Article by Bobby Goodwin
Originally posted in Issue #26
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Unified by an overarching theme of preconceived ideas, they can be easy targets for critics, attacking them for their lack of improvisation or strict adherence to a single topic. However, that’s just what Manchester Orchestra lead singer, Andy Hull chose to do for his band’s third album, Simple Math. In multiple interviews, the singer has talked about how the album questions marriage, love, religion and sex. Besides these overarching topics, there’s an even more personal one on the record – Hull’s marriage. The song “April Fool” was written about the day Hull arrived home to find his wife gone, leaving the place empty.

“I respect the hell out of Andy as a songwriter – he’s honestly one of the most prolific song writers I’ve come across, he’s just writing constantly,” bassist Jonathan Corley said. “This record Simple Math, this really seems to be a more personal record lyrically than anything else we’ve put out in the past.”

For all the praise Hull deserves, the rest of Manchester Orchestra made their own equal contribution to the record.

“Hearing this record, I think every person involved had a lot to do with everything that was changed,” Corley said. “Even the song “Simple Math”…came out of nowhere. It was in-between working on two other songs…Andy came in with a riff and it became the song…with everyone in the rehearsal space, in the studio together.”

Simple Math is the band’s most commercially successful album to date, following up their sophomore album, Mean Everything To Nothing – which gave the band its first real taste of mainstream exposure and radio play. Besides being their best-selling record, Simple Math is also the band’s most experimental. In fact, they spent more time working on Simple Math than any other record they’ve released. Given the fact that Hull wrote close to a hundred songs for the record, this makes sense.

Google articles written about Hull and you’ll find plenty of superlatives, the most common of which tend to be “precocious” and “prolific.” For someone under twenty years old, he’s already written about a variety of heavy topics. In general, he also just writes – a lot.

So what’s it like working with him?

“It’s interesting,” Corley said. “I mean, the pace that Andy works at…I absolutely respect Andy for that, and it makes the writing process easier.”

But how in the world does a band go about editing down from a hundred songs to make a ten-track album?

“Once we got into the studio, early on we kinda sat around the room together with a group of songs,” Corley explained. “We began demo-ing, and I think we started closer to thirty and we would…play them through several times and then go back and listen and re-work them. Pretty much those 30 songs became the ten we were focusing on, what you hear now.”

Once the band had the track listing narrowed down for the most part, they recorded the drum and bass parts at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio. After that, the band dedicated time to trying things they’d never done before. They tried more overdubbing and layering parts. They experimented with using a lap steel guitar for the first time. Listeners can also hear them try out a string section on the record, as well as horns, both of which are particularly noticeable on the title track. There’s also a children’s choir on “Virgin” which was actually sung by producer Dan Hannon’s two children.

“I think we’re all incredibly proud of this record,” Corley said. “We spent more time making it than any record we have in the past, but we were all blown away at the immediate responses … Especially coming back to it a few months later, it’s a totally different album than we set out to make before, and I think it opens up a bunch more opportunities for us to do things in the future.”

This month marks a return to the road for the band to promote Simple Math. Starting off with Lollapalooza before heading out on select East Coast dates as part of The Honda Civic Tour in support of Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance. For a band whose sound is more comparable to rock bands like Band Of Horses and Kings Of Leon, Manchester fans may be surprised to see the band playing dates with such mainstream punk / emo acts.

“I haven’t played with either of those bands,” Corley admitted. “We’re on just a couple weeks, seventeen days of that tour … There’s some parts of Canada and New York that we’ve never played before and I’m absolutely excited to be on that tour. It’s also something different, it’s a nice change of pace, and gets us in front of kids who might not have seen us or listened to us before.”

When Manchester Orchestra first arrived on the scene with the release of their debut album, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child, many listeners grouped the band into the all-encompassing “emo” genre. At the time, touring with celebrated scene artists like Brand New and Kevin Devine certainly encouraged that grouping. Now three albums into their still young career, Manchester Orchestra has begun to grow out of that genre, despite Hull’s youthful yearnings, their sound is developing a little more Southern flavor and swamp rock feel to it than before. Nonetheless, for Manchester fans who are scratching their heads at the fact that they’re opening for Blink-182 of all bands, it’s because of their original placement in the scene that has the band still playing along side such acts.

Perhaps the direction Manchester Orchestra is headed in can best be summed up by hearing the names of some of Corley’s favorite bands:

“Personally, bands that have totally influenced me musically, or changed the way I listen to music would be bands like Modest Mouse or Dismemberment Plan, Neutral Milk Hotel – they’re right down the road from us in Athens.”