Alt rock band Manchester Orchestra will look for any cheap excuse to go back into the recording studio.
So when the Atlanta-based act “went loud” with its album Cope, it retreated to the studio shortly after its release to turn soft for Hope.
“Cope is a very hard-hitting, guitar-driven record,” says keyboardist Chris Freeman. “We decided to take a step back and reimagine that record in a softer way.
“A lot of the vocals are brought up and the instrumentation was sparse. It was very liberating to be able to look at a finished record and reimagine it, rather than writing a whole new record.”
Manchester Orchestra’s fifth album, Hope, grew out of fan reaction to a stripped-down arrangement of Cope’s “Top Notch,” which the band recorded for SiriusXM’s Alt Nation. The new album melds softer vocals by singer Andy Hull accompanied by Fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano and some strings.
Expect to hear that when Manchester Orchestra plays the Mesa Arts Center’s Ikeda Theatre on Thursday, November 6.
“We’re going to play a lot of the Hope record,” he says. “But we’re trying to figure out how to pull off the string arrangements and the piano parts amongst five members. [The show] will be that and, on top of it, a reimaging of other songs.
“I’m sure Andy will play a couple of acoustic songs as well. We’re trying to make this a special experience.”
At the time of interview, Manchester Orchestra was in the midst of arranging the songs to play live. Freeman says that each member will play different keyboards.
“I think it’ll be an experiment for sure,” he says with a laugh.
It’s clear that Manchester Orchestra didn’t reimagine Cope because it was unhappy with the product.
“I feel like what we did with Cope was we consciously made an effort to make a rock record,” he says, “I think the fans like both sides of our band, which is being loud and quiet. We weren’t quiet on Cope and we could reimagine and do a labor of love for fans who enjoy that other side of us. That’s how it came about. We are versatile in what we can do. Why not use that gift and make a soft record, or a more pretty record?”
Freeman is much more than a keyboardist for Manchester Orchestra. He is also the brains behind the merchandise and the cover art for Hope.
“Being there for the process of the record does help when trying to imagine what the artwork should be,” explains Freeman, who was sketching new merchandise designs just before the chat. “The cover for Hope spawned from an idea for Cope. It originally seemed too illustrious for a hard-hitting record.
“Taking that and using it for Hope made a lot of sense. I went back and flipped through some old sketches and found that. It was clear that that was the direction to go in with a sprawling record.”
Like the designs, the album was a challenge.
“It was an interesting and fun process, though,” he says. “We like to be in the studio and we were happy to get back in and hash out this thing. We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted. We have a sense of comfort when we’re working when we can go in any direction we want.”
Manchester Orchestra w/Chris Staples, Mesa Arts Center’s Ikeda Theater, 1 E. Main Street, Mesa, 480.644.6500, mesaartscenter.com, Thursday, November 6, $21-$33