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Manchester Orchestra rocked my socks off

By Staff | Sep 23, 2008

The first time I saw Manchester Orchestra was more than a year ago in Cleveland. The Atlanta, Ga., band was opening for mewithoutYou at the Grog Shop. I had discovered their debut, “I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child,” only a month or so before and was immediately hooked. The performance that ensued — professional, tight, driving — only ensconced the band further into my heart.

When I had the chance to meet up with guitarist Robert McDowell at Lollapalooza in early August, I jumped. Literally. No seriously, I was pretty excited. The hardworking quintet plays music filled with emotional maturity about coming of age and losing faith, but come across as a more consistently rocking version of Brand New.

The interview that follows wasn’t as exciting as my initial reaction. Nothing against Mr. McDowell, he was professional and nice and courteous, but his mind was clearly on enjoying his time at Lolla. Among the acts he was most primed to see? Rage Against the Machine, Lupe and the Raconteurs.

Most of our discussion, however, hovered around the band’s plans for a new record and a small selection of secret shows played to gauge reaction to their new songs.

Graffiti: So tell me about Manchester Orchestra. What’s going on right now?

McDowell: We’ve just been writing. We had the first three months (of this year) off. Monday through Friday we’d go and do whatever. Sometimes it goes fast, sometimes not. We’re just working on some new songs.

Graffiti: Manchester Orchestra’s been heralded as a rather mature band for a bunch of teenagers — from the song structure to the lyrics. Is there a certain amount of pressure attached to that label, that you have to continue to show that maturity?

McDowell: Yes and no. It feels the same to us because (the songs) are built the same way. … But so far the songs are more complex and advanced.

Graffiti: Do you buy into the music cliche that rock bands need to progress, to evolve? Do the songs you’re working show any growth?

McDowell: I hope so. I feel like that’s a thing that happens with all bands. We’re hoping the next album will be better and smarter.

Graffiti: Andy (Hull, lead vocalist, guitarist) wrote most of the first album. How are the songwriting duties coming along this time around? Sticking to the same formula?

McDowell: Andy will typically come in with an idea or riff or chorus and it evolves from that state. Every one gives input and feeds off each other. We’re trying to do everything very natural. We’re scheduled to start recording Sept. 1, then we’ll try to get that done.

Graffiti: What else do you have lined up?

McDowell: We’re working on an EP/DVD. Then we’ll tour on that and hopefully the (LP) record will work itself out during that tour.

Graffiti: Have you been testing the songs live, to gauge audience reaction?

McDowell: We have two new ones we’ve been playing since January. We played two more a few days ago in Columbus for the first time and then at Lollapalooza and the House of Blues. We’re hoping to play those more. We also have secret shows for people in our practice space. That helps you figure out which parts you really want to play. 

Graffiti: Well, thank you for your time, Robert and best of luck with the new record.

McDowell. Thank you.

Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com