Manchester Orchestra return to Phoenix.EXPAND
Manchester Orchestra return to Phoenix.
Mike Dempsey

Why Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull Threw Out the Rulebook

Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull is reminded of Phoenix daily.

“The first time we played at the Crescent Ballroom, this kid had made hundreds of stickers of just my face,” Hull says. “I asked him for a bunch of them and I started putting them on all our equipment.”

Manchester Orchestra were one of the first bands to play at Crescent during 2011, the downtown venue’s inaugural year, and they have a commemorative poster hanging in their studio featuring Manchester and other acts who sold out the room. That list includes Hull’s side project with Kevin Devine, Bad Books.

When Manchester played that 2011 show, they were in between Coachella weekends and almost a year into promoting their third studio album, Simple Math. They released their next album, Cope, in 2014, along with its acoustic companion album, Hope.

Over the next few years, they cut down on touring with the full band. Hull continued to perform acoustic tours with Devine, and took a detour to compose the soundtrack to the wildly weird indie film Swiss Army Man with guitarist Robert McDowell.

Hull was keeping busy, but also found the freedom to settle into his personal life. He and his wife, Amy, had a daughter, among other firsts — like finally taking a real vacation to Hawaii for Amy’s 30th birthday.

“We hadn’t been on vacation ever together since we’d been married, seven or eight years at that point,” he recalls. “She loves to be on the beach and I love to be inside in air conditioning, so I brought a guitar.”

That’s where ideas started to form for the band’s latest release, A Black Mile to the Surface, which came out in July. Hull started to write the beginning ideas of the record, including songs like “The Alien,” “The Grocery,” and “The Parts.”

Previously, Hull would have tried to break down the qualities that would make them Manchester songs, or Bad Books songs, or tracks for his solo project, Right Away Great Captain. Instead, he decided to break with that idea.

“I’m still learning so much, to be honest. All that stuff is always shifting in my brain,” says Hull. “I just started to kind of get the idea of, ‘Man, I should just take songs that I love that I’ve written and I think are cool and figure out how to make them work here,’ which I think opened up a bunch of doors for us.”

Once he was back with the rest of the band, the songs continued to evolve until the very end. They were conscious of stepping away from what they were comfortable doing to create a different wall of sound.

Swiss Army Man taught us a ton about sonic landscapes, being able to create moods with sounds. How does it sound when it’s raining or how does it sound when it’s really sunny?” he says. “What are the little things in the background that we can put in there to kind of subliminally give you this feeling?”

He also made it a point to break narrative patterns too, shifting from real-life experience to stories, like watching someone read a book.

“I didn’t want there to be any lines or rules about what I could write about and what characters were connected because the whole thing sort of takes place in the universe of my brain,” Hull says.

“I have all these rules for myself that I’ve made as I was discovering what it was to write songs and eventually become a ‘songwriter.’ For this record, and I just think moving forward too, it was really throwing out any rulebook.”

Manchester Orchestra will be on tour through September, with a short break in October before heading overseas. When asked what to expect from the band for the rest of 2017, Hull laughs.

“Nothing. I’ve given you all I have!” he jokes.

“I was talking to Kevin Devine and he was like, ‘You finished your one marathon, and now you realize it’s time to gear up for your second marathon.’ It’s a totally different headspace of months-long tour and all that stuff.”

However, he gets to bring a bit of home with him this time, with his wife and now 3-year-old daughter joining the band for part of the tour, including the Tempe show.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of the stress of taking yourself too seriously at a show out of it,” he says. “[My daughter] doesn’t care. She knows several of the songs on the record are about her, and she’s like, ‘Yeah, I know.’”

Manchester Orchestra are scheduled to play the Marquee Theatre on Tuesday, September 12, with Tiger’s Jaw and Foxing. Tickets are available at luckymanonline.com.

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