An idea came to Manchester Orchestra. They were mid-tour in support of their fourth album, COPE, when the fivesome from Atlanta — Andy Hull, Chris Freeman, Andy Prince, Robert McDowell and Tim Very — realized that the loud, at times, fuzzed-out, arguably first all-out, rock-and-roll record they'd produced actually worked stripped down, decomposed and rearranged.
So they went into the studio unannounced and did just that.
What resulted was HOPE, an album comprised of the exact songs that had been released only a few months prior, just with the volume turned down, the tempo slowed, and keyboards and strings on full.
"We decided we wanted COPE to be this loud, nonstop record, so we dedicated the process to that," Manchester Orchestra front man Andy Hull said. "And then that sort of gave us the ability to sort of do really soft as well."
HOPE is a sweet surprise, considering the heaviness and loudness of COPE — its sister is the perfect complement to the exact same songs through rose-colored glasses, or headphones perhaps.
This is not your typical "acoustic" release either: Each song is lush and rearranged, with strings and almost hymnal harmonies, and can stand on its own beside the original with additional instrumentation and players including Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter on "The Ocean."
It would almost be an insult to consider HOPE an acoustic album — it's simply another LP in Manchester Orchestra's body of work — it just so happens that the entire thing had already been released before.
"We didn't want it to be that thing where it's, 'Here's the acoustic version!' That was like, the wrong thing to do," Hull carefully explains. "The right thing to do was to create an entire album that musically compared to the companion."
Thus, it's almost poetic that Manchester Orchestra's heaviest album to date was reworked to a sweet, lullaby state, providing a complete mirror opposite.
Hitting the world digitally in September, a mere five months after COPE's original release, HOPE was a total surprise, a diversion from the traditional marketing strategy given to the former record.
"COPE was kind of this big, long hoopla of trying to build it up," Hull recalls. They opted instead to "pull a Beyonce" and just go for the shock factor in the release.
"It's not just my looks that get me compared to Beyonce," he jokes.
Though there is something to be said in the comparison: Despite no promotion behind it, the record still managed to crack the Billboard 200 with a peak position of 85, calling attention to the steadfast dedication in Manchester Orchestra's fan base — one that cannot only take surprises but welcome them.
"I know people are fans of our band," Hull says in an almost relieved tone. "We found out with Simple Math, people were like, 'Where's all the grungy stuff?' When we released Simple Math, it was a weird time for us. I realized our fans will follow us where we go. In this case, it was making the same album."
That steady following allows the band to experiment and grow as a unit without a total fear of fan alienation, to be able to step up to the task at hand upon putting down the guitars.
"I think it's helped us see the range we can see as a full band without being super loud," Hull mentioned.
That lower decibel, which could make some other louder bands self-conscious, has the opposite effect on Manchester Orchestra. The change of pace is actually a refreshing, welcome change, as the group will round out 2014 touring behind HOPE in its full, hushed state, making a pit stop at Temple University's Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Dec. 6.
"It's really refreshing. It's a totally different vibe than what we're used to. I like being able to play stuff without your ears ringing for days after," he said.
It also helps put things in perspective, allowing musicians who've previously played out crowd pleasers to avoid the potential burnout. With that said, Hull revealed that other than HOPE tracks, audiences should expect reworked versions of "really, really old songs. Songs I've never played before — songs before our first record."
While a beautiful novelty that the same 11 songs could be performed at both ends of the spectrum, that's exactly what Hull sees the pairing of these two albums as: a novelty.
"I think it's sort of a palate-cleansing experience for us," he said of HOPE. "Now it's going to be about coming out with something new from that. That's sort of been our mission statement. We're just going to keep banging our heads against the wall."