Talking ‘Simple Math’ with Manchester Orchestra’s Chris Freeman

By Ryan L. Buffa |

A crowd of hundreds stand together silently gazing at the stage with their hands raised, a few with their eyes closed and sing softly in unison, “I can hardly see what’s in front of me, these days.”

This is not your Sunday morning church service. This is Manchester Orchestra playing in Atlanta, Ga., at The Stuffing, a collaborative show the group put together involving bands under their own record label, Favorite Gentlemen, last November.

The lights go up and the five-piece band moves into action, going from the soft spiritual-like essence of the song, and brings the crowd into a heavy sound like that of a freight train.

Columbia Records and Favorite Gentlemen Records announced the release of Manchester Orchestra’s highly anticipated third album “Simple Math” as May 10, 2011.

Manchester orchestra is what modern alternative rock has been waiting for, with raw emotional and realistic lyrics, loud and soft dynamics, richly textured guitar and keys, and knock out worthy beautiful melodies. The Manchester Orchestra formed out of suburban Atlanta in 2004. Since then, they played over 200 shows and toured with bands such as the Kings of Leon, Brand New and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

The band consists of singer/song writer Andy Hull, bass guitarist Jonathan Corley, guitarist Robert McDowell, drummer Tim Very and keyboardist Chris Freeman. This truly is a band of friends and the dynamic is almost tangible through their music.

“We like playing with each other and we’ve been doing it for so long that it’s very natural and raw,” said Freeman.

Freeman is not the typical keys guy who is hidden in the back and plays a quiet melody. Instead, he is in your face, rocking his head into his keyboard, pouring his heart and soul into the sound. “On stage I’m thinking that there are a lot of boring keyboard players out there and I don’t want to be one of them,” said Freeman.

The keyboard sound is so strong in Manchester Orchestra that it could be confused for the guitar. “He really made the record his own by writing ambient swells, piercing tones, and adding chunky, beefy distortion,” said Hull about the collaboration of previous album “Mean Everything to Nothing.”

However, the formula to Manchester Orchestra’s recording process is much more simple than their performances. Hull brings in a song to play for everyone in the studio and then naturally the rest of the band adds their part. “We all just sort of bleeeeeed in, y’know?” said Freeman.

And it’s a blood bath of creative energy. They record live, which explains how the feeling of unity that Manchester creates while on stage is transported back into the studio. “I think if you’re passionate about what you’re doing it shines through regardless,” said Freeman.

Now that MO has a higher recording budget, it pushed them to be serious in the studio, but has not hindered their creativity. “I’m thankful that we didn’t have to make these records in a closet, although I’m sure it still would’ve been great if we had,” said Freeman. “The only pressure is knowing that you gotta get your s*** right as soon as you can, cause it’s a good amount of money if you don’t. So don’t screw around.”

However, their growing popularity and budget has not boosted their ego to exorbitant heights or built a Berlin Wall around their creative goals. They know what they like and stick to their guns.

“We just like making records, so we keep making them,” he said. “Our attitude is very much ‘You don’t like it? I’m sorry, we’ll try better next time.’ We like it, so that’s really our clearest litmus test through-and-through. We’re more worried about doing well for the people that work with us. Once people started listening to us, and we had all of these people’s jobs in our hands, we decided we didn’t want to let them down, so we worked harder.”

A smile crept up on Freeman’s lips as he explained “Simple Math” and how it is different from their previous albums. “It’s better. We had a 12-piece orchestra come in and play on half the record so there are a lot of beautiful moments where the strings are the focus, as opposed to the guitars or vocals. Like all of our records, it’s very dynamic.

“It probably sounds cocky but I think you just have to hear it,” he added. “Our friend told us it ‘sounded like a crazy person wrote it.'”

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