Manchester Orchestra Makes Complex Music, but Straightforward BeerOctober 03, 2018
Manchester Orchestra has built a career based on honesty and self-reflection. Frontman Andy Hull began writing songs in high school that garnered enough attention to convince him to be homeschooled his senior year, enabling him to pursue his passion. That allowed Hull to frame what would become Atlanta-based Manchester Orchestra’s first EP, You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good Editor.
Manchester Orchestra is rapidly approaching its 15th birthday. Not many bands live to see that benchmark, but after assembling in 2004, Manchester Orchestra has been steadily mastering its sound and refining its writing process. Persistently challenging themselves to mold a dynamic story into an album, the band hit a turning point when Hull and guitarist Robert Mcdowell were asked to score Swiss Army Man, with one caveat: no instruments. This experience changed the band’s approach to storytelling dramatically and would lay the foundation for what’s to come.
Last year brought the release of the band’s fifth full length album, A Black Mile to the Surface, widely regarded as its best album yet. Manchester Orchestra dialed back from its guitar-blaring Cope and crafted intensity around the restrained moments. During live shows, these tender moments breathe new life into the explosive climaxes for which Manchester Orchestra is known.
There was no shortage of eruptive moments during Lollapalooza weekend, a new enthusiasm pouring into every moment. While we didn’t share a beer, I did speak with drummer Tim Very a few days after the festival, and we chatted over the distant crunch of Hull’s guitar.
Do you guys have a go-to beer while on tour?
We don’t really tour with any specific beer. On our rider, at this point, we have Stellas and Bud Light. Stella is a very reliable beer. As I get older, I kind of feel myself being more and more into standard, straight-up beers without plum juice and things like that in them. You spend all day drinking just craft beer and you are waking up with one hell of a headache.
You guys put out your own beer, The Gold, at one point. How did that come to be?
We’re Georgia boys and so the big beer company out there is SweetWater [Brewing Company]. Not too long ago, I happened to make a great connection with a restaurant owner named Kraig Torres [owner of Hop City & Barley Garden]. He connected me with the SweetWater team, and we were able to craft our own custom beer called The Gold. It’s based on our song that’s on the radio right now, “The Gold.” We did, like, a golden lager with them. It’s got a little bit of hoppy bite to it at the end. It was delicious. We were able to partner up with a great charity in our city called The Giving Kitchen that raises money for all sorts of different people who work in the service industry and fall on hard times—get in a car wreck, break a leg, something like that. Usually they don’t have any safety net to keep them from absolutely falling to the bottom of their lives, so The Giving Kitchen will come along and give them a grant to pay for their medical bills and stuff like that. It was a total honor and treat to finally use music and beer as a tool for good.
How much were you all involved in the process of determining the taste of The Gold?
I’m going to claim Kraig [Torres] for a lot of it. It popped into my head when Kraig and Nick [Nock], the head brewmaster, kind of had a little email chain going and they’re like, “What kind of style you guys thinking?” It just popped into my head. Duh, we gotta do a gold beer. We got the song "The Gold" on the radio right now. It was meant to be. Kraig really wanted mandarin[-flavored] hops. It had a bit of an orange-y tang to it at the end. It was a great beer.
What’s your favorite local brewery in Atlanta?
There’s a couple around there but obviously I’m going to plug SweetWater because they made it really easy for us to partner up with them. We got to go down to their brewery and tour the whole place and help them make the first batch that we did. It’s just cool that they started it in their garage and now its enormous.
Who is the coolest person you’ve ever gotten to share a beer with?
I didn’t get to share a beer with him because he’s sober, but we got to do the Honda Civic tour with Blink 182 and I got to hang with Travis [Barker] a little bit backstage and talk with him and just hang out. We didn’t get to drink together but he was a great person to hang with. He’s a hard-working drummer, so it was cool to chat with him for a little while and ask him some questions.
Making good art and getting this far as a band, it comes at a cost—time and your sanity.”
What is your go-to style of beer?
As I’m getting older, I’m just starting to like Bud Lights—you know what I mean? I can drink 10 of the damn things and keep my act together. When I’m going for taste and stuff, I do really love Stella. I think it’s a great beer. I’m liking lagers lately, too. That’s what I’ve been searching for. We just had one the other night called 3Sisters or something like that. It was delicious. One of the better-tasting lagers that I’ve had in awhile. We went and got oysters.
Beer and oysters, what a combo.
Yeah, I don’t eat oysters so I just watched everybody else polish off, like, 96 oysters at a restaurant. It was disgusting, actually. If you’re not an oyster guy, you just can’t understand why people are just chucking boogers down their throat. That was a delicious beer, though. 3Sisters.
Your last album definitely feels like a bigger album. It was more grandiose in terms of its composition and received widespread critical acclaim. It’s not always the case that a band’s albums get better as it goes along. How do you keep pushing yourselves to expand both creatively and sonically?
There really was this pressure to up the ante and to really put something out that really pushed the limits of what Manchester’s sound is. Different things, like the Swiss Army Man soundtrack and other things that the guys had been working on, kind of started bleeding into what we were making. It kind of opened up the sonic possibilities of what we could do on this next record with grandiose vocals and all sorts of things mixing in. A record like Cope was very guitar heavy. We knew we wanted to do something different and something that kind of covers more ground. It was a long process—challenging ourselves in any way that we could step it up and not settle. Each song had to earn its way onto this record. It had to have a place. It had to have a reason. I feel like we, to the best of our ability, got it there. It’s been incredible to have the kind of response that we’ve gotten to it. It’s all thought about and carefully crafted through months and months of time, effort and hard work. To have it pay off, and to have people understand that we stepped it up and appreciate that were trying to push it artistically, we’re thankful for it. We’re just so grateful to still be out here.
You guys have been a band for almost 15 years now. What’s the key to longevity as a band?
Things do change. Bands evolve. It’s hard. It really is. As time goes on, and as life goes on, I think people don’t realize that, say, from Cope to A Black Mile to the Surface, that was probably three to four years of time that’s gone by. You kind of just go, "Oh, Manchester’s putting out another record," but you don’t really understand how much time has gone by and how much people can change from that time. I think the key is to have no other option in life. If you’re one of these dudes that has a nice, cushy job waiting for you with your family, then you’re probably going to take it when things start getting really hard. Making good art and getting this far as a band, it comes at a cost—time and your sanity. It doesn’t surprise me at all when I hear about different friends of ours leaving or hanging it up because it’s tough. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re lifers. We’re not in this for fun or any other myriad reasons why people start bands. To stay in one and keep it going is all about understanding the long-term plan; not beating yourself to death every night drinking, not getting carried away with partying, things like that. You just have to start really treating it like a business and being adults about it. You have to be sold out to the thing. Otherwise, when times get tough, you’ll find yourself thinking about hopping off the bus.
How do you balance the home life and tour life?
It’s interesting because I always thought, like, "How do people do this?" As we get older, this thing becomes more normalized. We took out Mayzie, Andy’s kid, on the last tour and it was totally cool and normal. We started realizing there is a way to do this and it still be sane. Andy just had his second baby. Robert just had his first baby. I’m having a baby as soon as I get back from this tour. Things are definitely changing, but I think even that stuff just makes you more focused and more locked in. I think the families and all that stuff cements the desire to achieve and to strive for bigger and better. It pushes that even more. You would think these things would distract you or slow you down. I used to think that way as a young twentysomething-year-old riding around in a van, but now I’m realizing these kids are our future. We’ve got to make it the best one for them that we can. It’s definitely added a level of severity, but at the same time comes with so much joy.
Next year, we’re going to start trying to work on a new record. It’s going to be just like this last one. It’s not always easy. It shouldn’t be easy. There’s a lot of growing pains and stretching and circling back around to ideas and kind of reinventing them. It’s just a lot of work and a lot of mental energy that goes into making sure that you’re pushing the bar for yourself. I’m very excited about where we are all at. We’ve been talking a lot and just starting to cast vision about what this next record can sound like, what it could be like, and what we’re trying to accomplish.