Manchester Orchestra had always prided themselves on their approach. The Atlanta-based band, led by
singer/lyricist Andy Hull with Robert McDowell (who is also Hull’s brother-in-law and lifelong friend), had
spent their career challenging each other to build a poignant, exhilarating narrative with each new album and
The band had worked relentlessly to cultivate a passionate fan base the old-fashioned way: releasing music,
making music videos, and touring (most recently with drummer Tim Very and bassist Andy Prince). Their
previous long-player, 2014’s Cope, had even spawned a cover album of itself by its creators, an acousticreworking
and reimagining of its songs with a heavily emotional bent that they called Hope. But now — thirty
years old, stable, and a frst-time father — Hull found himself facing a crisis of inspiration. Since the beginning,
each subsequent Manchester Orchestra album had been a grand statement for that specifc moment in their
career, originated in a desire to push themselves forward creatively.
The desire to achieve greatness is often
followed by a need for that same desire to evolve. So, for a musician used to writing out of self-refection, what
do you sing about when life is good? For a band on record number fve and seeking innovation, how do you
untangle yourself from the past? How do you write songs about being happy?
A Black Mile to the Surface is a bold record of vision and purpose, inspired by and dwelling in a sensory
and imaginative experience. It’s a reinvention of sorts, both musically and personally—a sort of cosmic
worldview shift. But in the end, the record’s themes are universal. On the stunning fnal track, Hull sings, “Let
me watch you as close as a memory/ Let me hold you above all the misery/ Let me open my eyes and be glad
that I got here.” Certainly, that’s a father speaking hope to his daughter, but it’s also a message to listeners.
How do you write songs about being happy? With your eyes wide open, your loved ones in front of you, and
the misery of the world waiting just outside the door.