(Photography by Nolan Night)
“Andy Hull can do no wrong,” – the words kept popping up in my social media feed as indie-rock outfit, Manchester Orchestra, released music videos leading up to their newest record: A Black Mile to the Surface. The videos left people eagerly anticipating their full-length release. I, on the other hand, dodged watching them – not out of disdain, but a peculiar sense of reverence. I wanted to attach experience to the songs rather than quickly digest them while scrolling through the clutter of Facebook.
Manchester Orchestra is heavy – not always sonically, but lyrically and intrinsically. You don’t even have to know what Andy is singing about to know there’s weight to it. The timbre of his voice and signature melodies hit you in the space right between your heart and your guts, as if he’s expressing something universal and yet, so unmistakably personal.
Fast forward to my phone-call with Manchester Orchestra’s manager this past Thursday morning as I arranged to enter Grimey’s before the chaos of their cd-release went full-swing. A line had already begun to form, with at least a dozen eager fans waiting outside the well-known record-store at nine o’clock in the morning. By the time they opened the doors at eleven a.m., the line had wrapped around the block, and hopefuls were being sent home as the staff handed out the remaining green wristbands.
I was fortunate enough to escape the heat prior to doors opening, and stood amidst the rows of vinyl while Manchester sound-checked. Afterward, in the calm before the storm, people walked around chatting quietly with each other. I figured, as long as I had my journalism pants on, I’d see if Andy would be willing to answer a few questions. He kindly obliged, and after making sure I wasn’t imposing on his pre-show headspace, I hit record:
LS: With this album, what are you trying to say that you haven’t gotten across with the previous ones?
AH: This record’s about family, and was really inspired by the idea of generations – the impact that previous generations have now, and the impact I have now, being a dad, on future generations. So many things, big and small, affect and influence that.
LS: Do you have a little boy or a little girl?
AH: A little girl. She just turned three.
LS: So basically you were ruined three years ago?
AH: (Laughing) I was, I was. And the album is the result.
LS: Do you have a feeling as to why people connect to your voice in-particular?
AH: No, I don’t. I’m just grateful that they do.
LS: It’s intriguing that everyone’s voice seems to affect other human beings in different ways.
AH: Yeah, I think singing has become… I know singing has become even more important to me over the last few years for sure – trying to take it seriously and get better at it and work on it. But yeah, I’m just grateful they connect with it.
An hour later, 120 people flooded into an already humid Grimey’s. A free bottle of Yazoo was handed to anyone of age who wanted a beer, and the anticipation built as rapidly as the heat in the room. Finally, a near hour later, the band made their way back into the store, and Lightning 100 introduced Manchester Orchestra’s set to their Nashville audience, both within and outside of Grimey’s walls.
Five perfectly executed songs later – a blend of old and new – it was over, and fans began lining up to purchase the album before heading next-door for a meet & greet. No one would’ve complained had there been more songs in the setlist, but we were also thankful to gain reprieve from the heat that had accumulated within the crowd by the end of the show.
I’d seen Andy play a solo set while touring with Dustin Kensrue of Thrice only a few months earlier. He performed “The Parts” – a hauntingly beautiful song about his wife, which I was pleasantly surprised to see on the new album’s track listing. Admittedly, I’d already had a few drinks by the time he took the stage to play the Mercy Lounge show, so when his vocals reverberated throughout the room, I held my breath to avoid turning into a puddle on the floor.
Give it thirteen years
Both your legs up, you’re crying
Trying to push a life out from your belly
I’m a water boy, overwhelmed by the screaming
Your clenched teeth, nails dug deep into my meaning
I still want to know each part
Want to know each part of you
Listening to A Black Mile to the Surface, there’s no doubt the album deserves every ounce of credit it has received. “The Parts” is just one song in a list of twelve, all worthy of praise, and consistent with Manchester Orchestra’s inherent sound. The album starts with “The Maze,” which feels like an homage to church music in the best possible way. “The Silence” is an intensely cinematic final track, subtly reminiscent of “Where Have You Been?” – a standout song off their first full-length, Like a Virgin Losing a Child, which recently turned ten years old.
Manchester Orchestra effortlessly maintains the loyalty of their fans while still growing and evolving as artists – a true feat in the current attention-deficit climate of music. In Andy’s own words, “The song comes first.” As grateful as he is to have an audience who connect with his voice, Manchester Orchestra’s audience seems equally grateful to receive what the band brings to the table. From the individual songs to the album artwork, A Black Mile To the Surface is a deeply satisfying record, and a welcomed addition to their already impressive catalog.
– Christiana B.
For tour dates, store, and other information, visit: http://themanchesterorchestra.com