Jonathan Corley : On Melodic Maneuvering

THERE’S A LOT MORE TO GEORGIA than peaches and crunk; The college town of Athens has birthed its fair share of rock royalty (REM, the B-52s), and now the capital city of Atlanta has become a hot spot for up-and-coming indie bands. Leading the charge, Manchester Orchestra tempers its post-adolescent aggression with melodic hooks borrowed from the British Invasion. On bass, Jonathan Crowley links singersongwriter Andy Hull’s tuneful excursions with drummer Jeremiah Edmond’s youthful bombast, carving a cavernous pocket speckled with melodic gems. The band plans to tour through the new year in support of its latest, Mean Everything to Nothing.
By Brian Fox ,

THERE’S A LOT MORE TO GEORGIA than peaches and crunk; The college town of Athens has birthed its fair share of rock royalty (REM, the B-52s), and now the capital city of Atlanta has become a hot spot for up-and-coming indie bands. Leading the charge, Manchester Orchestra tempers its post-adolescent aggression with melodic hooks borrowed from the British Invasion. On bass, Jonathan Crowley links singersongwriter Andy Hull’s tuneful excursions with drummer Jeremiah Edmond’s youthful bombast, carving a cavernous pocket speckled with melodic gems. The band plans to tour through the new year in support of its latest, Mean Everything to Nothing.

How did you learn to play bass?
I never went the route of taking lessons or studying music in school. I picked up a copy of Led Zeppelin’s How the West Was Won [Atlantic, 2003], and basically learned to play that whole record.

Aside from John Paul Jones, who are other bass players you’ve found exciting and inspiring?
John Entwistle, Eric Judy [of Modest Mouse], and Eric Axelson [of the Dismemberment Plan] are a few. Death Cab for Cutie does some great melodic work, and the Swedish band Refused had a great rhythm section.

How does your band write music?
We’ll set up in a rehearsal studio, Andy might bring in some song ideas, and Jeremiah and I try to thoughtfully calculate the best ways to connect our parts. I’m drawn right away to the kick-drum pattern. Then I try to build melodic ideas off of that.

Do you play with any effects pedals?
Live, I don’t use any pedals—I’ve found a sound that I like with just my bass and amp. There were a few spots on the record where I played through a Rat distortion pedal.

How did you approach making this new record?
This one was really the first record where we had the time to focus in on the smallest details to find the right sounds. We tried to experiment with alternate tunings quite a bit. For a lot of the new record, we tuned down a half step for a bigger, louder sound. We bounced between working with producers Joe Chiccarelli and Dan Hannon, and that turned out to be a cool process. We tracked the whole record live, and then went back and overdubbed vocals and more guitar. Sitting in a room playing the same song for eight hours a day can be a pretty tortuous process, but I think that gives a record the kind of raw immediacy that makes it sound good. We’re all just trying to make music that we genuinely enjoy. If I can emulate some of the players who influenced me, all the better.

HEAR HIM ON
Manchester Orchestra,
Mean Everything to Nothing
[Favorite Gentlemen/
Canvasback Recordings, 2009]
GEAR
Basses Fender Precision Bass, “spare-parts”
bass; Ernie Ball Power Slinky strings (.055–.110)
tuned EbAbDbGb
Rig Ampeg SVT-CL head
and 8x10 cabinet
Effects Pro Co Rat
distortion (studio)