By Larry May
On April 20, Manchester Orchestra is excited about the release of their major label debut, and preparing to hit the road to support it. The record, “Mean Everything to Nothing”, will be in store bins the next day. The Atlanta band –led by Andy Hull-formed their base by applying the old rock formula of touring to the point of exhaustion and slowly adding fans won over in musky clubs one by one. Their first release, “Like A Virgin Losing A Child”, was released independently in 2006. With a few key people in the Southeast in their corner, they hit the road in support of bands like Kings of Leon and Say Anything.
The promotional duties land in keyboardist Chris Freeman’s lap that day, and we spoke that afternoon while he rode down the road with a friend in tow.
II. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood?
CF. I grew up in Ohio, and as far as school is concerned, I was a great test taker. But I was a horrible student. I just told somebody the other day that I failed six classes my freshman class in high school. That’s because I told my parents I didn’t care, I just wanted to play music. I figured I didn’t need a high school diploma to play music. I was pretty sure I didn’t make anybody very happy with that. So then they made try a little bit so I would pass.
II. Explain the formation of the band, and how you became a member.
CF. Andy, J and I were in a band growing up in early high school. It was kind of pop punkish with a little bit of emo. I left to go to Ohio. Andy started the band while I was gone for those three years. Next was Jeff, J, and they added Jeremiah. Robert joined after the record was done. I moved back to Atlanta after high school to join the band.
II. When the band starts writing, who foments the process and what does that person use as inspiration?
CF. Andy will write a song on his acoustic guitar using Garage Band, and bring it back to the rehearsal space. He will have a melody and chord structure. He’ll play it for us, and we’ll feel it out and start to piece it together. It usually starts with Jeremiah adding to it with drums, and I sit there with my headphones on trying to figure out a cool keyboard piece I could add to it. J will add the bass, Robert will start flailing, and it begins to come together.
II. Where does Andy pull inspiration?
CF. He’s a big Woody Allen fan. He gets ideas from his movies, and some of our songs are named after his movies. Especially from the last record. There are quotes on the interior of the new record. A lot of things come from Ghostface Killah.
II. I didn’t expect that. Since you guys are from Atlanta, do you listen to the rappers from Atlanta?
CF. We listen to Outkast and Ludacris, but we don’t really follow the underground. We’re actually big Wu Tang fans.
II. Is there a central theme for the new record?
CF. We talked to Andy about it, and the way he described it to us is that is done in two parts. The first is being on the road, and the perils of being away for 365 days a year. In his case, he doesn’t get to see his wife, or his dog or even his parents. The second half is about coming home and how it feels to reacquaint yourself with your own life. There is an ebb and flow, and it takes a while to adjust to going and then stopping.
II. What can, or did you do, to make yourself successful that a label or a manager couldn’t do?
CF. Play shows. That was our mantra for two years. We played 300 dates in 2007 before we were signed. That is the sole reason we have had any success as a band at all. We drove around in a Suburban and played anywhere we could. Sometimes to two people, sometimes to ten.
II. We sold your first record really well. How did you get that album to stores so that fans could go buy it?
CF. We had a real blessing for our band. Don Van Cleave with CIMS took an interest in our band. We were very much still DYI, and for him to come in and get it to stores was fantastic. We owe him so much.
II. Who was the lady on the cover art for the “ Virgin” record?
CF. Jeremiah grew up on a farm on a small island. He found a shoebox full of photographs that was some guy’s life. I think it was from second grade to his wedding night. That was the last photo, and it is that man’s wife on his honeymoon in the hotel.
II. Are there any bands from the South that inspired you when you were growing up as fans and eventually, musicians?
CF. There was a band from Athens called Breakheart Beat that we’re still friends with.
We still look up to them, because they are the quintessential cool guys. They went to our high school, and were older than us. It was the coolest thing in the world to see our friends up there on a stage.
II. Did you try to emulate them?
CF. No, not at all. They’re really a glam rock band. That was back when were into misogynistic rock. More like Mick Jagger on a stage, moaning.
II. Everybody loves a moan from the stage.
CF. ( Laughing.)I absolutely love a moan from the stage.
II. As a keyboardist, are there any piano or keyboards you like to listen to?
CF. Not at all. I draw inspiration more from guitar players. I really like what Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead does, utiltizing both keyboards and guitar, making really eerie sounds with his keyboard. I love the way he manipulates sounds.
II. You have a record coming out tomorrow. How does that feel?
CF. Very excited. We’ve been sitting on it for four months. It’s been done for a while, and it’s going to be nice to have other people finally hear it. I’ve been playing it in my car, and for my family and anyone I can get to listen to it so that I can get some feedback.
It’s like a little baby going out into the world, and you hope that people like it. So far, people like it. I can’t wait for fans to hear it live and I can’t wait to play it for them.
II. How is this record different from the “Virgin” record?
CF. Much louder. But the quiet parts are quieter. We definitely took more time with the experimentation. Having our producuer, Joe Chicarrelli, in the studio with us was a gift from God. He’s a great producer, and a phenomenal engineer. He knows how to get good sounds from us, and make us a better band.
II. You guys just finished filming “Live at Abbey Road”. How was that?
CF. I can’t wait to see it. It was so fun, but also absolutely nerve wracking. It was thrilling, but I couldn’t even eat. I chain smoked all day before we tracked.
II. I’ve heard that you guys plan to do a video for every song on the album.
CF. Yeah, we’re six songs in now. The director did some stuff for our last album, and got hold of our new one and pitched us a storyline with great ideas. I’m really excited for people to see them. I’m just excited about everything we’re doing right now.