If the words of critics were any indication, Manchester Orchestra would be as ubiquitous as air itself. The Atlanta band's 2009 LP, Mean Everything to Nothing, topped many of indie rock's most cherished best-of lists for the year and seemed to spark a near-unanimous raised fist from anybody with a music blog. Most aficionados called the album a classic even before it was being widely streamed. That it also cracked the Top 40 certainly did seem to mean everything.
Four months and hundreds of shows later, there isn't an indie fan in all the land who hasn't had a chance to catch Manchester Orchestra. Crisscrossing the country with the fervor of those possessed by the word, the five-piece has left in its wake an ever-increasing legion of acolytes. Each seems more determined than the next to ensure that the world knows the roar and the glory. And, to be sure, the band creates one glorious roar, an anthemic rush of wonder and volume that springs from deep inside the wounded soul and soars toward the healing heavens. If spirits had fistfights, this would be their soundtrack.
New Times recently caught up via email with the band's lead singer, Andy Hull. Here's what he had to say in advance of the band's show this weekend at Revolution:
New Times: You've probably answered this a million times before, but still, I've got to ask — why the name?
Andy Hull: I started the band when I was 16 in the summer of 2004. The records I swallowed that summer were oddly a vast range of songwriters from Elliott Smith, Pedro the Lion, the Cure, Death Cab for Cutie to the Smiths.... The Smiths were from Manchester, so my friend Andrew told me to call it Manchester Organ. I decided to call it Manchester Orchestra.
I don't know if there's any such thing as Southern rock anymore, but if there is, Manchester Orchestra isn't anything like it. Do you claim allegiance with any bands, regional or otherwise?
I think there are a lot of elements in whatever "Southern rock" or "Southern music" were built on that have been forgotten. I also believe those things to be what made this music from the South fascinating to begin with. The blues are desperate and heartbroken but so dense in the soul of the song that great rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream went to desperate measures to be fully inspired by and re-create their vision of what this Southern music was about.
You can go back to Muddy Waters, Son House, Robert Johnson, and countless others that poured desperation into their songs, and I only hope to be a part of that in some way. Riffs are riffs, but Neil Young was Canadian and wrote some of the nastiest Southern blues lines rock 'n' roll has seen.
Lead guitarist Robert McDowell has a side project known as Gobotron. Are any other Manchester members working outside the Orchestra?
When we aren't touring, we are recording music under several different monikers. Chris Freeman has been slaving away on his band Alaska Him Nicely. We have also started a new band called BAD BOOKS with all the members from Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine. We did the full-length album in five days, and it turned out better than good, in my opinion. Very excited for people to hear it.
Your lyrics are incredibly literary (that's good, by the way). If you had to identify with one fictional character, who would it be, and why?
Asher Lev. [My Name Is Asher Lev] is an amazing book about a Jewish teenager who causes mass controversy within his strict Orthodox community, emotionally confused mother, and disrespected father. All of this for using this incredible gift of drawing. He paints the Crucifixion of Christ without once lifting his pencil from the page.
The book questions the difference between what is considered "good" art and "good" religion. Is it wrong for someone who doesn't believe in Christ to draw a picture of him? What if that picture is the most beautiful piece of art that has ever been made?
I relate with him as someone who has their art questioned, but more importantly, his motive to draw is questioned. Who are we as consumers and lovers of art to question an artist's motive? It's art. Great book.
What are you reading right now, anyway?
The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons.
Would you kill me if I said I hear echoes of Placebo in the early verses of "Shake It Out"?
Yes, I would. Quickly. I have never listened intently to Placebo nor has our band, but from what I have heard, I don't think he screams nearly as badass as me. Although I could be very wrong.
What about if I told you the breakout chorus on "I've Got Friends" brings to mind Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman's work with the Sweet, especially "Ballroom Blitz"?
I would kill you again. But not because of the reference; I just have a weird killing thing.
And what if I said that Manchester Orchestra seems to be working similar trenches as Dead Confederate?
I would tell you they opened for us two years ago and remain great friends and even greater inspiration. These guys play Southern rock, like if My Morning Jacket and Sonic Youth had a baby. Hardy [Morris] has one of those voices that I would kill for, and what really pisses me off is how cool he looks. I have never looked as cool as Hardy in my life.
You told MTV that M.O. will be back in the studio this summer and that you intend to make the next record "big and broad."
I am not sure. We plan to finish our long, long tour and then begin writing together built on these ideas I have in my head. We are all really anxious. I don't know why MTV chose that two-minute moment of the 30-minute interview, but those are the breaks, I guess. The new album will be better than our last, and that's all I can really say about it so early on in the creation.
Is it me, or has M.O. been out on the road since Mean Everything was released?
You are correct! We can't stop. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to that. We actually can't stop because of the type of band we are. We must maintain a presence on the road so that people can experience something more than a burned CD-R disc with "M.O." written on it.
What can fans expect when you hit Revolution?
We have played Revolution opening for many, many bands. This will be our fourth time there and the first time we have ever headlined, so there is quite a bit of nostalgic gratification to it.