If you do the Simple Math on Manchester Orchestra‘s current line-up, you’ll find one member subtracted from the Atlanta rock band you’ve come to love. That’s because longtime drummer Jeremiah Edmond has left to work on the band’s label, Favorite Gentlemen. This, according to keyboardist Chris Freeman, makes Andy Hull the unmistakable leader of the group.
It also creates a “pocket” that Freeman says is a lot of fun working with new drumming styles just in time for a new album. Simple Math is the follow-up to the critical and commercial success Mean Everything To Nothing, and Manchester is clearly back again despite any internal changes. Here, Freeman discusses the shifting line-up and looming expectations for their new release. Either way, he’s not too concerned about any of it affecting the band in a negative way.
SSv: The last few interviews I’ve done with the band have been with Jeremiah, so it’s interesting that he’s the one who departed the band. What is the set-up of the band now that he’s gone?
Chris Freeman: As far as the hierarchy of the band went before Jeremiah left, I would say it was Andy at number one and Jeremiah at number two. Then it was Robert, Jonathan and me in the same grouping. Once Jeremiah left, I think it gave freedom for Andy to be the main leader. They’d bumped heads a few times, and now Robert has stepped up into that second in command, so to speak.
SSv: Was it hard to see Jeremiah go?
Chris: It was difficult to see him go. We’re a close-knit bunch of guys and we’re definitely like family, so it’s hard to see somebody leave that group. For the most part, I still see him around town and we still hang out. He’s also very involved with Favorite Gentlemen and I’ll run into him at shows and stuff. We still see each other a lot, so there’s no bad blood if that’s what you mean.
SSv: No way. In no way was I looking for some divisive…
Chris: No cheesy gossip? [Laughs]
SSv: Yeah, we’re actually wanting to turn into a TMZ style site and I have to start somewhere. [Laughs
Chris: Yes, because that’s exactly what everyone wants to know. [Laughs] Everyone will be so relieved that we remain friends.
SSv: [Laughs] So let me ask you this: is Simple Math the band moving on or did Jeremiah have input on these songs?
Chris: No, this is definitely the band moving on. Jeremiah wasn’t around for any of this record-making process. We worked with three different drummers testing out the waters with some of our friends. It was interesting, but it was definitely this new pocket that we’re in without Jeremiah. It’s such a different type of drumming. It definitely sounds like Manchester, but we’re able to explore new avenues with a drummer who plays differently.
SSv: Did you decide on a replacement drummer or do you leave that open?
Chris: For now, we have Tim Very.
SSv: Is that a permanent move?
Chris: Well, we’ve been looking at it and talking about it like it’s an NBA Draft for now. But Tim’s our guy and we were just practicing yesterday and he’s our most steady player. Hopefully if things work out, we can keep going with him. He’s been a good friend of ours for a while, so it should be a good move for now.
SSv: Wait, what does that have to do with the NBA Draft? Just curious there. [Laughs]
Chris: [Laughs] Well, we’re in an NBA fantasy league with my close friends. You know, you have franchise guys and then you have guys you bring in to help your fantasy team. So Tim’s our draft pick, for now. [Laughs] That’s the analogy I guess.
SSv: Mean Everything to Nothing seemed like such a wonderfully received album all around. Does that create some level of pressure heading into Simple Math‘s sessions?
Chris: Our band has always been about doing what we want to do and if people like it, then they like it. That sounds much more nonchalant than I think we take it. We do take in what the press says and we read a lot of feedback, so we’re obviously affected by the negative feedback. But even with the pressure, I think our ability to write together has grown so much and we’re so comfortable together, we can still get together and write songs.
We wrote way too many songs for this album, so the ones we got down are the best ones that we have. So if people don’t like it, we can just try harder next time. That’s the only way we can look at it. Otherwise, bands get lost trying to write a single or trying to write the same kind of record as before or some crowd pleaser. Like I said, we just write what we think sounds good.
SSv: If you’re cognizant of your own press, how does that come out in the studio?
Chris: Well, once we get in the studio, that’s all that we’re focusing on. We totally get into what we’re doing. It’s also in this period of time where we’re coming up to a high in this season of constant highs and lows. We’re doing a lot of press and interviews, but once we’re heading into a studio, there will be a lull in the feedback. That automatically takes you away from it and allows you to just focus without that pressure on you. But for the most part, we’re just keeping our heads down and keeping what we envision on the paper.
SSv: You’re just doing what you want to do, so what does that look like this time around? What are you wanting to do?
Chris: There’s a clear vision once the album is sequenced, which happens early on in Andy’s process. Once we find the songs we want to put on it and the order we want to put them in, then we can get to work. Andy switched some things around a couple of times. I don’t want to say it was from anxiety, but every day there was a new song he wanted to take off of the list. We would think it was good and then he’d say, ‘You’re right. This song is great.’
So I would say as much as there was a hesitation to keep certain songs because they were rough, in the end it still turned out the way we wanted minus one or two songs. But for the most part, it’s exactly what we went into the studio with.
SSv: What about you personally as a musician? Were you able to stretch or explore a bit?
Chris: I would say that I wasn’t as good of a keyboard player as I am now on Mean Everything to Nothing. I think on the last record, I tried to make the keyboard sound like a guitar and tried to make these ambient swells and find something that didn’t sound like a keyboard at all. On this record, there’s a lot more natural sounds like a piano or organ.
We were able to record at a studio in Nashville that has a ridiculous amount of gear, so I was able to play a real vibraphone and a real B3 through a Leslie, so I was able to play more distinct parts rather than this swelling guitar thing. In this new pocket, it’s a lot more fun and definitely natural. I’ve also been listening to a lot more Rolling Stones, so that helped to know what to add over these guitar parts.
SSv: Yeah, I was curious how much you resourced yourself heading into the studio like that.
Chris: Yeah it was a lot of Exile on Main Street and a lot of Neil Young On the Beach. Those were big records for me and for the band. We hadn’t discovered Neil Young until the last year-and-a-half, which is crazy. But once you’re on it, you really start to dig Neil Young. You wonder, ‘Where’s this been for the last 10 years?’ [Laughs]
SSv: But don’t you feel there’s an endless amount of artists that you’ve always heard of and yet you don’t have the time to really mine the artist’s material?
Chris: Yeah, I was just talking to Robert about this a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about the Beatles and we said as we get older, we’re finally able to get to their solo projects and when we’re younger, we didn’t care. There’s so much more left to discover. I’ve mapped out some of John Lennon and George Harrison and there’s still this whole catalog of Paul McCartney that I haven’t listened to yet only because I haven’t had the time. When I’m 26 or 27, I’ll probably just dive into McCartney.
The same thing happened with Pink Floyd. I’d never listened to Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety until two years ago, so yeah there’s a lot of older stuff out there to get to. That’s what makes it harder to listen to new bands when there’s so much older stuff that’s just better. It’s hard to even care about a lot of new artists.