Interview: Manchester Orchestra and Their Tie to Columbia

Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra-Photo by Paul Skelton


Columbia, SC has watched the rise of Manchester Orchestra first hand over the last seven years. As they rolled into town to play Jillian’s Friday May 20th, they were less than a mile away from three of the venues that they grew out of. Playing for over 2,500 people in the Jillian’s parking lot, they were at 41 times the capacity of The Boiler Room, 10 times the capacity of New Brookland Tavern and over double the capacity of Headliners.  Manchester Orchestra front-man Andy Hull mentioned these places and The Watershed in Lexington at 93.5’s Spring Out concert to an audience filled with people seeing the band for the first time.

When we talked to Jonathan Corley, bass player of Manchester Orchestra, they were getting ready for load-in in Detroit and looking forward to getting back to the South.

Manchester Orchestra’s Columbia performance will be just eight days removed from an epic performance on the Tonight Show with David Letterman that featured not only the Tonight Show band, but also the Brooklyn Youth chorus on their song “Virgin.” “We’d played Letterman a couple of times and we’ve always just strictly performed the song. The idea throughout the scope of this record is that we really needed to do something just a little bit more.” The performance is fitting to an album that has been described several places as arena rock, but is really just loud and personal. Corley said he was “shocked on how easy it all came together during rehearsal, and translated into what the world got to see.”

Simple Math is MO’s third full length album and the follow up to Mean Everything to Nothing, the album that put them on the mainstream map with two singles that charted on Modern Rock radio. Fans wanted something more personal, the label wanted a single and a marketing angle and some critics dug for the bad.

“It’s a totally different record in the way we approached everything. We show up in a writing process focusing on 27 different songs and demos that Andy brought to the table. As a band we worked through those and began playing them and writing new songs in the middle of that.” “At the end of the day, we’d go back and listens to the songs we played. Over time that developed down to ten songs which became the record.”

The base of the album was recorded in Nashville and then taken back to Atlanta to their home Favorite Gentleman studios where they got back to work with Dan Hannon on completing the album. Corley said they “spent more time on this record than any in the past.”

And while Simple Math is being marketed as a “concept” album, that doesn’t stray from anything they have done in the past.  Their first full length album I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child carries a good vs. evil theme with characters throughout, while Mean Everything to Nothing is in ways the prequel to Simple Math.  Hull has used his wife as a main writing inspiration not only on the last two records, but even on songs recorded by other artists such as Emily Lynch.  Her song “Amy’s Song” was written by Hull and featured as a free download here on SceneSC.

As Manchester Orchestra has grown onto the national scene they’ve done it in a unique way with the Favorite Gentleman label attached to them. Sure, it’s their record label, but it has become so much more. Creating a community of bands that shares shows, shares fans and was brought to culmination last fall with a sold out show called The Stuffing the night before Thanksgiving in Atlanta, that featured every Favorite Gentleman band spread between three main venues at Center Stage. This Favorite Gentleman community is the same one that we here at Scene SC call family after working closely with All Get Out, O’Brother, Death on Two Wheels, Kevin Devine, Bad Books and Winston Audio over the last three years. In fact, I would bet money that two SceneSC team members Meredith Stringer and Kathrine Brock have seem these bands more combined than anyone.

The podcast featured above was filmed in fall of 2006 and features footage from their New Brookland Tavern show as well as an intense game of Tetris.

Columbia’s dedicated fan base can be traced back to Ben Walker who took care of booking and hosting some of the Favorite Gentlemen bands including Manchester Orchestra during their infant years. “Early on we had noticeably more people showing up in Columbia than we did in our home town” said Corley reminiscing about past Columbia shows.  In 2008 MO released an EP and DVD titled Let My Pride Be What’s Left Behind featuring footage from one of their hottest shows ever.  While temperatures outside the venue reached over 100 degrees, temperatures inside the sold out show reached almost unbearable levels, but turned into one of their most memorable shows.

Manchester Orchestra continue their tour with O’Brother and Cage the Elephant starting the West coast leg of their tour May 27-July 12.

All photos courtesy of Paul Skelton. 5-20-2011