The success of Manchester Orchestra is of little surprise to anyone – except maybe founder and singer/songwriter Andy Hull.
Hull has been creating music for almost half his lifetime – music that has appeared on Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, 90210, two NHL video games, as well as movie scores and an impressive back catalogue of EPs and studio albums, including recent release, A Black Mile To The Surface.
If you could go back and tell a teenaged Hull about his impressive career, chances are he wouldn’t believe you. But it seems what has turned his life around even more than music is fatherhood.
Music Feeds caught up with Hull on a rare break from tour to discuss fans, family, and Doc McStuffins.
MF: Hi Andy, what’s going on?
AH: Nothin’ much. Just put the kid to sleep… I’m out on my porch… everything’s good.
MF: Fantastic! So how long have you been home this time around?
AH: I think I’ve been home for eight days so far? We just played Live with Jimmy Kimmel last week in LA, we had a show in Texas right after that. And yeah, we just came back home.
MF: Amazing, how was Jimmy Kimmel?
AH: Well he’s wonderful. And, you know, you can always tell with shows like that, how the boss is by how the crew is, and they were just the nicest people ever. Everyone’s just wonderful there. We hadn’t played that show since 2010, so it’s been seven years since we’ve been back on, so it was really sweet to see those people again.
MF: Oh wow, that’s a fair while. So, how has life changed for you since becoming a dad?
AH: Well, a lot… a lot, and a little, at the same time. I think it’s made me more focused on my work, so when I go to the studio to work and to be creative it’s sort of forced me to not be as… lazy, maybe? Or just sort of drop that lazy musician vibe. And then, you know, ultimately as far as my mental state and attitude and soul, I think it’s changed drastically, you know? It’s like, my whole centre of the universe has shifted, so it’s been a big change but a really welcome one. I have a son coming in March so I’m really excited to see what he does to my brain.
MF: Well having your daughter played a big role in your song writing for A Black Mile, didn’t it?
AH: Yeah, it did, in a really interesting way. I was worried I would never be able to write a great song for her, then she was about three weeks old and I wrote this tiny little folk song that I never thought would be anything, and it ended up being the opening track on the Manchester record, on the newest record. It ended up shaping it far differently, you know, it’s not the same thing as writing love songs for my girlfriend, then fiancée, now wife. It’s more like a food dye (laughs) it turned the whole meal a different colour.
MF: Haha, that’s a great analogy! And how about touring? Is it harder to go on the road now?
AH: I bring them with me, you know, as much as I can. So this last US tour I brought Amy and Mayzie out and they stayed in the background… I mean, my daughter thinks it’s the best thing in the world (laughs) like it’s so fun. She’s got you know, 10 tattooed cursing men at her beck and call, trying to please her at all times throughout the day. And, you know, we’ve got a full rider with all of the cheese crackers and milk that you could hope for. I mean really, for her, it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened… (laughs) it’s me and her mum that are stressed out. But we just made the decision pretty early on, it was like, “Fuck it, we’ve got to make sure that we start smashing these worlds together,” so that they don’t get too separate. I want her to know what it’s like to grow up on tour and to feel accepted and welcome there, not like it’s some really sacred space for Daddy that she can’t get into and he’s super-serious there. It’s like, nah, let’s make sure she knows she’s welcome, and she does!
MF: So are you going to bring them to Australia with you? The baby’s due date seems pretty close to your Aussie tour dates?
AH: God no – can you imagine the flight?! (laughs) So my wife is about six months pregnant right now. She came to Australia last time and we left our daughter at home with my mum ‘cause she just needed some vacation and yeah, this time I’m feeling really guilty. She’s like… well, I’m hoping I don’t have to get on a flight from Australia to go home if she goes into early labour.
MF: Haha, I was going to say, she’ll be about ready to pop!
AH: Mmmhmm. Yep, that’s why I’m skipping town!
MF: Oh dear… well, moving on! What is your best Australian tour memory to date?
AH: Hmm. There are a lot of ‘em. I’m trying to think of the best one I’ve got… I think a really great time that comes up in my mind is right after MGMT had released their first record and we had released our first record, and they were obviously astronomically larger than we were at the time. We played Splendour in the Grass together, and we knew those guys from way back in the day. They put you up in this lovely resort really close to the festival grounds, and I just remember having a fantastic weekend hearing MGMT’s second record before it had come out. And I remember them playing the demos – well, they were the real tracks but they didn’t have any lyrics yet – and it was just Andrew singing Spanish ingredients from a coffee can. So there was like this whole version of their second record with just him (laughs) singing in Spanish the entire time. I remember going, “Wow, this is going to be great when it’s in English, I can’t wait to hear it!” Yeah, that’s a really good memory.
MF: What a shame they never released that to the public! Is there anything you’d really like to do down here this time around?
AH: Well I’m going to Perth… and this has been a really big journey for me. We have a bunch of people angry with me from Perth, every year, because I never show up there. So, (laughs) I’m really excited to go there and meet them and play for them.
MF: That’s great. Well, I mean, a lot of international bands kind of do tend to skip Perth, because it is like traveling from New York to LA for just one show with not a lot in between.
AH: We’ve skipped it for 10 years (laughs) and I finally said to our agent, “Look, there are so many Perth people angry – we must go to Perth!” So, we’re going to go to Perth and we’re going to rock that motherfucker.
MF: So do you guys do meet and greets, or ‘grip and grins’ as they’re sometimes called?
AH: (laughs) Grip and grins? I love that! (laughs) No, you know, I don’t do meet and greets, like attached to any monetary thing, to like sell to people. But yes, certainly if anybody waits around after a show I’m more than happy to hang out and talk with them for as long as they like.
MF: I know you listened to a lot of The Smiths growing up, it’s been pretty well documented. But who or what else inspired you to pursue music as a career?
AH: Hmm. That’s a good question… I don’t think I really have an answer for that. I think if I ever thought about it long enough I might have convinced myself to not do it, because it started working so early on. (laughs)
MF: Is that a bad thing?
AH: No… it’s just more like… I’m 31, I started the band when I was 16. I had like, a five to 10 year plan in my mind, but had no idea (laughs) just the same as any 16 or 17 year old kid would have no idea. I’ve just been fortunate; it’s just been something that I’ve learned about now… I’m still learning. I don’t think there was ever any point that I thought, like, “Yeah, this is going to be what I’ll do forever,” other than that exact sentiment, which was basically, “I need to find a way to do this forever!” (laughs)
MF: And so how do you feel now that that’s kind of working out for you?
AH: It’s shocking! I mean, it’s not only kind of working out, (laughs) it’s really working out! I’m just able to make records that we love and I just feel grateful, really, that’s what it comes down to. I just feel like every year that this continues to happen, and more people come to shows, and more people care about it, the more I care about the records and the music and just wanting to be better and be a better artist. I have to pinch myself, often, and go, “Wow, you never really saw this coming.” I asked my wife, because we’ve been dating since I was 18, “Did you ever know that this would be that thing?” and she was like, “No, how could we know?!” And it was like, yeah, we didn’t know – it just happened.
MF: So what kind of musical education – besides the tour bus, obviously – will you be giving to your kids?
AH: (sighs) You know, I thought I was gonna be the kind of dad that only played cool music, you know, like, “Here’s Fugazi – just learn to love it,” kind of thing. But I’ve not done that at all. It’s like, anything that she wants to sing along to, I encourage that. As long as it gets her singing, because I think singing is way more emotionally gratifying. If you can belt something out, even if you aren’t great at it, I just feel like that releases something spiritually inside of you. So that’s what I try to encourage her to do. If she wants to listen to, like, Doc McStuffins, the animal toy doctor album, we will listen to it all day on repeat. And I know all of the melodies. (laughs)”
MF: As a songwriter yourself do you put your critical hat on and listen to these songs going, “Well they could’ve done this better, or changed that,”?
AH: Oh of course, I’m judging the whole time! I’ll tell you what – honestly? I’m really kind of blown away by a lot of it! I’m like, (laughs) this is really good! The stuff that she picks out is actually really good. It’s smart and well harmonised and… not insane. I know I listened to a bunch of kids records when I was a kid and I’m always talking to my mum about what I was into comparatively, and it’s really sweet. You know, I don’t care if she’s a musician or a doctor or a garbage woman (laughs) I don’t mean a woman who lives in the garbage (laughs) I mean a woman who takes care of people’s garbage! (laughs) But it’s cool when, like, she’s singing along to something and she’s singing in key or hitting a harmony and I’m like, “Dude, you are three years old, that is crazy.” She brings a lot of joy to me.
MF: Well let’s just say she’s got the right genes. So – and excuse the bad pun, here – what’s the story with Bad Books at the moment?
AH: Okay, so in April of this year we got together – Kevin and I, and Robert – and we tracked 11 songs, and we have not listened to them since then. But there is a half-record sitting there, and we are going to do our best to try and get that out at some point. I talk to Kevin every day, we always joke that we’re the most inactive active band of all time. But the reality is there probably won’t be another record until next year, if not the next. But there’s something. We’re working on it. And I think it’s really good.
MF: So do you like having the two different bands to kind of unleash your creativity in two different realms?
AH: I did, definitely when I was starting, I had a solo project called Right Away, Great Captain, and it was really great to have these three different things to kind of put songs into and categorise them as I thought that the projects felt they should be. But as Manchester has continued on as the strongest of them I’m sort of just bringing all of that to Manchester now. That’s sort of the idea – it doesn’t matter what the song is, if it’s a folk song or a rock song or an indie rock song or an electronic song or whatever – I think I’m just going to try to focus on making really great Manchester records. Also obviously the Bad Books stuff is, like, sort of the easiest and most fun we can have as we continue to hold a high standard to Manchester, as Kevin does with his stuff. We’re just going to make it a point to make sure the Bad Books stuff is going to be really great as well. We certainly don’t want to release a bad Bad Books record – that would be too ironic.
MF: Well obviously you’ve been on this cycle for a while now, so what has the crowd reaction been like to the latest record?
AH: I mean… better than I could have expected, ever. I mean, we were worried about playing so many new songs in every country we’ve been to and it’s just been shockingly great, and really rewarding to know that we put all this time into this record, and people are really connecting with it. So… better than expected.
MF: So on this upcoming Australian tour, will you be playing a lot more new stuff, or will it be a bit more of a ‘best of’ kind of vibe?
AH: Yes, it’s going to be both of those things! We’re going to play a lot of new stuff and it’ll be a best of vibe, but (laughs) I think it just depends on whose best of we’re talking about. Which is a really great place to be, you know, it’s nice that we can anger some of our fans for not playing five songs – that means there are five songs they care about a lot, you know?
MF: Well I’ve been to a lot of shows where the crowd calls out for one particular song the whole night and you just know it’s going to be the encore song – do you guys have one of those songs?
AH: Yes! (laughs) ‘I Can Feel a Hot One’ – everyone has been screaming for the last eight years for us to play that one. And then this tour I decided that we’re going to play it. I guess that’s sort of the set list – us playing the songs that people have been screaming out for, and a bunch of new songs.
Catch Manchester Orchestra touring Australia in February of 2018.