Though Manchester Orchestra has only been a proper band for a year and a half, this young quartet (with an average age of 19) has crafted an album that sounds more aware and traveled than many of its more aged peers. Led by singer / songwriter / guitarist Andy Hull, Manchester Orchestras debut LP, Im Like A Virgin Losing A Child, is a statement cinematic in scope a series of emotional vignettes that delicately unravel over the course of an elegantly conceived musical arc that recalls both murky southern mysticism and the id borne bombast of the Pacific Northwest. Driven by lyrics that are insightful, spiritual and impressionistic, Im Like A Virgin Losing A Child is a litany of intimate details presented in widescreen. Just as the pointillist paintings of Georges Pierre Seurat or the films of Robert Altman lead our attention to the fine details, Manchester Orchestra also find inspiration in the intimate; but it is when we are able to gain some distance we begin to see the bigger picture and wonder where our experience fits in.
Manchester Orchestras beginnings lie in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia where during Hulls junior year in high school, his talent as a songwriter was garnering the attention of fans and industry types alike. One of which prompted the idea of Andy to home school himself and put all of his focus into to writing and recording an album. Heartened by all the positive feedback, Hull took the advice and spent his senior year in the studio.
Freed from the traditional senior year rigmarole of finals and proms, Hull delved deep into creating the characters and stories that were to make up an ambitious concept album that was to be Manchester Orchestras debut. But as time passed and the bands line-up began to solidify, the tenor of Hulls songwriting began to change. Emboldened by longtime friend, and band-mate Jonathan Corley (bass) and the addition of Jeremiah Edmond (drums) into the group, Manchester Orchestras musicianship began to take new flight. It soon became clear that this was the sound of a different band. Not content with forsaking all of their hard work, the revitalized group decided to pare the album down to an EP (the tellingly titled You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs A Good Editor) on the bands own label, Favorite Gentlemen, and get out on the road. According to Hull the decision to champion chemistry over concept was easily made.
After Brainstorms release, the band focused on touring the southeast. During this period, another one of Hulls close friends, keyboardist Chris Freeman, entered the fold. Manchester Orchestras musical direction was now solidified and the band began writing songs for their full-length, follow-up.
These new songs, which would become Im Like A Virgin Losing A Child, were powerful, compact rockers that battered away at one structure before taking an abrupt turn into the next. The effect is akin to getting lost on purpose: Just as the layout makes sense even familiar its the unexpected detours that maintain the thrill.
Though Manchester Orchestras new songs were decidedly not going to comprise a concept album per se, Hull still found that his lyrical voice was best spoken through characters rather than personal experience. I think that a lot of the time music should be like movies, says Hull. Whether or not the songs are from characters perspective theyre still characters in my brain. So theyre different parts of my personality saying whatever it is that that persons feeling. When youre in a band when your seventeen theres a big difference between nineteen and twenty. Weve always taken our band very seriously but we didnt know what to take seriously. These songs are a whole lot more This is what our band sounds like and this is what we wanna write.
After months of writing, rehearsing and touring on their new material the band decided that the next album should reflect the same energy as their creative process. When the band entered the recording studio with producer Dan Hannon in the summer of 2006, they played everything live passionately bashing their songs out together in the same room. Manchester Orchestras full-length debut, I Am Like A Virgin Losing A Child, was born. Along the way they found a new comrade in studio intern Robert McDowell who would later become a full-fledged member of the band.
As with any great story Im Like A Virgin Losing A Child benefits from a strong introduction and Wolves At Night fits the bill. From its onslaught of radio squelch and tense strumming, Wolves explodes into a dense expanse of guitars and funeral organ before bringing itself taut for Hulls introductory vocal: I could have sworn that I saw you knee bent on the bedside / Arms stretched like a kite that time will eventually grow. As the songs hooks collide into one another we are given a glimpse of the themes that Im Like A Virgin Losing A Child will explore: Confrontations with the supernatural, the validity of our eyes, and protagonists desperately attempting to untie a variety of spiritual knots. Says Hull:
The concept of the record is sort of my loss My realization that I dont have control over anything. And thats a good thing. Theyre all personal songs in that every song is about me. In all of the loss theres still this hope Im trying to convey.
When I was writing concept records before, I think I was trying to write for other people to learn a lesson thinking I had something to preach or prove You guys dont understand how much I have a great grasp of the world at seventeen, he explains with a laugh. But I think [these songs] are about me and how I really dont understand anything and Im trying to battle demons in my life and things that Im trying to grasp. There is definitely a spiritual kind of religious element to it
These struggles make themselves more apparent when taking in the power troika of Wolves At Night, Now That Youre Home, and The Neighborhood Is Bleeding which tells the tale of a patient plotting his escape from a hospital. There is pathos, sure, but to hear Neighborhood soaring out of your speakers the hope becomes shamelessly manifest. Ill find a way out of here, says our hero. Just watch me.
Like A Virgins darkest moments come at the albums midsection. I Can Feel Your Pain the pleading Where Have You Been? and I Can Barely Breathe makes up the albums' emotional fulcrum. After the weight lifts with the hauntingly beautiful Sleeper 1972 (the title being one of Virgins subtle nods to Woody Allen I think I have more musical inspiration from him than [from other] musicians, claims Hull) Golden Ticket and Alice and Interiors (the second nod to Woody Allen) provide us with two of the albums most powerful and elegiac moments. Its here that we get the Comeback Story But the films not over yet.
Closure is as vital to a great story as the introduction. Colly Strings, according to Hull is the perfect conclusion. The last line of the song is You cant believe without bleeding. For me that stands really true. Its like you cant understand life without having to fall and fail. I think that Im doing something right and have a good concept on the world and Ill fall again and realize I didnt know what the hell I was talking about. Its a vicious cycle that I have every ten minutes of my life.
Though the band has released the new album on their label, Favorite Gentlemen, and has found distribution through Junket Boy (a company that releases records exclusively to independent retailers), the strength of Im Like A Virgin Losing A Child coupled with the bands gift for giving powerful performances has already caught the attention record labels big and small. Rather than crack under the scrutiny, Hull is keeping pragmatic: I think we need to play as many shows as we possibly can and just continue to have fun but maintain has much control as we can over our destiny and try to grow our band organically.
With a tour of the UK on the horizon and tours supporting Brand New, as well as Say Anything and Saves The Day to follow, the band should have no problem reaching its goal of playing at least 250 shows in 2007.
Interview by dadair
Manchester Orchestra; Conducting Honesty
Since starting out in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia the dusty, thoughtful rockers Manchester Orchestra have been expressing themselves with some delving lyrics that are delivered with accessible belief by lead man, Andy Hull. Although, having officially only released two albums, their very first full length 'Nobody Sings Anymore', remains the domain of their growing number of ardent fans. Who appreciate the approach of this serious, focused and ranging band.
For their first official album, 'I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child' they accompanied it with a collection of videos to help you visual their thoughts and for their most recent album, 'Mean Everything To Nothing' a series of concept videos will be used. This highlights their desire to help you understand and appreciate their creative processes, as well as showing that they're trying to step beyond the boundaries of what's expected of a conventional rock band.
Latest album 'Mean Everything To Nothing', is a moodily melodic flight that covers the woes of a troubled past, but has a positive streak running through it and, if it is a brand of blues that they produce? Then there is an uplifting tinge to it too. The repressed memory of child abuse moulds almost nonchalantly into the fuzzed up, psychedelic tilted 'My Friend Marcus' that is already a reflective live favourite.
Guitarist, Robert McDowell takes time out from promoting this new album, to provide an insight into the workings and motivations of one of America's freshest current rock bands.
1. Before recording your latest album, 'Mean Everything To Nothing' did you take time to reflect on your official debut album 'Like A Virgin Losing A Child'? What in your mind is the main difference between the two albums? Do you agree that you have grown more varied, ranging and searching?
R M; We reflected on the process but focused more on how we could let METN evolve. We had spent 2 years playing Virgin live and saw the way the songs changed. They became more abrasive and urgent. So when we were writing we were able to picture what it would be like to tour on the new songs. Overall I think it was written with more experience, giving it a better feel.
2. Will you ever officially release 'Nobody Sings Anymore'?
R M; Probably not now. We don't want to put it out and have people think that is what the band currently is.
3. A topical question; are festivals a good or bad thing for music?
R M; Good. I hate them but there are people who enjoy the atmosphere and the availability of bands. We have had a lot of good exposure through them and I have heard of loads of bands because of festivals. I would still rather see a band in a club or theater, but I see the appeal.
4. Describe the Atlanta, Georgia music scene at the moment, how well do you feel that you fit in with it?
R M; There are a couple different scenes. When we started, we toured and treated Atlanta like any other city. So we missed out on the scene for a long time but over time we have made friends with lot of bands from Atlanta, though we typically meet them in other cities.
5. Do you tend to find that certain songs go down better in the UK? Do you alter your set lists for UK tours compared to when touring the USA?
R M; Nah. If we had a dancey song I'm sure we would try and work our set around that in the UK. But we don't. We have different set list for different time slots. Typically the fans like the order but they are that way so that Jeremiah's arms don't fall off. We also try and make the set flow naturally and make sense.
6. Which of your songs sums up your current mood and why?
R M; 'Pride'. I have been watching the show "Sons of Anarchy" which is about an outlaw biker gang. So I have been listening heavier music so I can pretend I am a badass biker like Jax. That is our heaviest song so I would go with that. Yeah. Pride. But SOA is awesome.