“It’s cathartic for him, so it’s cathartic for us.”
Keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman for Manchester Orchestra may not be the principle songwriter. And while the band contributes much and is given songwriting credits, the lyrics themselves come from vocalist/guitarist Andy Hull. Yet, in talking to Freeman, it is clear that while Hull’s lyrics may be very personal, the band feels those songs are just as much theirs. If it’s cathartic for Hull to sing his revealing lyrics about marriage and love and faith and doubt, then it’s cathartic for the band to play the music.
Freeman: “We’re all close, spend a lot of time together. A lot of the things he’s talking about, we were there for. We already know the feel of what happened.”
Clearly, as you listen to 2011’s Simple Math, the band knows the feel of these personal, confessional songs, because they play their brand of Guitar Rock as if their lives depended on it. Looking back now on the album as the year comes to a close, it’s a blend of Emo and atmospheric rock, meeting somewhere between Jimmy Eat World and My Morning Jacket. It drives ahead with emotional intensity and guitar riffs all over the place, but it also can come down to a fine point as if Hull is just a folk singer dressed up in an electric rock band. The album’s introduced by the mysterious, chanting “Deer,” a track that might throw you off because of its Bon Iver-like brood. Then “Mighty” drops three big chords, Guitar Rock rises up, conjuring up Hard Rock and Classic Rock, and we’re off to a cathartic ride.
I think of those three chords that open “Mighty” as a point that typifies the energy of Simple Math. Freeman mentions that “Virgin” is the real turning point, the place where the band may be headed in the future. Jonathan Corley’s bass lays the haunting groundwork. A children’s choir chants out the chorus like a Pink Floyd effect. Hull’s pain is palpable in his vocal. Robert McDowell’s guitar work brings the rage and machine. If this is where Manchester Orchestra is headed, it’s in that My Morning Jacket, Black Mountain, Pink Floyd vein—atmospheric rock that punches along right near the border of Progressive Rock’s orchestrations and storytelling through songs with multiple movements within them.
Back to the cathartic, Freeman talks about the band supporting one another in their Christian faith. In fact, to me, his comment about the songs being cathartic for the band because it’s cathartic for Hull reminds me of the concept of the “body of Christ.” The Bible talks about that people of God are brought together as one body—individuals pulled together with individual gifts and abilities but working together for the mission of God. Jesus is the Head of the body and leads and guides this body. If one part of the body suffers, all of the body suffers. In the case of Manchester Orchestra, if one part of the body has a catharsis through a song, the whole body has a catharsis. If Hull is shouting out his pain and confusion and struggles through the lyric, the whole band shouts out pain and confusion and struggles through their instruments. What a beautiful picture of what the Church could be.