By Georgina Langford

At the end of March, Manchester Orchestra will drop their new album ‘Cope’ – their first full length in three years – after playing a short run of shows around the UK. They also recently contributed a track to the soundtrack of the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ movie (yep, that Oscar-nominated one where Jared Leto dresses up as a girl) and have gone through a partial line-up change, so this seems like a significant moment in the history of Manchester Orchestra. Fans can now watch the video for ‘Top Notch’, the first single to be taken from ‘Cope’. Punktastic quizzed them on what we can expect from the new album, as well as getting their thoughts on ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and the latest offering from their musical collaborator, Kevin Devine.

Is the single ‘Top Notch’ an illustration of a heavier, rockier sound on ‘Cope’?

Yes. ‘Top Notch’ and the song ‘Cope’ bookend the album and are instrumentally and somewhat lyrically related. I think they both give a good example of what’s inside.

Both the title and the artwork for ‘Cope’ are fairly stark and minimal, especially compared to your
earlier works. Was this an intentional move?

We felt that the artwork should represent the attitude of this album: immediate, in your face, and up for interpretation.

Does the word ‘Cope’ refer to any particular experience?

It’s a word that started as a small lyric and ended up becoming a certain theme. When I would ask my friends and family what the word meant to them, they would all come back with something completely different. We all cope every single day in incredibly different ways. It’s a word that can hold positivity and a word that equally meant reliance.

How did having new member Andy Price on bass affect the writing/recording process?

There is something special about our drummer, Tim, and our new bass player, Andy. It was going to be impossible to replace Jeremiah with the same type of drummer, and a lot of times bands can suffer from that. Tim really started changing the rhythmic dynamics and capabilities of the band.When Andy joined, he was able to lock in at such a significant rate with Tim that it really made the other three of us step up our game. We feel really, really lucky and blessed that these guys are in this band.

You’ve talked about the fact that you now have a ‘Manchester Orchestra HQ’ where you
can write, record, do merch… does having that secure base free you up to focus on the
creative side of things? It must take some of the stress out of recording, for a start.

It definitely makes being a creative as a job easier. The location is so close to all of our houses and it’s a wonderful environment. The issue with having your own place and making an album on your own without outside pressure (label, management etc), is that you are truly your own thermometer and your own boss. We really made a point to hold ourselves to a really high standard of songwriting and work ethic. Possibly too much. At a certain point, a record can make or break you, and we pushed like hell and it’s one of the more rewarding moments of my career so far.

Can we discuss ‘After The Scripture’, the original song you contributed to the ‘Dallas
Buyers Club’ soundtrack? Presumably you got to watch the movie before you wrote this
track, so how did the film affect you, creatively and emotionally?

I didn’t actually get to see the movie beforehand. I did see it afterwards and thought it was great. The song is extremely personal to me. I had written that song about a young woman that I met on tour a few weeks before she passed away from cancer. We made an immediate connection with her. Her family were kind enough to ask us to come to her memorial service and for me to play a solo set of some of Anna’s favourite Manchester Orchestra songs for them and their family at their home afterwards. It was the most powerful and life-changing experience of my entire life. Since then, we have all become a family and see them quite regularly. We play a festival in Dallas every year in her honour. This song is a tribute to her and the lives that she changed forever. If you want to know more about Anna’s story, here is a link.

We recently spoke to Kevin Devine – having previously written together, which of his two
new records do you prefer? (We’re guessing you’re biased towards ‘Bubblegum’)

Oh, I couldn’t say. Some of my favourite songs he’s ever written are on both! I loved hearing him turn up because he has incredible power to rock, but I also love hearing him be subtle and clean. I love being in a band with him and we both have really high hopes for Bad Books III.

Three of the Manchester Orchestra crew contributed to the excellent Fadeaway Records
charity compilation. Was that an important project for you? Did you all write original tracks
for it?

Mike Dubin has been a friend of ours for a long time and when he told me about the project and how it’s raising all this money for cancer research, I obviously wanted to be a part of it. It’s a crazy list of musicians that I never thought I would release something with and I find that awesome. We all had those songs beforehand.

You’ll be touring the UK just after you release ‘Cope’. How does playing over here compare to shows in the US?

We have always considered the UK equal to the US. Our crowds have grown together and we have tremendous respect for our fans over there. We received more success commercially in the US but that has never stopped our crowds from growing and being equal in size. I love that we are playing the small sweaty clubs on this run. It’s going to be so much fun. We will be back in the fall for a more proper hang.


Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]