The lads from Manchester Orchestra were over in Britain for their first ever appearance at Reading and Leeds festival, causing waves across the mud soaked fields with their mix of epic indie-rock.
Thankfully, the heavens cleared long enough for them to wander round London with us, and leader singer Andy Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell talked to Moose for a while about musical influences, golf, and childhood nightmares.
We have two member of MO in the house ready for this interview. Can you introduced yourselves please boys?
Yeah, I’m Andy Hull, the lead singer and guitar player and songwriter for Manchester Orchestra.
And I’m Robert McDowell, I play guitar.
You’ve just walked off a plane, into the city of London… and it’s raining.
Yes and it was the last time we were here too.
Do you think they’re trying to tell us something?
I think they’re trying to tell us to leave, but we’re not going anywhere!
Welcome back to the UK. So, where did you all grow up?
Most of us grew up within a ten mile radius of each other and we had all gone to the same high school and got involved in the same events growing up. From the age of about 13 we’ve been kind of collecting members in a city just north of Atlanta, Georgia in a place called Alpharetta, and we just continued to grow and lose members here and there. But now we’ve got a line up where all but one of us live within two or three miles of each other.
So did you meet up through the music scene out there or were there family connections?
No, it definitely wasn’t through any scene. I went to high school with Robert who was in 8th grade when I was in 11th grade and so I drove him home from school and he lived right next to where my parents lived and we also went to high school with Jay the bass player. And Chris, our keyboard player, was the drummer in our first band when we were 14…
Robert: Who I went to middle school with too.
So we’re all connected in that way. And Jeremiah, our drummer, was working in a studio that was right next to our house and when we lost a drummer he came in.
Came in and found his place!
Yep, and that was it.
That’s amazing, so you guys have always been into music and writing music?
Ever since I met Robert when he was 11 or 12 he was writing records and he had a recording studio in his basement when he was 13 so we would go down there and record songs after we got out of school. And I’ve been writing since I was 14. I was playing golf at high school around that time and realised that I really hated that.
Were you no good at it?
No I was terrible, so I decided to pick up the guitar which in the end made me extremely less popular than I thought it would. I thought playing a guitar would make me cool but I guess in the suburbs of the South, guitars are not cool and golf is!
Let’s talk about your musical influences because you have a unique style, you have quite a bit of emotion in your music and your lyrics are quite special. I’d be quite interested to hear what influenced your lives to make a record like the one you’ve come up with, musically.
There was a period of time between 15 and 18 that I started to hear records that were having an impact in my life rather than records that were just making me feel a certain way, they were records I was able to dive into like a book. They were albums like Death Cab For Cutie’s Photo Album, Neutral Milk Hotel In The Airplane Over The Sea is the most influential record in my life and then Built To Spill There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and Keep It Like A Secret were two records I was hit by at a certain point in my life.
And from then on it was this weird transfixion on music that was making statements and saying things, whether it was talking about a relationship – it was the way they would phrase these things about a relationship being, not life ending, but an observation on life and I saw growth in these characters and of these songwriters. Less Neutral Milk Hotel, which I feel is more a blank canvas that has been painted on with this amazing picture, but with those other records, I watched for their next records and could see them grow as people and the struggles they were having in their lives.
So at that point it was deciding to write records that I was more connected to in more than just an emotional way. I wanted people that hear our records to be invested in me as much as I was investing in them all the stuff I wanted to say. So regardless of whether that happens or not, that’s what my influence is and how I wanted it to come across.
What about yourself Robert?
Robert: A lot of the same things but when I was growing up, I had a choice between Christian music and oldies, so I listened to a lot of Oldies and I would hear their influence in a lot of people, like Elliott Smith. So then I evolved into a huge fan of him and then lots of different stuff across all genres – A lot of Pedro The Lion.
And you were definitely into the Ramones. There’s a picture on Robert’s fridge, where he’s 10 and dressed up like Kiss. That’s an influence for he and Jeremiah listen to a lot of older punk stuff.
US or UK Punk?
Robert: A lot of the New York stuff, some West Coast stuff like X, Germs…
Circle Jerks, Black Flag…?
Absolutely, and I hate that stuff!
Robert: It’s really difficult on late night drives because we’ll be blaring that out and they’ll have pillows around their ears!
Yeah they’ll be listening to hardcore and we’ll be like “Yo, we’re trying to sleep!”
What about now? When you’re on tour, what’s in your ears on the way over? What do you travel with?
On the way over here I listened to one of the greatest airplane records ever, Kid A. I listened to that all the way through and that kinda makes you feel weird all around you y’know?
Definitely here I listen to the new Spoon record. I generally don’t listen to much music when I’m on the road, I get discouraged listening to records that are so much better than mine and then getting on stage and performing every night.
In my time off then I have to get inspired and almost concentrate on inspiration and try and listen to these records. Because it does bum you out to listen to these masterpiece type records and then you have to perform your own that doesn’t really hold up at all.
Yeah but other people have got their opinions too, I mean how does it feel to be called Rolling Stone’s “Artist To Watch?”
We got told that whilst we were eting pizza in Atlanta and Jay our manager was on the phone and wrote it on a napkin and we all freaked out. It’s one of the best honours you can get and I think there are certain things in life as a musician or a human being ni your craft if you receive certain thigns, like in the States we’re playing on Letterman’s show and this Rolling Stone thing, if we did nothing else in our career, I would be OK with that and be able to die happy. Well at least I did that and I could tell my grandkids I did that.
They are certain things were we ask ourselves if people are making a mistake, like “are you sure? Do they have the right record?”, like someone put the wrong label on our record. But that’s bigger than we can understand and it’s a great honour definitely.
And what about other bands you’ve played with along the way, with your sound, you can play with many bands…
That’s been something that’s nice. We were concerned with what kind of bands would want to play with us and who we can come across alright in front of but yeah we played with a full support tour for Brand New for 6 weeks and was a completely different and younger crowd and was amazing and the response from that tour was beyond anything we could have imagined. And then there’s a tour with Kings Of Leon and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club who have probably none of the crossover fans that would come out to the show and both of those tours are dreams come true. Bands that we like and think are really great people that make great music.
They are also two big bands over here as well, they’ve picked up many fans with their records too so you should have quite a magical experience.
It’s definitely cool to have these bands that are big in the UK and then play here because it does help. We’ve gotten fans from here that have messaged us just simply because they know we’re touring with those bands in the US.
Depending on how the tour works out, if the bands asked you to come and tour Europe with them, would you do that?
That would be incredible. I mean, touring Europe with any band would. Everything we’ve done so far has been by ourselves and last time we came here, we rented our own car to fit our gear into and we drove it and that was a dangerous experience on its own!
Robert: We turned up one night and Jay, our bass player, had a bass amp probably the size of this soda can.
That was at the Water Rats and there was one 10 inch speaker for the bass cab and it ended up being the best sound of the entire week. A lot of ways with music, in the way its traded so freely on the internet, live performances are the only thing that’ll have merit, other than the idea of a record as a collection of songs, but who knows how long that’ll last unfortunately! Everything is traded so freely now which is a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because it allows artists to get their music out there, but it’s a negative because most times, songs are meant to be played together rather than a playlist, songs are supposed to be connected and weaving over the course of a record.
I feel and hope that those things stay around but I think the idea of purchasing things is on its way out and the only thing that will stand up as magical in the music industry will be live performances. And I think support tours are the greatest way to build a fanbase.
Do you download music?
I don’t even download it for free no, I mean I’ll download B-sides and whatever but I don’t even like burning records really, if it’s a record that I really want. I mean, we know people who work at music magazines who get the record early but I won’t listen to that, even if it came from someone in the band. I love the buying of the record and opening it and putting it on in your car.
There’s nothing like it is there? And there’s nothing like vinyl either and we’re seeing a rise in the amount of vinyl being put together by bands now. Is it the same in America?
It’s getting there certainly, it’s definitely increasing. We just printed off a bunch of vinyl of our record and it’s the first piece of music we’ve ever had that’s been on vinyl and now we have a 7 inch exclusively over here. And it’s so insane, it’s so cool – we listened to it for the first time the other night and the sound is just so incredible.
Have you had any bad gigs along the way? What’s been the worst story so far?
Well, we’ve played over 300 shows as a band in the last 2 years so we’ve had quite a few terrible stories.
Robert: We’ve had a lot of stories that, at the time, looked awful but looking back on them turn out to be great memories!
There’s a few stories. One night a few weeks ago we turned up at a venue in Memphis, Tennessee, and there was no stage, no mics, no a/c and it was about 105 degrees outside and then when the PA had finally been set up, I was continually being electrocuted through the mic. So by the end of the set, every time I touched the mic with my face, my entire body would squirm and freak out a little bit.
It’s lucky your beard didn’t get set on fire really isn’t it?! That’s a big fuzzer you’ve got there!
Yeah, I’ve been growing it since I was here last time.
Oh really? We left that much of an impression on you in the UK, fantastic! Who’s got the worst habits in the band?
It’s a bad habit, but I can’t complain about it because Jeremiah, our drummer, takes two showers a day. Which is odd for a band in general because it’s always the one dude were you’re like “you really need to shower” but no, every morning and every night he showers.
And if you’re playing in front of loads of people in 110 degree heat…
It’s a good thing! Especially on a tour too. We just played a tour in the States during a heatwave, it’s insane to play. We played a venue in South Carolina which was 125 degrees and kids were passing out, our drummer blacked out during the set, I blacked out twice…
Robert: I was vomiting afterwards…
It was awesome, a great memory like we said [laughs].
You could’ve cooked eggs on the stage!
Robert: I think the sound system actually shut down because of the heat.
We had camera on stage filming the night that were shutting down because of it, it was unreal.
So let’s talk about the album, it’s called I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child, which is quite a mouthful to start with. What’s the story behind that.
I named the record oddly before I wrote the lyric, which is in the first track, Wolves At Night and the record is a bit of history on my life in the last 2 or 3 years of the realisation that I don’t really own anything or deserve anything and it’s the idea of losing something that you never had which is the standard human way of living, taking everything for granted and then once it’s gone realising I never really had it in the first place.
Lyrically, there’s one particular line that I’ve come across that I’ve been waiting to ask you – “When you look at me, I’ll be digesting your legs” – Are you a cannibal?
I am yes. Do you want the full story on that?
Alright, so I’ve always been close to my mum ever since I was a little kid, we’ve always had a close relationship and she’s the most trustworthy person I know. So I had this dream 2 years ago that my mum had been killing all my friends, taking them to our attic and then eating them.
Yeah, and I then I woke up and was completely distraught and in an actually reality way. In the dream I had asked her why she was doing it and she’s said “because you told me it was the right thing to do”. Then I woke up and had this feeling over me that everything I trusted, because my mum was so trusted and was the good in “good versus evil”, that everything I trusted was gone. And so in the line it is more me referring to “when you look at me, I’ll be taking everything away that is good, everything you believe to be right and leaving you with everything that’s wrong.
But if people go missing at your gigs, people will be pointing fingers at you!
[laughs] Absolutely yeah! But that’s cool about lyrics but also so difficult at the same time is that, y’know the record is full of lyrics that really I only understand and I’m definitely not afraid to tell anybody what they mean but I think it would be kind of ridiculous if I tried to explain that story or line which just means something to me.
What about the recording process? It’s got a beautiful sound throughout the record, can you tell us a bit about that?
Thank you! Well, we did it all live, all the full band performed together and Robert was actually the intern at the studio and wasn’t in the band whilst we were recording it and as the process went on we realised that we needed a guitar player so by the end of the record, he was in the band.
Right place, right time! And now you’re in London….
And now he’s in London! But yeah we did it in about 3 weeks and had been playing the songs for a good while, at least most of them. Then it came time to record them and we realised we wanted it to have a feeling of urgency in the same way that Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has. Get it all out at one time and then take it all apart and put it back together.
And we did that and it took us a long time to mix it because we wanted it to sound perfect and we got an end product we were all very proud of.
So you’re happy with it.
Yeah I’m pretty happy with it, definitely but at the same time, it’s exciting because we see people reacting to it and it breathes a new life into it, where we’ve beaten it like a dead horse. Now though we want to play it more because more people want to hear it.
The album artwork, I hear it was from photos bought at a flea market.
Yeah, we bought them at a thrift store, Jeremiah bought them because they were cool old pictures. And it chronicled this guy’s life from being a little kid up until his wedding and honeymoon, so when you open up the record, there are 4 pictures of this little boy on the CD and that boy is the husband of the woman on the front of the record, taken from their honeymoon.
Do they know they’re on there?
We tried to find them…
Oh they’ll sue you eventually!
[laughs] Yeah right? But yeah we’ve put “found art” or something on the sleeve so I don’t think they probably will anyways. We try to avoid as many legal things as possible, but then again we didn’t think this many people would see these records.
So, the internet – you’ve obviously got an internet presence and have a myspace site, like most bands do. Do you think that really helps people across the planet to get into your music?
Absolutely and we do these video podcasts as well and having that gives people the ability to see what we’re like live that wouldn’t get the opportunity to see us live. I think the internet is massive for that, you go on YouTube and you can see if the band is any good live and that can either kill you or be good for you. And sure, myspace is enormous for us, there are people able to hear songs or buy records or like I said before, with people over here, if we can have 1,000 people here downloading our record without us knowing, wink wink, then I would be fine with that. I think it’s a good thing for people to get our music as easily as possible which the internet is massively helpful for.
Let’s talk about the name of the band because you’re not an Orchestra and you’re definitely not from Manchester!
No, no we’re not! Again, that was when I was in high school and had gone through a summer of listening to nothing but The Smiths and when I really get into a band, I like to involve myself completely with what their story is and where they’re from and how it happened and why are they called this and so I thought the name “The Smiths” was such a cool name. These normal, regular guys creating this politically charged music and this heartbreaking literature and songs that will tear you apart.
I always felt I was a lot like that, I mean just looking at our band, we’re not a “rock star” looking band. I guess the idea of Morrissey being from Manchester was really cool for me, though I’ve only been there once and I’m not sure I would still call it cool but all I knew of it was that this hero of mine was from there. He’s from this place that I associated with down to earth working class heroes, these underdogs in a sense. That’s sort of how I figured me and whoever was in my band would be, these normal guys.
The orchestra was the counterpart to that. At the time I didn’t want to be in a band and figured I’d just have all my friends come and be a part of it and form an orchestra. So that’s the name.
Manchester Orchestra, we look forward to seeing you on your live dates and hopefully you’ll come over again before the end of the year.
Definitely, we’re definitely coming back over in September and we’ll be back doing Scotland, Ireland, Manchester, Birmingham and London and then hopefully we’ll be back again very, very soon.
Well the record is out in September and we look forward to it!
Thank you so much, we really appreciate you having us here.
I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child is out on September 17th on Sony BMG / Favorite Gentlemen and you can check out their myspace at www.myspace.com/manchesterorchestra
Also look out for the band on tour with Kings of Leon later this year….