PropertyOfZack could not be more stoked to be posting our new interview with Manchester Orchestra. I had the chance to speak to Chris Freeman of the band not too long ago to discuss Simple Math, the writing process behind the record, upcoming touring plans, and a possible b-side release later this year. Read up and enjoy!
For the record, could you state your name and role in Manchester Orchestra?
Hi, my name is Chris Freeman, and I play keyboard and secondary drums in Manchester Orchestra.
We’re about fifteen days away from the release of Simple Math. How are your nerves doing?
Good. We’re always worried about it leaking, especially the closer it gets to the time of release, but it hasn’t yet, so that’s good. We’ve been sitting on this record for a while and we’re just ready for it to be out and for people to hear it and judge it for themselves.
So far “Simple Math,” “April Fool,” and “Pale Black Eye” have been heard in one form or another whether it be formal releases or in acoustic videos. How have fans been responding to them so far?
Great. There seems to be really overwhelmingly positive feedback on Twitter and Facebook and stuff. If they like those songs, I think they’re going to like the rest of the album. It gave us a little bit of an idea of what people would think about these songs. They’re all so different sounding. They’re a good range of what’s on the album.
The band also just played a few shows in the UK. How was the material responded to in the live environment?
It was great. One night we didn’t play “Simple Math” in the regular set and we walked off stage and the crowd kept chanting for “Simple Math” for like three minutes, so we kind of figured we needed to go back out there. So we ended up encoring with “Simple Math.” It’s cool to go to another part of the world and see the song do so well when the album’s not even out yet.
Was there a reason you guys only played a few shows instead of making a larger tour out of it?
It’s kind of like what we did in LA recently, which was kind of go out and do predominately press related things and knock out a bunch of interviews and get a buzz going before we go over there for a long tour. We’ve been able to with Bad Books keep our touring up, but for the most part, we wanted to ease our way into this long process that will probably be a two-year tour.
Mean Everything To Nothing was released just about two years ago now. How would you describe the next level that it took Manchester Orchestra to?
I think it let us know who are fans were and what kind of kids would come out to shows. I don’t know, I think it added more passion to our fan base that’s evident with the people who come and the time spent talking to fans. Especially at shows like The Stuffing; that was a really good viewing of what are fans are like, at least in our hometown when they were dead silent when we were silent and they were really loud and singing along when we got loud. It’s a cool feeling now not having to feel like we need to prove stuff to our fans. You get to enjoy experiencing a show with them.
Were there expectations from inside the band to reach out as far as you did?
I think it exceeded expectations as far as “Friends” being such a big single for us on the Modern Rock charts. We didn’t really think it was going to do well on radio. I think it exceeded expectations. We hope this record does what we hope and gives us the steady climb that we’ve been planning on.
How would you compare the writing process for Simple Math to Mean Everything?
Having played so many shows together between Virgin and Mean Everything To Nothing we got better as musicians, and then it happened once again and we got closer, especially with Jeremiah leaving. Our relational closeness kind of helped in our writing process with being very comfortable and natural. It’s always very natural, but now that we trust each other and know where we want to go collectively, it made for a really fun and creatively big record for us. We were very ready to write. We had a ton of songs for this album. Cutting down was the hardest part.
There are some darker songs on there including “Apprehension,” which deals with a series of miscarriages in Andy’s family, and there are darker lyrics throughout the album. Was it tough at times to write this album with all of that floating in the air?
Most of the lyrics chronicle the year or two before the actual writing process, so it was more cathartic and good to write about. We had already gone through all of the stuff, and Andy had already gone through all the experiences and was looking back at it with a new perspective. The dark time was a period before the writing period. It didn’t really affect it.
There is definitely a large departure from the previous sounds you guys have shown before. Are there any worries that fans might not be able to latch on to it?
No, I think as a band we were listening to the same stuff and we were growing in the same direction as a band. It wasn’t one person veering off to one side, but it was all of us collectively knowing what we wanted to change and what we wanted to have different on this record. It was a positive change for all of us; no one was really hesitant towards the change.
In regards to the sound change, the album features no slower songs like “Sleeper 1972” on Virgin or like “I Can Feel A Hot One” on Mean Everything. Was that an intentional choice?
I don’t know, I think the track listing for the album made sense. There definitely were those songs in the works and we even recorded a few of them. I think these songs just made sense and that’s how we had to look at it. At the end of the day there were fifty plus songs we had to cut down on. I just think those songs didn’t make it on this thing, but hopefully we’ll be able to release all those slower jams on a b-side.
The song “Virgin” on the record is perhaps the eeriest song the band has ever created with a children’s choir in the background. Can you just discuss the idea behind that song and how it all came together?
I think that song was just a badass song and it just kind of came out. it started different when we first wrote it. We wanted a dark, dark song and we wanted to feel evil with it. The children’s choir, I don’t remember exactly how that came about. I think Andy suggested it because it would be really creepy to have kids sing these lines. They’re actually Dan, our producer’s, kids. So we had a few kids we could try it out with. But I think it came out really well and it still put my hairs on end, especially at the end.
Along with the announcement of the record, Tim Very was confirmed as the band’s new drummer. Many fans expected Ben Homola to be announced as the drummer. How did it come down to picking Tim, and how has it been playing shows with him so far?
Well, it was a decision that we knew we were going to have to make somewhere down the line and we didn’t want to have to think about it while making the record. Because of that, it just kind of happened. As far as the writing process goes, Tim was predominately the drummer for most of the songs and most of the songs that made it on the album were Tim’s. It started to make sense in that light and then once it came down to asking someone to drop everything that they were doing and start a new life for us in this city, that’s hard to do. We love Ben and both of those guys were phenomenal on the record and Ben will still play with Bad Books. I think it just came down to the fact that Tim was able to drop everything and do it. We knew him and we trusted him and it’s been great so far. He’s learning a lot. There’s a new dynamic with these songs and I think we’re slowly, but surely getting there. Some of these songs aren’t Manchester songs live unless we turn it up a bit and maybe make an alternative version for the live show like on “Pale Black.” I think Tim can handle it. It’s like a new player on an NBA team; he’s got to learn to play with the other guys before doing great on his own, like Carmelo on New York. He’s great, but it’s just not really working for some reason. He’s doing a lot better than Carmelo, but the same kind of scenario.
You guys begin your headlining US tour this Friday with Cage The Elephant and O’Brother. How excited are you to hit the States again?
Very excited. We’re also just excited to be on the tour. We’re good friends with both of those bands and we’re just stoked to be out with people and to play shows again and to be in the rhythm of being a good live band. We believe that we’re a good live band. Once we can stop thinking about it and just do it we’re going to get really comfortable and really confident. I’m ready for that, for sure.
What should we expect the set to be like?
Well, definitely new songs and Mean Everything To Nothing. Maybe some oldies. We tried to work on playing ones we’ve never played before like “Neighborhood Is Bleeding.” We hate practicing so much that it’s difficult to learn songs you don’t want to take the time to learn. We’re just going to try to play some marathon sets of songs that maybe we haven’t done before.
This tour ends in the middle of June and then nothing is really on the books until late July and early August. Should we expect more US or European touring?
I’m sure there will be something. They always find something for us to do. I’m sure there will be something here and there in that little gap. We might take some time off though because I’m sure in the fall we’ll be hitting it pretty hard. We’re talking about doing UK stuff and maybe Australia. Hopefully we can go back to Germany.
Like you said, there were a bunch of songs that didn’t make the record. Could you do a secondary release this year?
We would love to. We’ve been talking about it non-stop. The thing about our band is that we really love the studio and touring is a separate entity that we do because we have to and because we like seeing our fans and have them not just be an idea. We do love just sitting in the studio. If we can get some time to sit down in the studio and hash out the songs that didn’t make it, we’ll try to get a b-side album out this year.
Thanks so much for your time, is there anything else you’d like to add or that we should be on the lookout for?
Look out for the new O’Brother record that will be coming out. It sounds phenomenal. Keep an eye out for them.
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