Atlanta rock band, Manchester Orchestra, will return to the National this Sunday night with openers The Front Bottoms and O’ Brother for support. Keyboardist Chris Freeman was nice enough to answer some questions about their new album “Hope”, getting ready for tour, and why The National is one of his favorite venues.
Kyle Shearin: Hey Chris, how’s it going?
Chris Freeman: I’m great, how are you?
Good, I have a headache. But other than that I am good.
So how would you define your role in Manchester Orchestra?
Yeah I do keys. Secondary precisionist. I was originally the drummer and Andy (Hull) asked me to join the band to play keys because he knew I had dabbled in that when I was a younger kid. So secondary percussionist, background vocalist, and keyboard player – I do a lot of art stuff for the band as well.
Oh what would that be?
Like t-shirt designs. poster designs, and pencil in the album artwork kind of thing.
So how do you prepare for tour?
I prepare by pretty much, by just trying to hibernate as much as possible right beforehand. Knowing it will be a strenuous activities, traveling and not being home, just try to enjoy being home with my girlfriend, hang out with friends and stuff. Just trying to get mentally prepared for a long trip away.
Does touring ever get easier?
Um, a little bit. You figure out to keep yourself sane and not to over-do anything. Just sort of pace yourself over the long period of time. The more you do it, the better you get at doing it. It’s still a pretty difficult task but you prepare easier.
Do you guys like to tour? Like as a band do you all agree it’s a fun thing or do you have mixed feelings about it?
It’s not a glamorize part of the job. It’s certainly the most difficult part. You know, your gone, your sweaty every night, you try to give everything you can each night at every show. It’s something we enjoy, but it’s definitely a challenge to get through. Especially on any long two-month tours, they can be very trying. But we enjoy being able to play for our fans and being a loud rock band is definitely not a bad job to have. We enjoy that, and very thankful for it.
I’ve seen you guys play in Richmond quite a few times over the years, any memories from playing here?Yeah, the National I think is what we’re playing this time and that’s one of my favorite places to play mainly because the dressing room is incredible. They have like a hot-tub, pool tables, and a sauna. That’s always a nice thing to remember, (Laughs), so we’re looking forward to getting there.
Yeah, we’ve had some really good times there. I really like The National not just because mainly of the dressing room but that room is kind of like cold and beautiful. It’s like playing an old theater. We’ve played there with The Silversun Pickups at some point…
Oh yeah, okay I think that was the last time I did see you guys. I saw you headlining there and Fun was one of the openers. Was it strange to see them get so massive? It’s a bit of a rarity.
They just came through Atlanta actually about two weeks ago. We got to hang out for a little bit and watch the show. It was incredible, its funny to watch these dude who we took our on their first tour ever, and to remember them from back then and to see them now is pretty incredible. Their whole stage production is great and like, they’re just a huge band now. It was awesome. We’re really stoked for those guys.
Yeah, I was a huge fan of The Format, so I was happy to see Nate and company get so much attention and popularity.
So who are the openers this time around and why were they selected?
The openers for this tour are the Front Bottoms and O’ Brother. We’ve played with the Front Bottoms a couple times as “Bad Books” where they came out with us during a little short run in the northeast. We really enjoy those dudes and they seem to be getting traction right now. We get along with them really well and we love watching them play. So we asked them to come out and they said yes. So that was good.
O’ Brother is another Atlanta band we really love dearly. They’re some of our closest friends. We like to tour with bands we like being around every day. They are also a killer, heavy rock band, so it’s fun to watch that every night. So it’s good to have that package. They are definitely a good addition to any tour we’ll ever do.
Given the opportunity, who would be your dream to tour with?
Dream to tour with? I would like it if we could get Biffy Clyro to the states again for an extensive tour. That’s a band I love watching and being around. We get that question a lot, like “who would we tour with Bob Dylan or My Morning Jacket?” I don’t know if I really want to open for someone like one of my heroes kind of thing. It’s intimidating, like “who would you want to collaborate with?”. I don’t know if I would want to step up with Jim James in the room you know?
But yeah, I think if we could get Biffy. That would be nice.
Yeah, I actually saw them with you guys in North Carolina a couple of years back. That was an amazing show as well.
Yeah, we tour with them in the UK as well. They are so much bigger over there and to watch them to be able to play in front of their crowd is and then see them over here.
You guys have a record coming out. Have you done any preparation for that?
Yeah, it’s totally finished. We just got the new record masters about last week. We’re getting the artwork ready for it now, so it should be out early next year. We’re stoked on it.
Yeah, I was hoping you guys would call it Manchester Orchestra IV.
But have you guys picked a name?
Yes, it’s called Cope.
How much of the idea behind a record, or even a song, changes from the beginning to the end? Is it almost never, or pretty much what it’s going to be from the get-go?
Well, with this record we had a pretty straightforward idea. We had a little sat down meeting with what we wanted to do as a band. The fourth record is definitely like a, we had to figure out if we would stay loud or try to follow up Simple Math with something as inventive. But for the most part, we have a clear vision at the beginning and it comes together at the end. We’re all on the same wavelength when we come together to write our records. So it’s healthy changes really, we just get an idea and dive headfirst into it and roll with it.
Who is the producer on the record?
We used the same team that we’ve used on every record, which is Dan Hammond and Brad Fischer. They’ve been apart of everything we’ve done as a band so far. So we figured that it would only be fitting to be a part of this, and it was co-produced by us and those guys.
You mentioned trying to follow up Simple Math, was there a conscious effort to have a direction from that? It’s a very interesting record and I could see different paths you could take.
Right, yeah we sort of treated Simple Math as something that cleaned our slate. We pretty much could go into any direction that we want. That’s sort of why we had that meeting with what we wanted to do cause we could do anything. We could literally do anything we want, we did the full orchestra string record that kinda went in a bunch of different directions.
Out of that meeting came the idea that we wanted to do a straight-forward rock record. We have one more loud one in us so why not try it? Nobody is making rock records anymore. Let’s get heavy guitars, have bashing drums, and lets go balls to the wall with it. I think we accomplished that and everybody so far seems to think so. That’s kind of how we thought we could follow up Simple Math and go with more what we sound like live instead of a studio produced type thing.
Did you have any unusual influences for this record?
No, not particularly. We just wanted to use a lot of guitars. I don’t listen to too much new stuff that comes out. It’s more; I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and Alan Parson’s project. That’s mostly where I get a lot of my keys and my parts and what I wanted to add to this record. Mostly we just listened to hip-hop and oldies.
Yeah, the good stuff right?
Yeah, the good stuff back in the old days.
I just realized the last Bad Books album has been out for over a year. Any chance that there will be a third one?
Well, I think the thing about Bad Books is that we treat it as a quick project. We did both those records in ten days each, so it doesn’t take a lot out of us. It’s a fun process, we love Kevin (Devine), we love working with him. So it’s a fun experiment to do, so I don’t think Bad Books is stopping any time soon.
Kevin’s got his two records that just came out, so he’s doing his record cycle and we’re about to start our new record cycle. So as long as we can find some time, absolutely. There’s been no question of trying to stop “Bad Books”. It’s a fun little thing for us that somehow works. We can tour off of it, make records, and people can actually really enjoy it. It’s a thing that started out a fun thing to let us write songs with Kevin that turned into another band. So I think that’ll happen eventually.
Alright Chris, this concludes our interview. Thank you. See you in November.
Thanks man. Thanks for taking the time.