The roaring vocals and ferocious riffs that populated Manchester Orchestra‘s sophomore album Mean Everything To Nothing earned the five piece both fans and critical acclaim in 2009. Now, almost exactly two years later, the Atlanta-based rockers are back with Simple Math, an alternately hard-hitting and slow-burning record that’s as intricate and enjoyable as each of their previous releases. As anticipation of Simple Math continues to build, we sat down with bassist Jonathan Corley to talk about exploring new musical styles, the pressure of topping Mean Everything to Nothing and Kevin Devine‘s freestyle raps.
OS: You guys had a wildly successful album in 2009’s Mean Everything To Nothing—did you feel like that was looming over you as you worked on Simple Math?
JC: After METN’s success, there was certainly pressure to create something better. I don’t think it’s a bad thing though. That expectation didn’t seem as “looming” or daunting but, instead, forced innovation and required creativity. Simple Math moves in directions that we, as a band, have never been before. It reaches into a couple of sonic head spaces that I’m not sure our fans would expect from us. The success of previous albums challenges us to create something new.
OS: When we first heard about the upcoming album, it was tentatively titled “Let Go of Your Sorrowful Groaning” and you were demoing twenty-nine tracks. How many times did you completely revamp the record as you were working on it?
JC: “Let Go of Your Sorrowful Groaning” was certainly thrown around as a title during the early stages of the album. In fact, it is still a line in the second song of our record: “So let go of your sorrowful groaning/ Let go of the ones you admire/ It’s not like I was devious or boastful/ My arms waving, I’m saying goodbye“. The song “Simple Math” came together pretty immediately, and conceptually, it defines the record very well. We worked in different stages to demo most songs a couple of times before reworking them in studio. There was more time and effort poured into the creation of Simple Math than anything else we’ve released in the past.
OS: How does it feel that that the album is already being hailed as one of the most anticipated releases of 2011?
JC: I know that our entire band is more excited about this release than just about anything else. I’m honestly very proud of the album, and can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
OS: The title track is a far cry from what we heard on Like A Virgin Losing A Child. Have you consciously shifted your sound or has it been a natural progression?
JC: The shift occurred very naturally. Since METN, we have continued to grow as musicians and evolve as a band. Even the live shows indicate a change in the dynamic of some of our older songs.
OS: Your songs alternate between very gritty, hard-rock tracks and beautiful, orchestral arrangements. Is it tough to completely change gears like that while you’re recording?
JC: It wasn’t difficult to switch between recording strings and a “gritty” track. Each one of the songs on Simple Math feels fully realized. We bounced back and forth between Atlanta and Nashville to make the record but I’m not sure that it could have gone any better. The tracks with strings were incredibly fascinating to hear progress.
OS: Now that you’ve utilized an orchestra and a children’s choir, is there anything sonically that you haven’t tried yet and really want to work into your songs in the future?
JC: As we approach future albums, I can only hope that we’re doing something that hasn’t been heard before. It’s the only reason that I listen to new albums. The bands that I end up listening to the most have found a way to constantly surprise you with new material, something new.
OS: Do you have any plans to keep working on Bad Books—the collaboration with Kevin Devine?
JC: I can’t wait to work on a future Bad Books album. During the months that we put that together, I had more than a blast. Even the touring; we approached venues that I haven’t played in years and it truly made me appreciate a lot of things like many of the nights that moved forward with some sort of freestyle-rap. The recording process was pretty simple and seamless back at home. The next Bad Books release should be a whole lot of fun.
OS: What can you tell us about your co-headlining tour with Cage the Elephant? How did that come about?
JC: We’ve known the Cage guys for a couple of years and they’re great friends. I’m anticipating some really fun shows with them. We first met while touring with Silversun Pickups, and they have quickly become some of my favorite people from Nashville.
Don’t miss Manchester Orchestra on tour, and check out the video for “Simple Math” below!