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Manchester Orchestra reps its city from a distance

Two MTV VMA nods for 'Simple Math' bring Atlanta band that much closer to 'global domination'

Six years into its career, Manchester Orchestra has all the trappings of success: major-label affiliations, headlining tours, lauded music videos. And yet the band has never been a gravitational force in its hometown, neither representative of Atlanta as a whole nor of any of its fragmented scenes. But that's totally fine with lead singer, songwriter and driving force Andy Hull, who has focused instead on developing his band into a national touring machine.

Calling from Pennsylvania, where Manchester Orchestra's on tour opening for Blink-182, Hull says he's happy to keep Atlanta as a place to chill while furthering the band's national and international standing. "I love being home," he says. "It's very, very relaxed. We hang out pretty much every day when we're at home."

Outside of Atlanta, however, Manchester Orchestra's home base isn't nearly as intrinsic to its identity as it happens to be with such local bands as Black Lips, for instance. Perhaps that's due to Manchester's accessible sound, one that's emotional without being highly specialized or too challenging. The resulting freedom has allowed the band to experiment with its own identity while it focuses on getting its music in front of as many people as possible.

And Manchester Orchestra's flirtation with the mainstream is paying off. This week, in fact, the band's recent video for its tune "Simple Math" will vie for two MTV Video Music Awards. The VMAs air Sunday, Aug. 28, at 9 p.m.

Directed by the Los Angeles-based duo known as Daniels, the video takes the sprawling title track from Manchester Orchestra's recent full-length, Simple Math, and collides themes of nostalgia, coincidence, family and Southern identity. The video, nominated for Best Editing and Best Special Effects, isn't Manchester Orchestra's first, but Hull says it's particularly successful in achieving the joint vision of both band and filmmaking team. "I really trust people who are passionate, and they're two of the most passionate people I've met," Hull says of the Daniels duo, adding that he almost prefers that "Simple Math" was nominated in technical categories rather than larger ones like "Best Video." He says it means that those doing the nominating really paid attention to the video, which features car crashes, explosions and creative slow motion. That description might make it sound like a predictable summer blockbuster, but like Manchester Orchestra's music — a pop-savvy interpretation of late-'90s guitar-elevating indie rock — the video comes across a lot more introspective than it reads on paper.



Hull says he found out about the nomination when a fan tweeted about it. He initially thought it was a prank. "We were all just a little shocked," he says. "It was really just weird more than anything. We've always kind of been a band that's lived by the slow-and-steady grind. This was kind of one of those unexpected incremental things. So hopefully it will put our music into more houses and in front of more people on our way toward global domination."

With so many avenues to reach an audience currently available to musicians, the value of a music video can seem diminished from its marketing height during MTV's heyday. Hull, however, says that he's eager to continue making videos for his songs in an effort to achieve the kind of artistic synergy possible when combining media.

"Simple Math" is up against some big-name competition, including videos from Chromeo, Katy Perry, Linkin Park and Adele. Hull laughs and admits that Kanye West's "Power" is the only one of the competition he's seen, but chalks that up to the surreal experience of being nominated.

Following the VMAs, Manchester Orchestra returns to Atlanta, where all of the band's members — Hull, bassist Jonathan Corley, keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman, lead guitarist Robert McDowell and drummer Tim Very — live in suburban Alpharetta with their respective families. Hull plans to keep an empty calendar for a while, hoping that a low local profile will allow for a short respite.

"Touring is something that you get an itch for when you're home for too long," says Hull. "We've got a double-edged sword because we're lucky enough to tour a lot, and then you get that itch to come home when you've been on the road for a while."

The band's next local performance comes in September at the revived Music Midtown festival, after which it's back out on the road and across the sea for its first headlining tour in the U.K. The band settles back into Atlanta around Thanksgiving in time for its annual "Stuffing" event, a band-laden holiday throw-down at Center Stage, Vinyl and the Loft. And with new recording plans and an Australian tour on the horizon, Manchester Orchestra will keep playing Atlanta ambassador to its own tune.