When the members of Manchester Orchestra were sitting around pondering how to follow up 2011’s adventurous concept album “Simple Math,” their new direction became evident.
“We were talking about where we would go stylistically,” keyboardist Chris Freeman said while calling from the band’s Atlanta studio. “We weren’t certain at first. We were going in all different directions in the studio and then it hit us, we wanted to rock.”
That’s how “Cope,” the band’s third album was born. The album, which aptly enough dropped nearly 20-years to the day from when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain took his life, hits hard on two different levels, sonically and lyrically. Like Cobain at his best, Manchester Orchestra’s guitar lines are heavy but also hooky. The songs, particularly “Every Stone” and “Choose You” hit with blunt force but are anthemic at the same time.
“I admired Nirvana for that,” Freeman said. “They would hit you on so many levels.”
Manchester Orchestra hits with a sonic punch to the gut, which complement vocalist-guitarist Andy Hull’s words, which are sobering and accurately represent what it’s like to be a 20-something adjusting to adulthood.
“What ‘Cope’ is about is what it’s like to become an adult and how difficult that is,” Freeman said. “The world is very different than how it is presented to you when you were a child or in high school. You have to cope. You have to work things out. That is touched on throughout this album. I think it’s a great theme but I’m so caught up in the rock side of this project. I so badly wanted to make a loud, rock record.”
Freeman and his bandmates, which include guitarist Robert McDowell, bassist Andy Prince and drummer Tim Very, saw the dearth of hard-hitting bands. “There are so many EDM bands out there.” Freeman said. “I hate saying it, ‘electronic dance music.’ There’s too much of that and then there are bands like Mumford and Sons. I have nothing against Mumford and Sons but that style of music is so genteel for the alternative scene, so we decided to rock. It feels good to me. It’s been so long since there were big-sounding rock bands out there.”
Emo, according to Freeman, killed or at least maimed rock. “I think a lot of people got sick of emo since you can’t dance to it and it makes you want to cry,” Freeman said. “I love Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith but I think the frat kids and the pretty people were turned off by that style of music. But now we’re trying to bring the rock into the alternative scene.”
Who would have ever thought that Freeman and his friends would embark on such an endeavor 20 years ago? Back then the members attended Christian schools that eschewed any secular music.
“I remember walking into my older sister’s room when I was seven and there was a copy of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind and Radiohead’s ‘The Bends,” Freeman recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to listen to this devil music.’ But when I was 15 on spring break, I was in Pensacola and I bought a copy of ‘The Bends’ and it blew my mind. We all have come a long way. We’re all the product of Southern families, growing up in Georgia, who are very Christian and look what happened, we’re in a rock band and all we want to do is play heavy rock right now.”
And how do the band’s families feel about their vocation? “They love it,” Freeman said. “They’re all very supportive. Anytime we’re on ‘(The Late Show With David) Letterman’ or when we put out a new album, they’re thrilled. It all worked out for us. It’s like, ‘Look, mom, I’m really doing it.’ Now we’re just trying to be this band that’s the voice of rock. Somebody has to do it.”