Anybody can form a band, but it takes a visionary to start an orchestra. We spoke with Manchester Orchestra mastermind Andy Hull about his critically acclaimed indie rock band’s new album Cope (stream it here), making music a priority 24/7, his early songwriting efforts and more.
What’s the best song you ever wrote?
I really like a song I wrote called “Its Okay With Me” from a Manchester Orchestra EP back in the day. I can’t say I have a favorite. There are some I feel really blessed to have written and been a part of and others I choose to forget.
How would you describe your new album?
Cope is a very focused and abrasive rock record. Our mission was to create something raw and uncompromising.
How would you compare it to your last album?
Quite differently. Simple Math contains a really wide pallet of sounds and movements. No song on the album sounds the same because each song represented an actual time and story to be told. The lyrics on Simple Math were very wordy and descriptive, I was really trying to paint a vivid picture. With Cope, I wanted the lyrics to be far more debatable. Not telling the listener exactly what I mean when I say it. Thematically, Simple Math was about brokenness and redemption. Cope is about coping. Whether bad or good.
Do you have any tricks you like to use in the studio? Lots of reverb? Candles? A certain kind of microphone you always use?
I always use an SM7. I found it early on and its my happy place. Its fun to mess around with other mics at times but that’s my go to. As far as tricks, I love doubling everything.
Any thoughts on streaming music services like Spotify? Do you worry about not getting fairly compensated?
There is always something to worry about. We make music because we love it and all you can do is hope everybody out there is fair, but realize that is not a reality. It helps get out music out there and simultaneously takes money out of your pocket. I am just happy they haven’t found a way to download live show experiences. Yet.
How often do you play for fun, just for yourself? What sort of stuff do you play when you do?
I always write when I get home from a trip; I say hello to my wife and head to the studio. I feel my best when I am creating and I am really trying my best to do it more often. We are so lucky to have a studio that is literally across the street from the entire band. Recently, we decided to just never stop writing and recording. As long as ideas are there, its our job to get them out. Its difficult, rewarding, and fun.
How did you learn how to play guitar?
Two finger power chords and Blur’s “Song 2”.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
John K. Samson, John Darnielle, Doug Marsh, Nick Drake, David Bazan, Jesse Coppenbarger.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
Well, I had a small a capella hip hop unit going on called “Brain Freezed” when I was eight. I could record audio into my boom box tape deck and when I wasn’t pretending to be hosting my own radio program, I was just doing a lot of freestyle raps about all the bullshit going on when you’re 8. The struggle, ya know? I found the tape recently and it is just absolutely insane. I suppose that’s when I started writing.
What¹s the last song you wrote or started?
I wrote a song on Saturday and the band recorded it yesterday, which was Tuesday.
How do you go about writing songs?
For years I would sit down in front of the computer and workshop songs. Sometimes things come to you out of nowhere but most of the time I need to put in the time to make the song as affective as it can be. More recently, I have enjoyed writing in real time with the band. So we start with a riff and I figure out which way the song needs to go. The band will take quick 15 minute breaks while I fashion lyrics and make them all fit nicely and interestingly. Then we rehearse the song several times, adding and subtracting sections until we have a finished product. We record all of our writing sessions in our studio so once we nail a good take, we have a full demo of the song.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
My perspective as a songwriter changes a lot from song to song. They can be a story, therapy, fantasy, and sometimes all mixed up together. Its fun to be specific in songs and really paint a picture; but its also just as enjoyable to be abstract and try and let the universe connect the dots. Overall, I love words and I love fitting them together.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Just about everything. Things that make me think.
What¹s a song on Cope you’re particularly proud of and why?
I sat here trying to think of a particular song and I can’t. I know that’s lame but we worked so hard to get these 11 songs down from 28 written overall, that I truly love each of them differently and the same.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
“I found the guy that found the map, he’s going insane. He can’t remember my name”
Are there any words you love or hate?
Sure! I hate the word nugget and schlage.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
“I Can Feel A Hot One.”
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I write lyrics that have no music to them on airplanes and comb through them later for ideas.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I would love to co-write with John K. Samson or John Darnielle to watch the process of how they do what they do.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
Something like “Hitting You” by Loudon Wainwright III. Very simple, funny, absolutely devastating.