Our 2021 Annual Report continues with a wrap-up interview with Manchester Orchestra. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.
Manchester Orchestra write about the cycle of life and death, the pain in pleasure and the pleasure of pain. So it’s on brand, if nothing else, that vocalist Andy Hull’s Thanksgiving was spoiled by illness.
“I got food poisoning the day after,” he tells Consequence. “A bunch of other people got sick too. It ruined the leftovers, so it was like a double punch in the stomach.”
It was a rare down moment in a year of triumphs. The Atlanta four-piece kicked things off with The Million Masks of God, one of the best albums of 2021. It found Manchester Orchestra wrestling with faith, death, and the sometimes futile quest to find meaning in life — a process spurred on by the passing of guitarist Robert McDowell‘s father in 2019.
“I think it was a way to work through some grief,” Hull says. Did he learn anything in the process? “Maybe the opposite. It taught me that I knew less than I thought I did before. It was a very healthy thing to do, to work through it. To write what you’re going through has always been a really important, helpful psychological process for me. I’m not sure if I came away with any grand conclusions on the universe.”
The group followed it with The Million Masks of God: The Remixes, which Hull calls “a fun way to look into the brains of other artists that I respect.” Lucius, Dirty Projectors, Local Natives, and Alfa Mist put twists on Manchester Orchestra songs, revealing some surprises throughout the process.
“The Lucius remix that they did really floored us,” Hull says. “I really love it when a remix takes a song and takes the vocal melody and places the music in a different key. It sort of turns the whole thing on its head. They found a really clever way of doing that, where I was like, ‘Man, I never would’ve thought to do that,’ and it was cool that they did.”
Hull also spent time this year putting his own twist on other artist’s work, including lending his imitable vocals to the DC Comics villain Lex Luther. In an animated segment of the Dark Knights: Death Metal series, Hull got to say badass lines like, “Much of me is dead, Wonder Woman. What’s left is offering you refuge in the Hall of Doom.”
“It was totally awesome to be one of the voices in the animated series that they did,” Hull recalls. “I was Lex Luther, which was a pretty cool childhood pat on the back to be in a comic book.”
Manchester Orchestra contributed one track to the Dark Nights: Death Metal soundtrack, a sludgy marvel dubbed “Never Ending.” Sonically, it’s miles away from The Million Masks of God, but the pained rage still marks it as one of the most unforgettable songs of the year.
“When they told me what they were looking for and what kind of song,” Hull says, “I knew immediately what song it needed to be. Fortunately, they really liked it.”
Hull also has some thoughts regarding the comic book movie discourse, which has seen luminaries such as Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott ridicule superhero flicks. “I mean, I love comic book movies, so I also understand what they’re saying to a degree on some of them, that it’s a little formulaic. But those guys seem a little crotchety, don’t they?” he laughs. “Not that they’re not geniuses. It’s like being mad at Nintendo or something. It’s happening, get over it.”
He says that when he was younger, he worried about turning into one of those cranks as he aged — or worse yet, running out of new material. “It used to be something that scared me, especially as an artist, because I think earlier in my career I hadn’t really gotten over the imposter syndrome of, ‘If these people find out that you aren’t really that good, it’s all going to be over.'”
But he’s been at this for a while now, and some of that doubt is starting to disappear. “Chances are, I’m probably not going to run out of songs. As long as I approach my work honestly and with excellence and really try to make the best thing that I can, there is no ceiling to it.
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to release the most touching, real, Manchester record when I’m 70, the same way that a lot of great artists are able to. You evolve and as your life and your scope of life gets wider, then why shouldn’t your scope of art hopefully also get wider?”