From the astonishing honesty of your favorite popular songs to the masterful wordplay of rap's greatest writers, Andy Hull guides Craig Howieson through the songs that will always be there to accompany life's quicksand.
April 30, 2021 at 7:00 am| words ofcraig howieson
(Manchester Orchestra) (Nine songs)
Eclectic and varied, the formative songs of Andy Hull's life serve as a source of escape and influence. But simply put, these are the tracks that mean the world to him.
There aren't many people who can recite, word for word, entire verses from deep cuts from Ghostface Killah's discography. Even fewer can accurately decipher the themes and stories of John K. Samsonsprovincial, a record so closely intertwined in their narratives that even the composer himself probably references CliffsNotes. And yet, when I sit down with Hull to talk about his favorite songs, I find a man who can do both with ease.
The emotional directness inherent in many of his decisions won't surprise longtime Hull fans. Whether through his work with the Manchester Orchestra or as his side project Right Away, Great Captain! his own songs were always emotions like water; indirectly relatable, optimistic, trenchant and always honest. And it's evident from Nine Songs' selection of his that in his formative years as a songwriter and to this day, he's a sponge, soaking up the lessons of those he treasures most. Whether it was the freedom Bob Dylan and Ghostface Killah gave him to worry less and try new things, or Kanye West's meticulous craftsmanship that shaped his approach to record-making, it all got him there, where he is now, possibly launching his the most comprehensive song series to date.
On the latest Manchester Orchestra albumThe million masks of God, Hull and his songwriting partner, Robert McDowell, look even further beyond the territories they began to explore on previous albums.A black mile to the surface. They show less anxiety and more of a desire not to repeat themselves and to create an album that speaks to who they are as a person and where they are now. It's a brilliant and immersive listening experience that explores faith and existential wonder. It may be softer and more nuanced, but the band hasn't lost any of the raw fear and mayhem of their previous releases, boots littered with sand and gravel from the roads that led them here.
Hull speaks as a lifelong student of the art of songwriting, and as a deep listener and even deeper thinker, he has established himself as one of its greatest painters. “It was something impossible to ask of an artist. It's horrible!" She laughs before contemplating her decisions. It may have been difficult to cut them, but finding the reason why each of these songs ended up making the cut flows out of Hull. "I think they're inside of me. forever," he says.
"Don't think twice, it's all good" by Bob Dylan
“That was difficult because the first song I picked was actually 'Boots of Spanish Leather.' But if I'm honest with myself, what really hooked me was this song. As I started to get more involved in songwriting, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" was the first Bob Dylan song where I started to pick up on things I hadn't heard before just because I was hearing more. I listened to music and wrote more. . It was one of those songs that you put on a mixtape and listen to over and over again. And he took me to "Spanish Leather Boots", which means a lot to me.
"When we made our first record,I'm like a virgin who loses a childI started to worry about repetition, which has always haunted me and that's why I think our records are so different. The idea of "I already did that" and "This chord progression and this melody sounds a bit similar..." It scared me and I didn't want to fall for it. But I was able to produce so much new-sounding material just with an acoustic guitar.
"Spanish Leather Boots" is a beautiful song that alternates between a man and a woman about going to sea. Anyway, fast forward until I hear "Girl from the North Country" and it's the exact same song and tune. And both are amazing songs. Two completely different stories, one in conversation, the other in observation, and that unlocked my whole idea of Bob Dylan. He gave me this idea of freedom. Both of these songs are great, so who says you can't wear a tune twice? If potentially the greatest songwriter of all time does it, then fine."
"Hit You" de Loudon Wainwright III
"This is the most powerful song I've heard in a long time and probably the last song I've heard on this entire list. Robert's dad, who is a huge inspiration for our last record, found amazing songs and he knew what kind of songs I wanted." He loved the art of songwriting and would go to songwriter retreats and encourage me by sending me great songs that he thought I had never heard of.
“We were at a wedding party or something at my parents' house and we sat there and he had his phone out, he was a total guy who would do that too. So we sit and talk and he says, "Come in this room," and he pulls the phone out of him and says, "You need to hear this song." We were at a party, it was kind of crazy, then I was like, "Okay, let me listen," and the opening line really gets me.
"I was about to give birth to my first child and the song is basically about a father admitting that he hit his daughter too hard as a child. The moment he realizes it and says, 'I knew right away it was too hard and I'd never get it right," it was like she'd completely destroyed the potential future of their relationship. And there's that heartbreaking line at the end where she says, "Things are awful between you and me these days / Everything we do is fighting like two people who have broken up / I blame you, your friends, your school, your mother and MTV / I almost hit you last night, it's my fault. What a crushing leveler.
"I started crying at that party. This kid still admits that even with his grown son he can't control his anger and temper towards his kids and it was a horrible song to listen to almost like a 'I never want to write this song' thing and the music from the The song is quite upbeat.It's a very dark and layered song which also affects me in a very interesting way.
"There's such a tragic but very interesting line with this family and how they write songs about each other. If you and I were to sit on my back deck with a portable speaker and some beers, I'd take you on an eight to nine song journey about how react to each other. But she (Martha Wainwright) ends up writing this song"Damn mother fuck asshole"about him and there are some songs his mother wrote about Loudon's infidelities. It really is this incredible example of a family who, as far as everyone knows, still see each other, but write these vicious and honest open letters to each other in music. What a fascinating way to communicate, it's strange."
You're Nice by Paul Simon
"I chose this song because it's the culmination of why I love Paul Simon so much. It's incredibly easy to listen to, it's muted in all the right ways. It starts with a beautiful song... you're kind, you treat me better than everyone else, you're with me when I'm down and I love you. And without any explanation he says: "So bye, bye / I'm leaving you now / And that's why / I like to sleep with the window open / And you keep the window closed / So bye." and perfectly related to a relationship you're committed to, it's brilliant.
"I remember reading a book on songwriting early in my life that was about how you want to go 80 mph down the highway and then pull the wheel in a direction that no one is going to steer you has ever seen. And this song is the ultimate explanation. gentle for that.This woman clearly gave him everything she had and stayed with him through all his shit, but there's a little snag for him so he walks off, it's crazy.
"It means a lot but says so little, and things like that draw me in. Loudon Wainwright III's song is so specific about everything that's going on, well, it's quite the opposite."
"Devil in a New Dress" by Kanye West
"It was hard for me to figure out which song by him is my favorite because it would have been wrong not to record a song by him. He's obviously a very polarizing guy, there are a lot of people who think very different things about him. He definitely influenced me a lot in art. of making records, reading and seeing how he did and put things together has had a huge impact on me since I heard his first record in 2004.
"I especially love this song. The music on it is pretty amazing, and it also sums up what I love about his music. He takes ideas, repurposes them, and transforms them into completely new and radical ideas. When I tried to choose one of his songs, It was between that and the song "Gorgeous" on the same record, which is probably the best lyrical song I've ever written. It's really incredible poetry.
"Every time I've seen this guy being interviewed or talked about, it's always been so embarrassing. It feels like a boiling point, like something is about to go unbelievably wrong. And I love that song because it's actually It boils down to a specific line where he says, "I ordered the jerk off, she said, 'You are what you eat' / You know, I've always liked that sense of humor / But tonight you should have seen how quiet the room was." ", and I love that lyric.
"He takes you into a room, how it probably feels for him when he's awkward in a place and he makes a joke and no one laughs. He uses bravura and deliberately punchy lyrics, I think it's one of the special places when he writes when he goes." there.
"I think at first he was a lot more open and then he became a different person. So when those little lines come out, it always feels like, 'Oh man, it hurts there.' He's not really going to admit it, but there's some going on. stuff".
„Ohio“ von Damien Jurado
"It's a perfect song, that's all. It was probably one of the first songs I heard from him. It's great that he's made and continues to make so many albums, I think it's a real gift for music.
"This song is about a guy who's in love with a woman who was kidnapped as a child, I think I got it right, and he's in love with her and she wants to try and get back home. It's two stories that weave into one if you can." It's her journey to love that person who needs to go out and find out who she is and find her mother because her father stole her when she was a child and her mother lives in Ohio.
"I've been trying to think about what really stuck in my mind about songwriting and Damien Jurado, and this particular song has always been a no-brainer. He was a great writer to me when I was writing songs because I just he would stick with the Am, C, F, G and Em chords that he knew and do a bit of finger picking and figure out his songs.He's always had such an interesting melodic relationship with his guitar playing.
"The big sentence at the end still gives me chills: 'She belongs to her mother and the state of Ohio / I wish she was mine.' Moments like that really crush me and really inspire me. It was a pivotal moment."
„Shakey Dog“ de Ghostface Killah
"This song is amazing. If you read the lyrics, he wrote more short stories in this song than all the other songs I'm going to talk about today combined. Truly a guy at the pinnacle of storytelling and songwriting.
"This song is basically about two guys mugging a drug dealer, and it starts with him sitting in a cab and eating baseball joints smoking, all stiff, smoking, with my leg on the backseat." And then they do this plan where he basically walks to the door and one of them pretends to mug the other.
"Sorry, I'm really desperate about this right now. He's like, 'Hey, who's going there? Tony, Tony, hold on, homie / No matter rain, sleet or snow, you know you gotta call me / The bolt came, Frank pushed me to the door / The door flew, the guy had his mouth open / Frozen, motionless with its scorching heat / Said to him: "Freeze!" Lie back and enjoy the moment.” And he raps these things so fast and so perfectly that you're in a scene from a twenty-five minute movie and this song is about three minutes and forty seconds long. It just blows me away.
"He was a great writer for me and he influences me a lot, especially this record. If you can be wordy and get away with it, then give it a try. So with a song like 'The Wolf' on our last album, I was like, 'I don't think I've used so many words before, but if Ghostface can do it, I can at least try.'"
"What Will" by Nick Drake
"This record definitely changed my life, maybe even a bit before I discovered Bob Dylan.Rosa MondIt's definitely one of those records where an older friend said, "Watch it, you might like it." I love this song and the other reason I like the others is because I don't know what he's talking about at all. on.
"I've read a few Nick Drake books and I still have no idea what he was talking about. There's this ambivalence in the way he puts words together that really connects with my songwriting brain. I can make up my own story, I don't need to know which one. it is.
"I'm looking at this song as a big question in my life and deciding if I'm going to pursue this 'maybe it will happen if you're really lucky' career in music or which path you're going to take. And similarly played with my wife and the decision of whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person.
"I love the line 'Which do you choose / if not choose mine?' For me, I can apply this lyric to a bunch of different moments in my life where I could use it, maybe not for the intended purpose, but they do." it has helped me. The greatest compliment that songs can have is when they are not only remembered for being 16 years old, they are remembered when they are 16, 26, 36 and they stay in your life and have many memories attached to them.
"That was the first Wilco song I had a connection to, I was a junior in high school so I was probably sixteen. It's just two chords and it's another song I don't even know what he's talking about. I love to speculate, but it's essentially the idea of going back to your hometown and the wry feeling of "you're so misunderstood" that I was able to relate to at this early age of angst. I probably felt like I was misunderstood when I was sixteen and as I I grew up, I realized that the phrase is totally ironic.
"It feels like the American Midwest, which is an interesting part of the country. My friends in the band Foxing always talk about this Midwestern trait, and it's not hopeless at all, it's just a little more down-to-earth. It's like that tune of the working class. And at the end he yells "I don't want to thank you all for anything" is classic Jeff Tweedy.
"They're probably one of my favorite bands of all time and have definitely released some of my favorite albums.To be thereOne and two got stuck in my CD player for a long time. It's maybe the last double album I can think of by a rock band other than Biffy Clyro where I really loved both albums."
"Icelandic Letter from Ninette San" by John K. Samson
“This is a great example of a song that you can give meaning to, all of its stuff is. I've been obsessed with it since I first heard The Weakerthans and I've been listening to Nick Drake and Wilco at the same time.left and goyreconstruction siteThey were my pillars. He has a way of writing that is so specific that it feels universal in the strangest way.
"This song is heartbreaking, really one of the saddest songs. The way he writes pragmatic loneliness is really interesting. I'll probably get the details mixed up, but I think this song is written as a note from a brother, who is in a room from tuberculosis, to another in Canada in the late 19th-early 20th century, documenting his time there.
"It's an amazing, really amazing opening line. He describes how he will remember this story where this man didn't want to give up so they had to cut off his hands. Well, if he had tried this shitty coffee here, he would have given up all the war. That's how terrible and bad this place is. His images of skinny ghosts talking about kids at the Halloween party, his cross-references to songs he wrote earlier on the same record. He has a song called "When I Write My Master's Thesis" and the thesis is about Ninette San that this song is about. It's a whole universe that he created.
"He's probably my favorite songwriter of all time, he's up there for sure. I really listen intently when he's doing something. And this song is what he really does best. It's heartbreaking, it's kind of funny, it's tragic, it can sound hopeful, but I'm not sure he really is. He's one of the best at it."