Simple Math!” Thank you very much! It’s huge! It’s cool for the little band that can, I guess. It’s cool because we’re up against Kanye West—it’s funny. I’ve spent the last day or so randomly watching the video, and I really do think it brings the single to the next level. To that end, I read in a recent interview that you had no idea what the concept was or how the final product was going to turn out; Is that true? Yeah, I mean we really trusted the two guys involved in making the video [Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert], and I knew visually what it was and how the story came together. The way the Daniels guys filmed it in layers and shot the same thing three times with three different layers happening, they pushed them all together to make this crazy looking special effect. It’s really amazing how they make stuff. We didn’t know exactly what it was going to segue into and how it sort of flies all over the place. I have great trust in those guys—and they definitely killed it. Well, after you got to see the final product, does it get the Andy Hull seal of approval? Oh God, yeah. The thing about working with people that are passionate is you just know they’re going to make something special, and you have to have faith in that. They also let us have a lot of back and forth—we went through it, edited, and they would take notes from our parties, and at the end of it, what they turned out was just fantastic. When we saw the final we were really, really impressed. We’re proud to put our name on it. After Simple Math came out, many people, be it fans or journalists, clung on to the fact that it was a “concept album.” But when I listen to it and read how you discuss it, it seems to be an incredibly personal work. How did you get into the mindset of writing this album and what, exactly, did you want to convey to fans and listeners? I think there’s kind of a separation of what you have to convene for yourself and convey to your art, so you kind of have to take the fan out of it. My mindset was actually a lot healthier than the stuff I was writing about and the time I was writing about… There are parts that are extremely personal, and there are parts that are super personal, but have never happened. I found it was turning into this story about a month or two months into making it and I was just sort of like, “Wow, this is all connecting.” So I guess the themes are really like falling on your own sword, not feeling sorry for yourself, almost feeling angry with yourself, and in a way, taking that shift from 21 to 24. How our lives are evolving rapidly, especially with me, being married and being in a family-focused band that spends a lot of time touring—and we really enjoy it, but you know, it’s just honest, is what it is. That’s what I wanted to convey—honesty. Even the musical aspects are a lot heavier. The orchestrations are a lot more full and lush. I think that’s a thing we try to do with each record. We try to evolve our sound in a way that we haven’t before. It’s kind of the perfect storm of the time in our lives where we had the opportunity to make an album that was really grand and we felt like we needed to. When you’re talking about heavy, big things, it felt appropriate to have a heavy, big landscape around it. Yeah, and you can definitely hear it live. When I saw Manchester Orchestra live recently at Terminal 5 with O’Brother and Cage The Elephant, you all seemed incredibly focused and intent on putting on a legitimately good live show. How do you guys prepare mentally and/or musically before hitting the stage? It’s kind of funny—we talked about this the other day—how we see the music of our band. It really takes someone seeing us live to understand the records fully, I think. Because we’re a lot louder and a lot faster in our heads and live than we are on records. So, I think we’re just on a long journey to bring those two things into full cohesiveness, you know? As far as our live show and our records and having the emotion, our mindset is just to try and put on the best show anyone has ever seen. Not worrying about anything, but putting everything we can into it. I know people hate boring shows. I tend to always remember halfway through the tour that the people we see every night weren’t there the night before, and how that’s really important. It’s our job. We were watching this documentary [recently] on Larry Bird, and he said, “You get paid to go to work, then you have to go to work.” You can’t enter a place like Terminal 5, and play same the same way you played the Mercury Lounge in 2006. You have to keep winning people over. It’s kind of weird, because it doesn’t feel like selling a product at all. It just feels like experiencing something with people, which is cool. Going back to the musical inspiration for the album, the band’s roots are in Atlanta, GA. The South has an extremely distinct musical sound, whether it’s bluegrass, honky-tonk or country; do you guys ever purposely try to pay homage to your hometown? It’s almost like you can’t not. It’s in the formula already. I was watching a bunch of home movies with my sister the other day and I was listening to how we were talking as little kids and it was the most southern, country accents. It’s embedded in us, you know? It’s like our band, O’Brother and Cage The Elephant are all from the Deep South. None of us sound alike, but there’s that one thing that binds us all together. Come Aug. 5, you guys are going to be starting up the Honda Civic Tour with Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance at the PNC Bank Arts Center. I have to ask you, how did that come about? It’s huge, but… you know. [Laughs] It’s funny. More unexpected, really. Yeah, well, we found out that all three members of Blink-182 had agreed on it, and then My Chemical Romance really wanted us on. They offered us the whole thing but we didn’t know if we could do 60 shows, the first of three acts without going crazy, so we thought, you know, especially for me, it’s like 13 or 14-year-old us and now we’re 24-year-olds, so, ask if we didn’t want to tour with Blink-182, you know? There are certain things you gotta pay back and think just what a cool opportunity it is to be playing for a bunch of people. I think it’s kind of significant for how our band has grown, and we would have thought that maybe we were too cool for shit three or four years ago without doing it and realizing there’s no such thing as, “Oh, I can’t listen to them, they’re mainstream now.” That’s refreshing to hear, because that’s usually the first thing out of fans’ mouths. Yeah, it’s just like, shut the fuck up about it, Holy God. What is happening? People say that about the VMAs, like, “Oh, they’ll never be the same.” Then you weren’t a real fan. Go away. We don’t want you around here. Plus, it’s another way for more people to hear your music, which is huge! Hell yeah it is! And that’s not like opening up at arena tours and no one’s there. That’s the kind of crap that comes early. And if we can turn on 100 or 500 or 1,000 people on to our band a night, that haven’t heard of us before, and they like it, then we at least planted the seed. Definitely. After you guys finish that leg up, what’s the next step? I take it more touring? Yeah, that’s the plan. We go to England after we get home from the Honda Civic Tour, and then another U.S. tour starting in about October through Thanksgiving. Catch Manchester Orchestra opening up for Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance on the Honda Civic Tour, which kicks off Aug. 5 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. The band’s newest album, Simple Math, is out now. 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