Manchester Orchestra has had a hell of a year. After spending some time working with fellow Favorite Gentlemen artist Kevin Devine under the name Bad Books, the band came back swinging with their third album Simple Math, released this past May. The album received rave reviews from the likes of Alternative Press and Absolute Punk, and it took the group to Canada, the U.K., and over 25 U.S. states on their whirlwind tour schedule in the last few months alone. Fortunately, Manchester Orchestra keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman was able to take a minute out of the band’s busy schedule to chat to Metrojolt about songwriting, touring, various side-projects, and the band’s plans for the upcoming year.
Chris Freeman: It’s been going really well, we did Austin and Dallas. Really good shows, really good towns, I feel like it’s always a good time in Texas. We had some friends come out. It’s been good so far, we’re feeling positive, and the shows have been going well.
You’re a band that tours a LOT. How has this year been for you with the release of your new album and those tour dates? Has that been taxing at all, or have you gotten in the groove of playing shows?
I think we’ve gotten in the groove of being able to just go for it, you know that you can put on a show now. I think it takes a little bit for a band to get confidence back once they sit on their ass for five, six months making a record and not playing shows. So it takes a minute. And I think this last little U.K. run for us that we did over there kind of boosted our confidence in the fact that we can put on a good show, a solid show. It’s been a positive experience, I think. We’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s been good.
How did you guys get hooked up with The Dear Hunter and White Denim for this tour?
The Dear Hunter are friends of ours, they toured with O’Brother before on our label [Favorite Gentlemen] and we’ve played a couple of shows with them, and we did one of our EPs with them so we’ve kind of known them for a little while now. We just wanted a band we knew would be great at keeping the energy level up on our tours, and we just like hanging out with them, pretty much. White Denim is a band where we heard their record and were just absolutely floored, so we tried to do everything we could to get them on this tour. The band’s just fantastic, and we really wanted a really good overall tour where we’d love to watch the bands every night.
Let’s talk about the album a bit. You guys put out Simple Math earlier this year, and it’s been well-received critically. What was the process of writing the album like? It’s a very personal album, dealing with a lot of heavy themes like religion. How did you choose for that to be your theme or the concept behind it?
Well, in the writing process, which was kind of a really natural thing for us this time, we’ve been playing together so long that jamming has become a way of writing now, kind of coming up with an idea and then running with it in multiple directions. We wrote a ton of songs for this record. I think the reason why we chose the ones that we did and the themes that we did [because] that’s kind of what [lead singer] Andy [Hull]’s been going through the past couple of years. We all talked through this whole thing together and it came out and we made these songs that are really beautiful in a thematic way, and so it just kind of felt right and the songs that we put together… we ended up cutting a whole bunch of other ones, but the ones that stayed kind of seemed right for our album.
If you guys had a lot of extra songs that you wrote for it, do you see those tracks that didn’t make the cut being released any other way? Possibly as an EP or some singles?
I think we all kind of wanted to do something like that, at least keep the material for future records if nothing else. It was a difficult process to cut the ones that we did because a lot of the songs that we wrote we’re really proud of, and they’re really good songs that got pushed to the wayside because they didn’t really fit with the whole album as one big piece. So yeah, I think there are actually going to be some [additional songs] in some other form or fashion.
What’s your songwriting process like? You said that this album came to you very naturally, but how does the songwriting typically go in Manchester Orchestra? I know Andy does a lot of the lyrics, but does he write some of the music and you guys contribute the rest or is it all your thing and he’ll come to you with a set of lyrics and then you take it from there?
It kind of varies from song to song. Andy is definitely the pivotal player in that, in bringing in original ideas or full-fledged songs already, [and] we just kind of figure out our parts over it. For the most part we just kind of walk in and Andy may have this guitar part, [lead guitarist] Robert [McDowell] has this verse or whatever, some sort of idea, and we’ll kind of just run with it. Or we’ll just write a song in the studio if something kind of fits, or we’ll have a quote-unquote “jam” and if something comes out of it that’s good and we’re stoked and we kind of try to form it into a song.
Last year you worked with Kevin Devine on the Bad Books album. How was working with Kevin?
Working with Kevin was awesome. He is one of the best human beings on the planet, he’s somebody we’ve been able to tour with multiple times in the U.S. and the U.K. [Bad Books] was kind of spoken about on the side between Kevin and Andy, like “we should get together some time and do a record,” and then once Kevin came to town we were all there, it turned into a band. It was just a fun creative process, with everybody cooking in the kitchen at the same time, just trying to write parts and put different sections together, so it was really fun.
Yeah, I think it showed itself in the guitar playing. I think a lot of people overlook the fact that Kevin’s a fantastic guitar player, and one of the few people that is very solo and can be really awesome, like in modern music or among the people I hang out with. But I think his guitar playing put the ante up in doing a bit more of that in other stuff. Like having breezy guitar parts… that sounds pretty lame, but you know, Kevin’s style of guitar playing definitely influenced Andy and Robert, for sure.
What are you guys looking forward to most from this tour? Are there certain places that you guys are very excited to play, or are you just looking forward to playing the new material more?
I think it’s just about playing the new material more. A lot of these venues we’ve been to before, a lot of these cities we’ve played in the last eight months to year and a half. It’s kind of about playing to our fans in a last hurrah for this year. That’s what we’re most excited about, just getting out the last little bit of material on Simple Math. It feels like it’s a wrap up of the year for us, so we’re excited about that.
Ever year you guys put on an annual Thanksgiving show The Stuffing. Let’s talk about that.
It’s like a big festival in Atlanta, where we play with all of our bands. All of our Favorite Gentlemen bands come down to Georgia, and we play a big festival there. Pretty much every Favorite Gentlemen band we have, then us and Cage the Elephant [are playing this year].
It was recently announced on your website that after this last leg of the tour you’ll be taking some time off next year to work on various side-projects like Right Away, Great Captain!, Gobotron, Alaska Him Nicely, and the Bad Books follow-up. What part do you hope to play in these projects?
In Alaska Him Nicely, I’m the songwriter for that band so I’m excited about getting some stuff together, being in the studio, and being able to convey that side of songwriting I enjoy doing, the kind of weird stuff. Andy’s been working on [his solo project] Right Away, Great Captain! so I’m stoked to be around during that process. For Bad Books we’re going to get back in and kind of do the same style of recording that we did last time, just kind of flow-and-go with what’s exciting. With Gobotron I’d love to be able to play stuff [with Robert]. I live with Robert and I hear him writing all the time so… he likes to have all of us in the studio working on all these projects and things at the same time. We all like to hang out in the studio together whether we’re playing on it or not, so I’m sure we’ll all be around.
Do you think the break will be a nice reprieve for you guys after having worked on the Manchester Orchestra material for so long?
Absolutely. I think we haven’t really had much time off the past four years, so I think it’ll be a really nice change of pace to be able to live some sort of a normal life in Atlanta for a little bit, to be around our loved ones and be creative without the stress of road on us. I think of us will wind up [working with] Favorite Gentlemen that year, hopefully as we’ve done before with this time off. I think it’ll be a really exciting time for us as a band to take a deep breath and put out some stuff that we can all get behind.
Are you hoping to pick up the Manchester Orchestra thing after that?
I’m sure we’ll just stumble into the next Manchester record. It always seems to work that way, where we say we’re going to take a bunch of time off and then we end up sitting in the studio, starting to write for a record. That’s kind of how Simple Math started being written; we weren’t supposed to write when we got home from that Thrice tour, but we went in the studio and just started going for it. So that’s probably what’s going to happen, we’ve been talking this big game about taking all this time off but we probably won’t end up doing any of that, and just working on Manchester stuff, which I’m totally fine with. It’s how our band works, it’s really funny that way. It’s just like “oh, we’re gonna relax,” and then “nah, we’re not gonna relax.”
Last question: what’s your favorite song to play live?
I really like playing “Virgin” off Simple Math, it’s a really fun song. It’s the heaviest song I think we have. I also like “Pensacola” a lot because it’s a very involved song. I think the crowd enjoys that song a lot; there are a lot of vocals on that one so it’s a fun one to [play]. It’s a challenge, there are a lot of things happening in that song on the record that we can’t really do live but we can still try to pull off. I like that, I like the challenge.
Great, thanks for taking the time to do this.
Yeah, of course!