Manchester Orchestra kept the process all in the family on their third studio album, Simple Math.
Keyboardist Chris Freeman says the Atlanta band produced the record, released in May 2011, with longtime band collaborator Dan Hannon. Hannon has been a part of every album the band has made, Freeman says.
“He's been like one of our family members,” Freeman says.
Hannon pretty much functions as an extra band member, writing harmonies, vocal melodies and layering the band’s sound.
“He brings out the best in all of us,” Freeman says.
Simple Math comes two years after Mean Everything To Nothing, the band’s breakthrough album. That record was produced both by Hannon and Joe Chiccarelli, who returned to mix Simple Math.
“Making record with Joe is fun, but he makes records a certain way,” Freeman says.
Instead of working with Chiccarelli or another outside producer, the band chose to make it a more low-key, relaxed affair. It was a chance for the tight-knit band to enjoy their familial atmosphere while they made an album.
With the exception of drummer Tim Very, the guys in Manchester Orchestra have played with each other for somewhere between five to eight years. It’s built up both tight bonds and an intuitive sense of knowing just what the other members’ musical impulses are when jamming together on songs.
“We just follow each other's leads,” Freeman says. “We know each other's visions.”
Freeman says working together on Simple Math without outside help eliminated most of the butting of heads and other disagreements that can crop up in a high pressure studio session.
“It was a fairly easy one to write,” he says of Simple Math.
Then at the conclusion of the recording, Hannon trekked off to have Chiccarelli mix the album. Basically Hannon relayed the band’s vision for Simple Math to Chiccarelli, Freeman says.
Work on the album kicked into gear after a tour supporting Thrice was cut short by Thrice.
“We just kind of went home and started writing,” Freeman says.
The band ended up writing more than 30 songs and whittling those down to the 10 tracks that appear on the finished album.
While the songwriting approach varies from song to song, everything stems from singer Andy Hull. Sometimes he comes in with a fully formed song, while other times it’ll be just a part of a chorus that the band will jam around until a full song results.
Lyrically, Hull delves into his personal life, adding just enough of a veil that the songs are laid bare to perfect strangers, but Hull’s band mates know what he’s talking about.
The band is close enough that they were there experiences the specific events that Hull alludes to in his lyrics, Freeman says.
“It's more cathartic for us and him to talk about it,” Freeman says.
Meanwhile, Manchester Orchestra has also set it up so they can make a record while left to their own devices. That’s thanks to Favorite Gentlemen Recordings, the band’s own label imprint.
The band partnered with Sony Music to subsequently release and distribute Mean Everything To Nothing and Simple Math, but the band still retains all artistic control to and regarding their work.
Freeman says having Favorite Gentleman in their back pocket basically meant leverage in negotiating with Sony. They already had a label and distribution framework that was working for the band.
“It helps with a little more clout,” Freeman says.
Their deal with Sony basically meant extra money for recording, improved distribution and the ability to elevate what was already working for Manchester Orchestra.
So Manchester Orchestra still does everything themselves, deciding radio singles, CD packaging and other promotion strategies by band consensus, instead of letting the label choose.
And when it comes to recording, there’s no label representatives meddling in songwriting, production choices and sonic direction.
“They give us a good amount of time to finish with what we want to do before they even step in the studio and hear a note,” Freeman says.
The autonomy also made it so the band could put blinders on and not think about duplicating the success of Mean Everything To Nothing, which spawned successful singles out of “I’ve Got Friends” and “Shake It Out.”
“When you believe in something, it's hard to let the outside pressures get to you when you're in the studio,” Freeman says.
Manchester Orchestra w/ The Dear Hunter and White Denim play the Bourbon Theatre, 1415 O St. in Lincoln, Friday, November 4th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16 in advance, $19 day-of-show. For more information, visit bourbontheatre.com.