Hitting the stage

‘The Million Masks of God’ represents a refocused approach to record-making that Manchester Orchestra has forged in recent years. Image | Shervin Lainez

Alt-rock powerhouse Manchester Orchestra will play The Fillmore in Philadelphia on Oct. 15 as part of a massive tour in support of their critically acclaimed album “The Million Masks of God.” The fall tour marks the live debut of the record and their epic hit single “Bed Head,” which hit #2 at AAA radio and Top 20 at Alternative radio. 

“The Million Masks of God” presents an even grander scale of the epic and refocused approach to record-making that the band has forged in recent years. The band – lead songwriting duo Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, alongside Tim Very (drums) and Andy Prince (bass) – pushed themselves to create music that would break beyond the scope and limits of every previous album, all while sorting through the aftermath of a devastating loss.

While making 2017’s instant-classic “A Black Mile To The Surface” (featuring the band’s first No. 1 AAA and Top 15 Alternative radio hit “The Gold”), Hull and McDowell had an epiphany about how they wanted to approach their band’s music from that point forward, a way inspired heavily by the multi-tiered challenges and rewards they encountered while working on their first film score (2016’s “Swiss Army Man”). The new method was to make tightly-woven “movie albums” intended to be listened to in sequence and in a single sitting, with the songs working together to tell a bold, long-form narrative. 

“Masks” explores the loose story of a man’s encounter with the angel of death as he’s shown various scenes from his life in a snapshot-style assemblage. Some moments he witnesses are good, some are bad, some difficult, some commendable – in other words, they depict an entirely normal life. Initially based on a fictitious character, “Masks” began to process real-time emotions as McDowell’s father entered the toughest part of his fight with cancer, eventually losing the battle in 2019. 

“It started off really abstract, but as Robert’s dad’s fight with cancer got harder and harder those last couple years, I started making parallels in my mind to what I was actually writing about,” Hull explains. “It became an examination of my own faith. While Robert’s dad’s story certainly influenced this album, it’s equally about me coming to grips with the realness of adulthood and that there’s an expiration date to all of this – and how you’re going to live your life knowing that.”

“My dad was a musician and our band’s biggest fan, and I can’t think of a more flattering way to honor him than to let him exist in a form of art he loved so much,” McDowell says. “It wasn’t shocking to hear what Andy had been writing; the way he writes, the real life around him will always trickle in. For me, the album’s story isn’t just about the figure’s death but the life. It’s unfortunate but unavoidable: in life, death happens, and it’s been happening forever. We’re figuring out how to exist with grief, but grief hasn’t killed humanity. We have to zoom out and see it as part of life.”

Tickets for Manchester Orchestra’s upcoming show in Philly are available at thefillmorephilly.com.

PW recently caught up with McDowell to talk about the band and its new music.

The current lineup of Manchester Orchestra has been together for about eight years and four albums. How has the band changed over the years in terms of its music and how it approaches the creative process?

Whether it’s due to the lineup or getting older, it feels like the four of us are more open. Being in a band requires being vulnerable with your bandmates. There is a trust between us all that we are aiming for the same thing – the best version of the song. 

Manchester Orchestra will play The Fillmore in Philadelphia on Oct. 15 as part of a massive tour in support of their critically acclaimed album ‘The Million Masks of God.’ Image | Shervin Lainez

Your sixth album, “The Million Masks of God,” dropped earlier this year. Talk a little about how it came together and what the response from your fans has been.

It was an album that we were luckily able to finish right before the world shut down. We then had time to reflect on it rather than go right into the process of touring/promoting it. Once it finally came out, it was like a weight was lifted. The coolest thing about an album is once it’s out, it belongs to the listeners. It’s amazing to hear how music can affect people in so many ways.

You’re now back out on the road touring to support the album. How does it feel to be back before live audiences? What can your fans expect when they show up at The Fillmore on Oct. 15?

As of writing this, we have done one full band festival show since the pandemic began. It felt amazing. I love playing The Fillmore and hope that we can continue the tradition of having special shows there. It’s a magical room and city.

Looking back, what are some of the Manchester Orchestra’s highlights that you’ll always remember? What are some of the goals still on the band’s “bucket list”?

Every step of the way has been a highlight. We feel very lucky to be able to play music around the world. Our main goal is to continue to push ourselves and not to settle. And ultimately to still be doing this in 30 years.

When you wrap up the tour next year, what’s ahead for you? Is there more new music in the works?

We have lots planned for the next year, but can’t give away too much!

What are the best ways for your fans to stay current with what you’re doing?

We are on all of the normal social media platforms, but we also have a Patreon where we do monthly concerts from our studio, podcast, B sides, demos and more fun stuff.

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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