Manchester Orchestra: ‘It doesn’t feel real to me if I’m not opening up’ | Music | Entertainment


Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull opened up about the band’s music (Image: JAMES DU PLESSIS)

Manchester Orchestra looked believably stunned after they finished their intimate set at London’s Union on October 3, 2023. As they put down their guitars and breathed a sigh of relief – they had done it, two hours of music without a single note wrong – they were met with something rock bands rarely see: A standing ovation.

Erupting, 900 fans got to their feet and exploded with the noise, praise and adulation they had been stifling for two hours while Andy Hull and Robert McDowell serenaded them with their greatest hits. Two men, two guitars, endless power and talent, and an experience no one was going to forget anytime soon. 

After hours of respectful, stunned silence, Manchester Orchestra left the stage for the third and final time having changed lives and summoning countless tears.

Hours before the band took to the stage, they were sat – calm and content – in a back room of Union Chapel. Nothing but smiles and jokes, a different vibe to the emotional display they were about to concoct.

Speaking exclusively to, Andy called this trio of Union Chapel gigs a “tightrope act”. Describing them as “tight and vulnerable,” he stressed the band had “failed forward” across three nights to perfect this setlist that was as simple as it was career-defining.

READ MORE Citizen – ‘I don’t resolve problems, I hold on to them, they make you stronger’

Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra recently released The Valley of Vision (Image: JAMES DU PLESSIS)

“It’s a scary room,” the usually muted Rob chimed in. “With how quiet it is. There are echoes, and it’s tense.”

If anything, Rob was downplaying it a little. The reverie they created during the gigs was palpable; drenched in silence and completely respectful throughout – on both sides of the stage.

Andy confessed that it was the silence that made him feel as if they were not playing music, performing gigs, or “going to work” – but helping their fans in the only way they could. “We’re really grateful for [these gigs],” he said. “Because it takes this thing that’s a job… but then this job, in a weird way, can be medicine for people. If we look at it like that then we are in a brand of service for people. If you look at it like that, then all the little ego and intricacies or ‘I don’t have the right M&Ms in the dressing room’ or ‘I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, blah blah blah,’ no – this is for people. You can feel people out there having an experience. That communal thing is so powerful”

Just a couple of hours later, Andy and Rob would hit the silent stage without even a nod to the audience and launch into “I Know How to Speak” and then “The Grocery”. It wasn’t until that second song finished, and the silence returned to the hallowed halls, that I realised these were not the two musicians I had been palling around with just a little while earlier.

Once Andy and Rob stepped onto the stage, they ceased to be the people I had come to know and instead became Manchester Orchestra. Although they were but two men and two guitars, their ethereal presence provoked attention, respect. Sure, most rockstars and artists have this larger-than-life about them; the ability to transform into avatars of their art – but it felt a little more two-way with Manchester Orchestra.

Listen to Manchester Orchestra here.

Andy and Rob brought their music to life – because they had to. It’s their responsibility, Rob said. An act of service they feel obligated to do, for their fans. What better place to carry out this duty than in one of London’s 18th-century churches?

“You have to treat [this job] with that respect,” Rob mused. “Because, at the same time, there are times when you’re tired, you’re exhausted. It is my job to put on the best show, and that means I need to get over whatever bulls**t is happening internally and put on a good show.”

People often joke that some gigs are so exciting, so enticing, and full of pure joy, that they are like a form of worship. A religious experience. I’ve always agreed with that – for me, getting to see live music is one of the few things that I get up every morning for. These three Union Chapel gigs somehow exceeded that feeling, for me. They felt as much like attending church as the real thing. Standing atop the stage, delivering their word, were not Andy and Rob, but Manchester Orchestra as their people’s divine-like beings.

Buy Manchester Overboard – The Valley of Vision here.

Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra: Andy opened up about writing his heartbreaking lyrics (Image: JAMES DU PLESSIS)

But, I’m curious, I told Andy and Rob: If we, the fans, were looking up to them in this light, as some sort of entity, do they, themselves, have a God to look up to?

“Yeah, I’m definitely a spiritual dude that’s been on a journey with that,” Andy explained. “I wouldn’t say strictly religious in any way, but yeah God is a part of my life.” Rob nervously nodded: “Yeah, same.”

You can hear echoes of Rob and Andy’s religion through their music over the past decade. And their latest album was derived directly from a book of religious texts.

The Valley of Vision came out earlier this year and became the latest powerful weapon in Manchester Orchestra’s repertoire. The album’s name was taken from a book of devotions and prayers that Andy described as “death to ego”. A collection of works that urges its reader to understand that you are not alone in life, and you must rely on others to get through it – or so help you, God.

Some of those six tracks already feel like some of their most surgically-tuned classics, despite only coming out earlier this year. The room buzzed with excitement as Rob delicately touched the first few piano notes of “Capital Karma”, sending a couple sitting beside me into a quiet, tearful embrace.

The album’s final track, “Rear View” was also a tentpole moment in the gig. Someone once described the song to me as an “act of defiance”, a promise to incite love, welcome happiness, and give yourself wholly to someone, no matter how dire the circumstances, history, or future are. It’s a stunning song that I believe will have an effect on anyone who listens to it.

Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra’s Rob McDowell (Image: JAMES DU PLESSIS)

This kind of connection can only be brought to life through sheer emotional experience. And to put that kind of life experience on paper must be daunting. Scary, even. Why the hell does Andy do it? “I love it,” he almost screamed. “There’s nothing in the world I feel more complete doing – what I’m born to do – than when I’m in the studio. That’s the moment when I can look at Rob and go: ‘This is literally – I feel I am connected.'”

Whatever tough experiences Andy has endured, I ask him, why on Earth would he willingly choose to open up and bare these emotions again for his art? Surely a therapist is cheaper and quicker.

“It doesn’t feel – for me, as the lyric writer – it doesn’t feel real to me if I’m not going there,” he said, slowly. “If I’m feeling a certain way when I’m writing it, and I’m like ‘man this is affecting me, this is a cathartic experience to get this out’ … I want this to be the most honest it can be. Because, not only does it affect me, but I’ve found that it connects with people because they’re feeling, subconsciously, that honesty that’s running through it.”

It feels like Manchester Orchestra enjoy putting a lot of pressure on themselves. We casually joked about how it took them around two years to produce six songs in The Valley of Vision, due to the (very) fine-toothed comb they used on every second of every song. It’s the same with Union Chapel: They put themselves in a pressure cooker – a quiet room, two guitars, silence and serenity – because they felt it was worth it. Because they feel it means something to them, and to their fans.

Do they ever think they’ll be able to produce perfection, though? “No,” Andy said. “That’s the beauty though, that’s why I can do this forever, why I still want the best Manchester record to be in our 70s. I don’t think there is perfection, I think you aim in that direction and see where you land.”

Manchester Orchestra’s three Union Chapel shows were recorded and will likely be released in a special vinyl and maybe even a DVD set – but there’s no official word on that just yet. This feels like a real “moment” in their career thus far. But it’s not the end of any kind of line for the band.

Manchester Orchestra – London Union Chapel setlist

  1. I Know How to Speak
  2. The Grocery
  3. The Maze
  4. The Gold
  5. Deer
  6. Angel of Death
  7. I Can Barely Breathe (with ‘Where Have You Been?’ outro)
  8. Capital Karma
  9. The Way
  10. The River
  11. Telepath
  12. Simple Math
  13. I Can Feel a Hot One
  14. Cope
  15. Colly Strings
  16. My Backwards Walk (Frightened Rabbit cover)
  17. Rear View
  18. Bed Head
  19. The Silence

“I don’t think Valley [of Vision] is the closing of a chapter,” Andy confirmed. “I think we’re still in phase two. I think there’s a finale.”

Great! When is it coming?

Andy cackled: “2035?”

Rob asserted his production dominance: “I’d like for it to not be [another] five years, but if it’s not good enough it’s going to be five years.”

“We will be working hard, that’s for sure,” Andy nodded, before hinting that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if fans saw some new music trickling out over the next year. “We enjoy having loose things that can go out – but we’ve got a pretty big vision board that we’re trying to tackle.”

If Union Chapel was just a peg in phase two of their corkboard, I, for one, cannot imagine what they’ll be doing next. But I am excited to see what Manchester Orchestra builds next.

Listen to Manchester Orchestra for free here.

Buy Manchester Overboard – The Valley of Vision here.


Check Also

Elvis and Ann-Margret’s real-life Viva Las Vegas set mischief made final cut | Films | Entertainment

[ad_1] Elvis Presley made a lot of movies, but one of the best has to …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *