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Manchester Orchestra’s Louder Brand of Indie Rock

Apr. 21, 2010
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Manchester Orchestra isn’t from Manchester, nor is it an orchestra. It’s a rock band from Atlanta with some strong opinions on the state of commercial rock.

“I think there’s definitely something lacking in popular rock music today, especially what gets played on the radio,” keyboardist Chris Freeman says. “You get Nickelback and Creed. We need something a lot more daring and challenging, something that rock ’n’ roll is missing now. We try to do something more intense than other rock bands do.”

Manchester Orchestra’s brand of rock is also heavier and rawer than the indie-rock bands the group is often lumped in with.

“We’ve played those radio shows in Florida and San Diego, and the other bands had hit singles, like Phoenix and Vampire Weekend,” Freeman says. “Every night we were the loudest band.”

That intensity comes across on Mean Everything to Nothing, the band’s 2009 studio album recorded with The Shins/My Morning Jacket producer Joe Chiccarelli, which scored the top 10 modern-rock hit “I’ve Got Friends.”

Mean Everything to Nothing was released last April to strong reviews, including a particularly enthused write-up from Paste Magazine that claimed the band had proved “it’s possible to make a massive, commercial, go-for-the-gusto Rock Record while still holding on to dark idiosyncrasies.” After spending much of last year touring behind the record, the band is on the road again for a 75-date tour that has included an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and will wrap up at this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee.

Unlike last year when it opened for Silversun Pickups and Brand New, Manchester Orchestra will be headlining or co-headlining this tour alongside Thrice.

Freeman, who was packing his suitcase for the tour during the interview, is excited about that change.

“There’s a different kind of satisfaction playing in front of your own crowd,” he says. “That’s something we haven’t been able to do for a while. You enjoy the connection with your fans. You can really enjoy the show.”

The shows will also include material from Manchester Orchestra’s 2007 debut album, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, which was released when frontman and lyricist Andy Hull was all of 19.

Hull gave his band its misleading moniker because he was heavily into The Smiths and other music that came from Manchester, England, and he envisioned the band being a rotating group of players combining their efforts in the spirit of an orchestra.

That didn’t work out, and a more traditional band emerged, but the name stuck.

The guys in Manchester Orchestra are now all in their early 20s and have already played major festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza and toured internationally.

“Our last trip to the U.K. was hard,” Freeman says. “We had major injuries at that time, everybody in the band was hurt. It’s a very dark, rainy place. It was just difficult at the time—all of that setting in. We were being miserable together. But, other than that, it is fun.”

Freeman says there’s a simple reason for why the band tours so much: The way bands make money these days isn’t by selling records, it’s by playing shows.

“We’re ready to get back in the studio, but we need to make some money,” Freeman says with a laugh, becoming cheerily sarcastic. “There’s so much money in indie rock. I can see the headline now: ‘Manchester Orchestra is all about the money.’ This is great.”

Thrice and Manchester Orchestra headline a 7 p.m. show at the Rave on Saturday, April 24, with O’Brother.


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