This past weekend was filled with many talented musicians as Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati greeted the festival world with a clever juxtaposition between big bands that hit deep, and smaller bands that deserved the crowds for which they played. One of the bands I was most interested in seeing was Manchester Orchestra, a five-piece from Atlanta that hooks your ears with hard-hitting guitar riffs and drums, against the distinct voice of frontman, Andy Hull.
At Bunbury, Manchester Orchestra began its set by quietly pulling the crowd in with heavy, chordal guitars and then catching fire, taking us all on a journey that left us whirling like dervishes as we worked out our demons alongside the band.
We had the opportunity to chat with Chris Freeman who provides the band’s keyboard/percussion/backing vocals. He spoke of the band’s deep faith and the importance of honest music.
Was there a musician while you were growing up that had an impact on the way you listen to or play music?
Growing up, I wasn’t really allowed to listen to non-Christian music, outside of oldies. So, like anybody like Keith Richards or any of the Beatles, outside of DC Talk or Carmen on the Christian music circuit.
When the band began, did you want to pursue music as a career or did that just happen?
I wanted to be a drummer in a band since I was thirteen or fourteen, so it’s definitely something that I have always wanted to do as a life goal. I failed a lot of classes in high school. I remember my mom asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I said I wanted to be a drummer. So I think from a pretty early stage we all had that mentality like I do.
Are your parents supportive of this decision?
Yes, very much so, now that it’s working.
What prompted the decision for you to tour extensively at the beginning?
It’s really all we could do to make sure that this works. I think this is an industry where you have to go out and tour if you’re going to get fans and so, we figured if we were going to get more fans, we would have to tour more. That was our mentality and we’ve stuck with that for our career.
Do you feel like your sound has come of age and matured as you guys have?
Absolutely, I feel like each record is different and reflects where we are musically and spiritually and in making records. I feel like we’ve become a better band, and I think that reflects on the records for sure.
You guys deliver music that is really honest and open. Why do you think it’s important to do that?
I think that’s the point of music; if you’re not going to be honest and open about things, then you just end up singing about bitches and hoes. (laughs) We don’t have those, so why not sing about things we grew up with and things we see on a daily basis?
So, we’re not going to see you teaming up with Ke$ha anytime soon?
No, I don’t see that happening. That or a dubstep record.
Thank you for not doing either of those things.
You’re welcome. (laughs)
What part would you say faith plays in your music?
A big part. It’s something we all grew up in, in the church and around as something we believe in as Christians. It’s something that we believe in and carry with us in our day-to-day lives. I think this industry lacks that a lot, lacks a lot of faith. So, people act differently when they don’t believe in something and we try to act according to that, in our music and our day-to-day lives.
Do you find it hard sometimes to keep the faith with the way the industry is?
No, not really. I think it’s such a unified group of people in our band that the outside influences and temptations are easier to deal with when you have four other dudes who all believe the same that you do.
Would you say that you find music to be a spiritual experience?
Definitely. Having a group of people—especially a live show, more so—having a large group of people in communication at a show together is definitely a really spiritual thing.
Has there been any show that you’ve gone to that has really moved you?
Any time I see My Morning Jacket play, it’s better every time. I saw them play at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta and that was three hours of amazing musicianship and songs I love. That and Sufjan Stevens and Pedro the Lion is the same kind of thing. I saw Sufjan at Southgate House when I was sixteen. That was huge.
Did you know Sufjan was huge back then, or were you unaware of how huge he was?
Our teacher had taken us to see him in Oberlin, OH at the college and I loved his music already. I knew he was going to blow up then, so seeing him at a small venue was really cool.
Let’s get back to your music. How do you feel that Simple Math differed from your previous albums?
I think it was more beautiful as far as the arrangement goes, with all the strings. I think the record carries itself very well from start to finish. Mean Everything to Nothing was very aggressive and very full of energy and youthful, and I feel like Simple Math was a bit more laid back at moments, and we were finally able to be play full band quieter with having different drummers play with us. That was a really fun experience and to be able to find a groove in certain songs that we might not have been able to do previously.
What can we expect with the next album?
We’ve just started working, writing new songs. It’s kind of aggressive. For Simple Math, we wrote forty songs and whittled it down to ten, and I think that same thing might happen this time through. There’s really no telling. We feel like we may have another loud record in us, but there’s really no telling at this point.
How do you pick the songs that make the record’s final cut?
For Simple Math it was kind of apparent which songs fit together really well. Some songs that were favorites got pushed to the side because they didn’t gel with the record as the whole. We look at the big picture and what we want to present to the fans and what we’re proud of as a cohesive record.
Do you think we’ll see some of those favorites that didn’t make Simple Math?
Definitely, we’re definitely a band that goes back to old riffs or old parts in old songs and try to re-hash them into something that could possibly fit into the next thing or do an EP with them, there’s nothing set in stone of course. I said something to this effect in an interview before, and then it became this whole thing that we were releasing a b-sides record. I’m not saying we’re releasing a b-sides record, but some of the songs will definitely be used at some point, I’m sure.
How do you feel about the vinyl resurgence that’s going on right now?
I think it’s very cool. I think there’s definitely a snobbish part of the whole vinyl collecting thing, but it is kind of nice to listen to a record like that or listen to a record from start to finish instead of skipping around. And I’m guilty of skipping around songs like that, too, to songs I want to hear. But I think the age of full records is coming back and that’s a very big step for the music business and musicians in general.
Were you guys excited to be asked to play Bunbury?
Yeah, my family lives close. Some of our friends are playing it, too, so it’ll be nice to get back close to where I grew up and hang out.
Photos: Cary Whitt