Manchester Orchestra: "This record is about a guy who talks to the angel of death and it's not" (2023)

manchester orchestraremain one of the most beloved and consistently excellent bands in the business.

Published:10:53 a.m., April 30, 2021Words:Dillon Eastoe.

When you're chasing sonic perfection, obsessing over every last snare drum, and taking countless takes of every voice in an attempt to bottle up the lightning, how do you know when to finally hit the “Stop” button and deliver your work to the outside? world? 🇧🇷

"Art is never finished, it is only abandoned." Often wrongly attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, this observation (or a version of it) was first made by the French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry. Though paraphrased by producer Ethan Gruska, those words were a comfort as he put the finishing touches on 'The Million Masks of God', the Manchester Orchestra's meticulously crafted sixth album. "There's a bit of that," Andy Hull suggests from behind his signature facial hair. "But really, for probably the first time I felt like it was over, which was great.

“We tried everything over and over again at each stage. It was more about refining how it would all fit together, what a narrative is,” Andy explains of the decision to finish his latest work about a year ago. , even as the opportunity to launch and promote in the usual way quickly faded from view. After holding press for the earlier launch in London's Lexington, we have to settle for a split-screen video call from the MO's Atlanta, Georgia base.

Like its predecessor, the 2017 reimagining 'A Black Mile to the Surface', the new collection is again produced by Andy, guitarist Robert McDowell and in-demand Catherine Marks (Alex Lahey, Frank Carter, The Killers). Once again, the trio expands the band's sound to its extremes, layering vocals, manipulating drum mics and ever-widening guitars. Is this a continuation of the same project then?

"We didn't want it to sound like 'Black Mile,'" says Andy. "We wanted it to feel different, a bit more futuristic, and we wanted to explore different avenues sonically. It's a broad record and we like to lean into that and sequence it in a way that I don't think we would have sequenced." record before, where it really is like a journey that you're listening to and hopefully the listener almost feels like they're being knocked off their feet by the end of the experience of him.

"It was nice to feel the freedom to explore all of that and to have [heavier] songs like 'Bed Head' or 'Keel Timing' on a record with a [simplified] song like 'Telepath' or 'Way Back.' We felt connected. as one thing, and we're really not the type to shy away from trying something different."

That experimentation saw the band, completed by bassist Andy Prince and drummer Tim Very, go from the choral intro to the towering destruction of 'Angel of Death' before taking a halftime break with 'Annie' and 'Let It Storm' bringing the volume down. It can be an overwhelming first listen, but after a few rounds of the record these pieces start to click together and you'll hear the instrumental flourishes that no doubt took hours discussing the position of various sliders on Marks' mixer. 🇧🇷

The varied terrain traversed by the eleven songs on 'Masks' is a far cry from the band that released 'Cope' in 2014, a rumbling half-hour of endlessly layered grunge guitars after what Andy admits was a long demo of tracks. . Subsequently, they released a stripped-down version, 'Hope', of the same songs and later provided an a cappella soundtrack for Daniel Radcliffe's bizarre film Swiss Army Man, their last two Manchester Orchestra albums saw the duo find more space in their rock increasingly progressive. . as well as turning their Telecasters to 11.

"Thematically," Andy admits later, there are clear similarities to 'Black Mile'. “It was certainly tied to ideas of generational effect and the circle of life and all those things that I seem to be obsessed with when I write now. As a narrative theme, it was an idea of ​​snapshots and detailed moments [in a life].

"'Black Mile' is a record that takes place in South Dakota, in a small mining town. But neither. Likewise, this record is about a guy who talks to the Angel of Death, and also, it's not. Andy explains. "It helps me dig a little deeper and discover my true feelings, emotions and thoughts about things that are meaningful and difficult. When I can borrow another character's shoes, it allows me to delve into my own psyche about issues that are likely to affect them." It would be too crude to just sit there and try to write about it."

The lyrics Andy was writing about life, death and the afterlife came into sharp relief when, during the recording, Rob's father passed away due to a long illness. "I feel like [making this album] brought us together emotionally in some way..." says Rob. "You can't fix it; you can just be there with the other person and be there, the other guys crying with me. Just your brothers being there. That's the kind of thing where, when you bring that to an album, have a closeness with them and a trust that allows a vulnerability to open up creatively because you've already shared the worst parts of your life with them."

"My whole intention in writing about these things was to try to grieve and go through a process myself," Andy continues. “Because I was also very close to Rob's father, and I hope the album honors this man who gave us so much. It was hard to dance that line, but I think we had one of the most powerful moments in our relationship. we were in Los Angeles, and it finally came up, when we were recording the album. We were crying and hugging, and then once he was there, it all felt like the right thing to do."

"For me, it was a way to get over what was going through my head," Rob explains. "At least I know that what I'm doing now has a purpose and a reason, so it was the line where I could walk through quicksand and not fall apart."

As the band's line-up has changed over the years, Rob has been the Manchester Orchestra's only constant presence since Andy started the project in his bedroom in 2004. "The first time my mum heard the record, said, 'I think you've written Rob a love letter,'" Andy recalls. "That's how this record feels to me; I'm here for my brother."

The emotional crux of the album comes in the form of 'Obstacle', as an innocent childish tune wandering the hospital corridors, birth and death lurking behind different doors. Halfway through, the acoustic guitars give way to an amplified explosion reminiscent of the group's first albums. "This song was written the night before my son was born. I knew I was going to meet this boy and I…wasn't excited, which is a horrible thing to say!" Andy laughs. 'You get over the first baby because you're absolutely overwhelmed by the wonder and the miracle of life. And then the second baby, that's really hard, and I've been there too. I was just trying to deal with those feelings of,' man, what kind of monster am I that I don't feel the same way I did before I had my first child?' Good news, I really seem to love him now."

Now a true family affair, the record features excerpts from Andy's daughter telling the story of the boy who cried the wolf, something he feels ties the entire record together in its examination of birth, family, and bereavement. “I wanted this to reflect a theme that has been going on throughout the album, innocence fading away. Welcome to the world, and I am also very sorry for what you are about to experience in your life. Many good things. There will be many bad things. The idea is for my daughter to put the pieces together about the consequences; This story is about a boy who suffers a consequence for doing something wrong."

Andy's fascination with death and the terrifying moments of life is nothing new; on the Manchester Orchestra's first EP, he had visions that "When my father died / Worms ate both eyes / his soul flew straight to heaven / I cried myself to sleep." Keeping up with the heavy lyrics, his bandmates have allowed him to evolve the band's sound from bedroom indie, howl to grunge and now an expansive and brilliant second album of prog rock, all while maintaining a devoted fan base. with them practically intact.

"We never want to be Part II of something," Andy insists. "It always has to be different, and we certainly wanted to surpass 'Black Mile' and do something different with it." Whether 'The Million Masks of God' surpasses the acclaim and fan fervor of its predecessor, only time will tell. Andy and Rob exceeded their scope, complexity, and attention to detail. If all art is to be abandoned by its creator, lest it be consumed forever in the pursuit of perfection, Manchester Orchestra has left the studio creating a challenging piece that takes listeners to the extremes of the band's sound. . "I feel like this is a year where people are looking for healing, and this album for me is about healing." Last year was tough, hard to predict and even harder to get a sense of control. 'The Million Masks of God' doesn't claim to offer all the answers, but for the band it has been a light in the dark.

Taken from the May issue of Upset. Manchester Orchestra's album 'The Million Masks of God' will be released on April 30.

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