Resurrecting the Left of Center
Touring, Recording & Judgmental Little Punks with Chris Freeman of Manchester Orchestra

Words by Alexandra Johnson

Athens, GA — Rooted in the same southern soil the peaches grow in, Manchester Orchestra have been hard at work, making a name for themselves in the endangered circuit of music fans and critics who have not lost faith in the true indie rock music scene.

These candidly brilliant Georgian natives resonate a precocious sound that reverberates a jarring, yet comforting message: substantiated, contemporary rock is not dead, and although it may have taken more than just three days, it has resurrected.

Conceived in 2005, Manchester Orchestra is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Andy Hull’s inner-monologue of honesty and mystery. The passion behind the project revealed itself on their first full-length release, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child (2006), and intensified for their sophomore effort, Mean Everything to Nothing (2009).

Manchester Orchestra have defined themselves through symphonies of wavering crescendos and decrescendos, bridging the gap between Hull’s growling articulation of his self-questioning lyrics and religious undertones. Thrashing drum beats and hypnotic key notes sync together, smoothing themselves over Hull’s gritty vocals, developing a unique sound incongruous with the prototypical cookie-cutter molds.

The Waster caught up with Chris Freeman (keyboardist/percussionist) just as he hit the 2,000 mile dusty trail towards Salt Lake City, Utah, where the band would start the make up dates for last year’s Brand New tour.

“We are not that cool of people, we don’t have many friends. We sit around and play video games with the people we live with and that’s about it”, Freeman said.

This level of modesty is not surprising coming from the eccentric and enthusiastic live performer who stands tall behind Sally Jesse Raphael-esque frames and American Apparel-style tank tops. In fact, it is this down-to-earth quality that all the guys from Manchester Orchestra possess, which makes their praise-worthy melodic masterpieces ear candy.

At the turn of a new decade, Manchester Orchestra is embarking on some new endeavors, including the replacement of drummer Jeremiah Edmond. Even in the wake of change, Freeman remained positive about the reshaping of a band whose steadfast success has been able to captivate audiences and generate a melodic stronghold on the industry. With the loss of an original, integral component to the creativity and sound that embodies Manchester, the band has turned to Ben Homola (drum tech for Brand New) and Len Clark (Colour Revolt) to add some new flavor to what the band has already been concocting.

“Basically, we have been able to practice with both fill in drummers for now, both Len and Ben, and that was really exciting actually having somebody take Jeremiah’s parts and kind of mess with them a little bit”, continues Freeman.

He adds, “It’s interesting being more involved now. I think Jeremiah took a lot of that load, as far as the financial side of the meetings and that kind of thing. Some of the other members and I have been able to sit on those meetings and be a bit more aware of the financial situation of the band and the decisions that need to be made.”

On January 26, the band digitally released I Could Be The Only One, a tandem EP with musician, friend and frequent touring buddy, Kevin Devine. “Andy recorded his cover a long time ago, and then it was kind of like, ‘Hey Kevin, you should do one of Andy’s songs and then we will release them together.'”

“And you can tell all of those AbsolutePunk kids, who judged it too soon, when they could only hear the preview, to suck it” he proclaims.

The musical partnership of Manchester and Devine — who often appear on the same bill together — has been dubbed ‘inevitable’ by the fans who have collected ticket stubs over the years. The Georgia quartet’s open-mindedness also has many fans hoping they will launch a similar project with another band they are often musically-linked to, Brand New. “Yeah, if they wanted to do it. We love writing with people and we enjoy hanging out with our friends. Those guys are both friends and really great musicians.”

“We like doing it with everybody, really”, Freeman offers. “We have done it with bands in Atlanta, as well, some things that nobody really knows about. We might release some of that in the future. We have never really released any of our other collaborations, mainly because they still need to be mixed and they are kind of just skeletons right now, with bands like O’ Brother, Winston Audio, Dead Confederate. When you spend so much time together with people you kind of get bored and say ‘Hey, let’s make a side project!”

Manchester Orchestra and Devine have also been amalgamating their acclaimed creativity to form some original tunes. “It kind of happened in a weird, trading-off of leadership roles between Andy and Kevin. Everybody was in a room together and we all kind of hung out during the whole process”, Freeman explains.

“We all listen to the same kind of music. I think Kevin (Devine) is a very structured songwriter, more so. He likes to mull over a song for a long period of time. But, I think we are all very like-minded musicians, so it is very easy for us to work together and meld the sounds together of both bands”, he adds.

Even with all of these friendly jam-session undertakings in motion, Manchester is planning on getting back in the studio to work on their third full-length release this year.

“It is really a spastic, sporadic process, but I think Andy (Hull) kind of holds the reigns on the whole thing and then we just try and follow along.”
– Chris Freeman on the recording process

“After this little bit of touring we have coming up, we hope to be able to get back in June. We actually own our own studio now in Atlanta, and have been able to go in there and demo. We are gonna do the record there. Every time we get a chance we try and go in and work a little more on new songs and new ideas”, Freeman says.

“As of late, I guess because we are in the demo process, we have done it a little differently than the actual studio time”, he shares, “it’s kind of spur of the moment. It is very much just Andy coming in with a song and all of us kind of hanging out and switching off instruments, you know, trying to get a vision for the song. It is really a spastic, sporadic process, but I think Andy kind of holds the reigns on the whole thing and then we just try and follow along.”

Hull is certainly doing something right as the conductor of this unconventional orchestra. With only 23 years of life lessons under his guitar strap, he is fronting a band that is busting at the seams.

“We never played an arena to our fans”, explains Freeman. “I think if I had 8,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs to see us play, then I’d probably prefer an arena, because that is awesome. I’ll stick to clubs for now, but it would be cool to play an arena full of Manchester fans.”

They may not have headlined an arena show to date, but they have hit the big stages to open for acts such as Kings of Leon and Brand New. Even then, fans anxiously hollered and howled for this indie ensemble, pleading for them to strike the chords to their favorite Manchester song. However, anytime that request was ‘Golden Ticket’ off of their sophomore LP I’m Like a Virgin, that request was ignored, respectively.

“I am getting called out on my shit”, Freeman jokes. “We are still kind of just kicking those songs under the carpet because we still don’t know how to play them. Hopefully we will learn them one day. Let’s say when we get to those arenas and they’re all there for us, then we will play the old ones that we forgot how to play. We will go back and learn them. We will practice once or twice.”

Though it is nothing but rock n’ roll for the boys from Atlanta, Freeman promised you wouldn’t be able to find anything “crazy or weird” if you snuck on their tour van like a lone vagabond. Instead, you could count their days on the road by the Aquafina bottles and Diet Coke cans that are usually rolling around on the floor. “We play a lot of NBA 2K10 on Playstation and just sit around and laugh at each other”, Freeman says.

Their offstage antics are transparent – through podcasts that Manchester Orchestra’s fans have been ritualistically following since the band started documenting each leg of their tours. “Jay just got a new camera actually, and hopefully we will be able to get some new footage. We just got robbed twice in the last couple months. All of our cameras, all of our video stuff, all of our hard drives, everything was stolen out of our van and out of our hotel. We have kind of been media-less for awhile.”

“I didn’t get any of my stuff stolen, so I don’t really care”, Freeman jokingly added.

Aside from all of the work Freeman puts into Manchester, he has still been putting a lot of devotion into his side project-baby, Alaska Him Nicely. “I have been in the studio with Robert and Jay and we have been working on some new songs. We just did two new songs last week. I have been working on some weird songs about people unable to bear children and doing very strange things to get them.”

“We will have some time off later this year, so I am going to try and take that [time] into the studio and try to get a full length done. I have to compete with Robert (Mcdowell, lead guitarist) now, because he just released his Gobotron album, and Andy’s got Right Away, Great Captain, so I have to do something full.” Freeman continues, “Eventually, I’d like to tour, if it would work out. It might just be a hometown show, an Atlanta show, for Gobotron or Alaska Him Nicely. Andy has done it a few times around Atlanta and in London, but has a lot more pull than we do.” | Athens