Like many driven, self-conscious artists, Manchester Orchestra lead Andy Hull has developed a bit of an obsession. As the last few years have whirred by, music has become his refuge. And he's dived off the deep end.
Last week, he celebrated his 22nd birthday and song No. 1,000, written during a recent 24-hour whirlwind that produced two full-length albums. Unlike the sophomore release from his side project Right Away, Great Captain!, and a new Manchester Orchestra CD slated to drop next spring, the recently recorded music isn't even scheduled for release.
Hull's nothing if not prolific, stating that music is "the only thing that takes stress away." It's sort of a catch-22 when you consider the temptation and frustration the industry begets. Little wonder why he identifies with Woody Allen, the writer, director and star of paeans to his own neuroticism.
"My mother used to tell me music was the thing that calmed my anxiety, but that I was too good at the music so it became my anxiety," Hull says from Los Angeles, where he's about two hours away from starting the mixdown on the new Manchester album. After he finishes mixing, he'll return to Atlanta for the Right Away, Great Captain! album release show. The two acts reflect different sides of Hull's musical personality, each couched in their own diametric duality.
"I want the two to be differentiated but still be able to intertwine with each other," Hull says. "The Manchester album's lyrics aren't dark. Right Away is dark as hell, but sounds beautiful. Manchester is about being fulfilled, like, 'I hope they bring peace to something,' but it sounds like the end of the world. ... It was definitely a decision, like, 'Let's make a completely ass-rock album, and a pretty, smooth record."
Both were forged in a yearlong stretch during which Hull performed more than 300 times. Newly betrothed just a few months ago to his girlfriend of three years, he longed for the comfort and care of home while out on the road. He channeled that loneliness and longing into The Bitter End. The 2007 Right Away, Great Captain! debut presents a three-part story about a sailor from the 1600s who ventures to sea, lest he kill his wife and brother after finding them together in his bed.
The second album, The Eventually Home, traces his Odysseus-like journey home to kill his family. The music is flush with jangling guitars, Beach Boys harmonies and acoustic, pop paeans – including the gorgeous Bright Eyes-like ache of "What a Pity" and the ringing folk of "Devil Dressed in Blue" – that are interspersed with bittersweet ballads such as "Father Brian Finn" and "Once Like You." Couched inside are harrowing sentiments, such as the increasingly mad sailor's confession that he wants "to haunt our children until they believe there's no God to stop my plan."
Hull says he wanted to make a very accessible "adult contemporary"-type album, hoping to ensnare an entirely different set of listeners. "I want, after this album, for fans to not even know who Manchester is. Just the potential for people to find out and go [after hearing Manchester Orchestra], 'Oh, that's terrible. That's way too loud for me,'" Hull says. "How cool would that be?"
Though he's excited about both Right Away, Great Captain! and the next Manchester Orchestra release – which he compares to Weezer's dark, sophomore album, Pinkerton, but "on steroids" – Hull is equally enthusiastic about his label, Favorite Gentlemen, which distributes his releases via Sony subsidiary RED. It's also host to a burgeoning lineup of Atlanta acts. According to Hull, his bands and label are "all treated with the same respect, if not equal time."
"With awesome rock acts and interesting bands like O'Brother, All Get Out, Winston Audio, the Beggars' Guild, Pasadena, Harrison Hudson – and now we've signed Kevin Devine – we're building a scene that [Creative] Loafing will write about," says Hull, who's been cast as an outsider among Atlanta's PBR-swigging, indie-rock scene.
He hasn't been home much over the past year, but now that he's old enough to drink, perhaps Hull can become a scenester. He declares that "the Black Lips rule," thereby passing the supposed litmus test. Indeed, as he sees it, the only reason Manchester Orchestra has never been included among Atlanta's in-crowd is because his compadres always had double X's stamped on back of their hands.
"None of us were able to get into bars until last year," confesses Hull. That begins to explain the band members' collective virginity prior to Manchester Orchestra's 2006 breakthrough, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child.
Meanwhile, Hull continues to immerse himself in the music, the one thing that quiets his mind. He writes, he listens and relies on the counsel of friends. In a certain sense, it's a normal existence – though most people don't spend eight hours in the studio every night or sleep during the day, as Hull does so he can spend breakfast and early evening with his wife, a first-grade teacher.
"The thing with having strong visions is you can't see the man in the mirror," he says. "I don't know if this shit is going to work, but everyone around is, 'You're a great songwriter.' But I know the minute I become obsessed with who Andy Hull is, is the minute I lose the whole thing."
So he finds anchorage in music, leaving his cares in a rich catalog of disparate tracks that constitute his wake.
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