Since last March, indie rockers Manchester Orchestra have booked and canceled almost half a dozen tours due to COVID-19’s enduring effect on the live music industry. More than a year and a half removed from the world being put on pause, the Atlanta-based outfit is finally back on the road.
“There was a period of time when we had no idea what anything would look like,” Hull says of the early stages of the pandemic. “Luckily, we had the record to think about and work on, but there were certainly some scary thoughts like, ‘If the career just completely goes away, what does that look like?’”
At the same time venues around the world were indefinitely closing, Manchester Orchestra was putting the finishing touches on their sixth studio album. Instead of worry about things outside of their control, the band hunkered down, absorbed itself in the studio and kept the faith.
“There’s so much clarity in hindsight,” Hull says. “I wish that I would have known during that period that things would be somewhat all right, that there would be a pause but that there would be some version of normal again.”
Fittingly, Manchester Orchestra’s latest release is all about finding light in the darkness. The Million Masks Of God – a title take from a line in a G. K. Chesterton poem – began as a concept album about a man’s encounter with the Angel of Death before unfortunately becoming grounded in reality when guitarist Robert McDowell’s father died of cancer. Still, Hull feels that it’s an encouraging and heartening listen.
“If it were up to me, I would want people to feel comforted by it and feel hopeful,” he says of the new record’s themes, which explore the afterlife. “I think the thing I’m most proud of is that it sort of carries a message of resilience and hopefulness.”
“I think part of it was understanding who we are a little bit more this time around,” Hulls says of the recording process. “A Black Mile [To The Surface] was definitely a growing pain – in a really good way – but it was hard. We were trying to redefine what we wanted to be and figure out why it was worth it to be that thing.”
Given the positive reception to their last release, Manchester Orchestra felt free to try new things and confident that their work would be appreciated, which reminded the band members of how lucky they all were to be able to do what they do for a living.
“We’re really fortunate that we get to do this as a job and spend as much time as we have on music, so we should probably try and enjoy it,” Hull says with a laugh.
It’s been a long time since Manchester Orchestra was able to perform in front of a live audience, and Hull has trouble articulating what it means to be back on the road. But like in many of his lyrics, he references faith when explaining his feelings.
“We all had to hold on to the faith that live music is a really special and powerful thing, and humans have been doing some version of it forever,” Hull says. “So we knew it would come back in some capacity, and I think this is proof that people really wanted it to happen.”
Manchester Orchestra, Foxing and Slothrust are scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m. (doors open) on October 6 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N Main St. For more information, visit https://www.whiteoakmusichall.com, $28.