I had the pleasure of speaking with Robert McDowell, the lead guitarist of Manchester Orchestra, who gave me some insight into the group’s current tour and creative process.
McDowell grew up a little north of Atlanta. His hometown had a very diverse music scene, with a large emphasis on hip-hop.
McDowell said he’s been lucky to build friendships over the years in Atlanta and explained, “Like most music scenes, it’s based on relationships and meeting people.”
His humble words carry over into his own musical career. Early on, McDowell and his bandmates were on the former side of this relationship.
He mentioned the most important byproduct of the guidance he received from his musical community was that it kept him out of trouble.
McDowell and his band have been fortunate enough to have older, wiser mentors tell them the “’dos and don’ts’ of the music industry and how to have longevity in their career,” he explained. Now, McDowell said he gets to help steer bands who are starting off.
McDowell’s personal music taste is composed of influences from various genres, such as oldies, hip-hop and pop music. McDowell is attracted to strong melodies and appreciates a well put-together song.
“A good song doesn’t have to be a certain genre, it just has to be a good song with quality melodies and quality lyrics,” McDowell said. At his core, he just appreciates a nice indie power-pop band.
Being from Atlanta, McDowell and his family grew up seeing “The Nutcracker” and various iconic musical acts at the Fox Theatre. Now, earlier on his tour, he and his bandmates had the opportunity to play this iconic venue.
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“Being on stage and looking up and seeing the artificial sky that looks real to me … it is something I can’t describe but I feel blessed to have looked up at it,” McDowell said.
After having the honor to take the stage at this historic venue, he and the rest of the group got to “come full circle and see the beauty and the history of it.”
The group had equal respect for The Ryman in Nashville.
“Getting to play venues of that caliber has just been my childhood dream and my childhood musician dream,” he elaborated.
When asked about their relationship with The Front Bottoms and their shenanigans on the road with them, McDowell enthusiastically explained that every night has been a fun experience with them.
He described the dynamic between The Front Bottoms and Manchester Orchestra and how the two groups work well together musically, as The Front Bottoms bring a full-energy set while Manchester Orchestra appears gloomier at times.
“There is nothing more fun than going to watch one of your favorite bands on stage at a bar with a bunch of your friends … anytime you’re feeling down just walk onto The Front Bottoms’ stage and have a beer!” McDowell said, laughing.
As a group, Manchester Orchestra are very proud of their album A Black Mile To The Surface, which they put out last year.
With A Black Mile To The Surface, they knew they wanted to incorporate more cinematic sounds. They started it and worked for eight months until they couldn’t possibly add anything more to the record. It took a lot of fine-tuning from every member.
“With every record, you want to try and set a bar at an unreachable place and go as far as you can with it,” McDowell said.
The group did everything they could to achieve this project goal. McDowell explained that the group traveled to many different places in the country to find the inspiration to do that and create what they released.
The ensemble now has to determine how to use this process for another project after their tour is over. They hope to start with a fresh mission statement that guides them on where they want to go with their new record.
Determining how to execute this has always been the group’s biggest struggle, but it can be highly rewarding when goals like that are achieved.
Tickets are still available for Manchester Orchestra and The Front Bottoms at The Sylvee’s box office or on their website. The performance will be Wednesday, Dec. 5.