Collaborations like the one Kevin Devine and Andy Hull share don't tend to take on much of an identity. Devine is a magnificently successful solo artist with a legion of fans who seem to follow his every step. As for Hull, his other band, Manchester Orchestra, is hugely successful. Surely Bad Books, the creative outlet the two musicians share, wouldn't stand much of a chance to compete with its members other bands?
In our session with the duo, we learn that's simply not the case. Andy cites Bad Books as a "therapeutic outlet". Kevin lives for the creative differences of a musical partnership. He is, after all, a guy who is used to writing 100% of the music he plays. The two musicians also so obviously get a long...they're on the same wave length in terms of music, and perhaps more importantly, life in general. So it's no surprise that after the success of Bad Books' first album, the band decided to do another collection; this one cleverly titled II. It's a collection of oh so tasty indie pop songs, peppered with carefree whistles and peculiar titles like "Forest Whitaker". In session, the band churns through three of their songs, touching on why the Bad Books identity is so damn strong. This is no one and done endeavor, obviously. Bad Books are a heartfelt, impeccably tight outfit worth getting and staying excited about.
We started a fire that was never supposed to burn out You started a band that was cool for a while but it turned pretty bland I started a fight with the neighbor next door and his pesky wife You started a job and she wait when you're sober and hate even more when you're not I know you hate me too You always say you do And you moved to Japan thought a clean bill of health and a camera could show you the plan And I bought a bird that repeats what I say but "I'm lonely" is all that he's heard You found a guy that is clearly the opposite me with a black motorbike And I digged around but its just like a movie's picture is off with the sound I know you hate me too You always say you do And you started to write it was subtle at first but the danger was clearly insight And I don't reply due to a lack of an ego and laziness cuts like a knife You say that you're good Had a baby with biker and named him Forest Whitaker And I'm laying low on a probable chance you convince me to give him a home And I know you hate me too You always say you do I know that you hate me too You always say you do "Two". It's our second record. We didn't spend a ton of time on that name as you can probably tell. We did it in January and May of 2012, down at the Manchester Studio and Atlanta, two sessions I think around like 10 days, recorded 11 songs. For me, I think the record is like neck and neck with anything qualitatively either band has done prior. I think that we both feel that way, which is kind of why such a gratifying experience that it's finding an audience and the shows are going so great on this tour, and yeah, so, I really...but that's, that's...I really like the record a lot. I Cannot Avoid] I caught you caroling and giving grief Thought you were cannon-balling after me I let your actions speak for themselves And wished you well But you're a mirror I cannot avoid Strung out and jittery and paranoid A leaky battery that can't keep charged Get in the car And say what you mean Explain yourself to me and I'll try not to judge you more than you would Let me help, I promise not to tell Like anyone's asking or anyone should Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo First time I met you I was full of fear Knew that eventually you'd disappear But when I needed you you'd burn to smoke And off you'd go So come back and peel away the mess Lay here beside me and open your eyes Take it back your dignity tact Turn back to the person you tried to let die I caught you nesting with your analog Glassy eye from kissing poison frogs Becoming infinite against his couch Open your mouth and say the words You used to wish you heard Back when you focused enough to be good But if you're gone An endless false alarm Just remember I loved you As long as I could Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo Hoo hoo hoo hoo I think the coolest thing about the Bad Books for a...Bad Books experience for us is that it's something that we had no expectations of. So in terms of what we hoped people took away from it. At first, it was just that they would hear it and then it was that they would...I mean, the fact that what people have taken away from it and done with it, is turn it into its own independent thing. We don't play any Manchester on my songs at these shows and no one complains. That's kind of unthinkable considering it's two bands who have got deep up... There are bigger band but we both have like a depth through our audience, and no one says boo about that. You know, when I think that would have been my wildest expect-- then the fact that that's happening in front of sold out shows...way beyond our expectations and we think they're taking away from it exactly what you could only dream of them taking away from it. So, that's great. McCarren Park when your body gave ground One o'clock June 6 sun now God hid in amphetamine waves Margaritas and disposable days Folded arms and I felt your heart hum Speedy eyes and I want what I want Truth cut with a generalized fear Cash baggies and our ash tray beers And I know, you know I wanna love you But I can't let go Honey, it never stops No it never stops No it never stops McCarren Park when the culture crashed down Copy after copy `til the color washed out Bet the future on an ice cream cone I kept it secret `til I took you home The days split to two sides I flipped a quarter And said I can't decide Honey it never stops The leaves laughed, the bed burned I know I want you but I'm waiting my turn Honey it never stops No it never stops No it never stops McCarren Park when your beauty bled out Twenty years and my cotton ball mouth You held my hand said don't let me drift Said I'd never even think of it And I knew right there I could have you but I'd have to share Honey it never stops So we slept the sun left I dreamed nothingness in shades of red Honey it never stops No it never stops No it never stops No it never stops No it never stops No it never stops No it never stops
The second collaboration between singer/songwriter Kevin Devine and Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, Bad Books II finds these two extraordinary tunesmiths untethered from their respective brands, joining forces to reach new stylistic and emotional terrain. Accompanied by members of Manchester Orchestra with guitarist Robert McDowell also producing and keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman once again supplying distinctive album art Hull and Devine offer up a series of magnificently etched songs which light upon everything from anthemic stadium rock ("The After Party") and reflective balladry ("42") to energetic bubblegum ("No Sides"), gloriously baroque psychedelia ("Petite Mort"), and whistling big beat pop ("Forest Whitaker"). The real-time sound of a group of talented friends synthesizing into something altogether more cohesive and accessible, Bad Books II reveals a remarkable new band in the truest sense, emboldened and at ease enough to set out together for places unknown.
"Bad Books is my therapeutic outlet," says Hull, "a place I can go and do whatever I want in the moment. Somehow, amazingly, it works out."
"Theres an openness and a playfulness to it," Devine says, "but its still pretty serious music. Its a weird combination we take the songs very seriously but we let ourselves loosen up about the results in a way thats different from either of our more personal projects. In a weird way, that allows for us to go certain places we might not go on our own."
The fast friendship between the Brooklyn-based Devine and Atlantas own Manchester Orchestra began in 2007 and has since included multiple tours and a 2010 split EP in which each covered one of the others songs. The more collaborative Bad Books followed later that year, featuring individually penned songs from Hull and Devine, backed by Hulls fellow Orchestra members (including the crack rhythm section of bassist Jonathan Corley and drummer Ben Homola). A number of well-received live dates followed, mostly acoustic, as well as further joint tours in other assorted permutations.
In January 2012, Devine hit the Manchesters Favorite Gentlemen Studios in Atlanta for another go-around. Having made the first Bad Books album in just under a week, the musicians decided to stick with the system and work as rapidly and instinctively as possible. They knocked out tracks at a brisk pace, recording most songs in under a day.
"Its an exhilarating feeling, " Hull says, "making something so fast. You just wonder the whole time if its good. There was a moment when we got the mixes back. We were like, 'Holy shit, we just made something thats pretty cohesive and pretty solid in just eight days."
The gloves-off sessions were marked by their openness, vibrancy and democratic spirit. Songs like Devines majestic "Never Stops" were deconstructed and promptly rebuilt, the players uniting to impel the music in hitherto unconsidered directions.
"We were a little less precious about stuff," Devine says. "Actually we were a lot less precious. Any idea we followed. No stone was unturned. Our attitude was, if it works, it works, and if it doesnt, well, okay, we just wont use it."
Which of course is not to say that the songwriting on Bad Books II is anything less than the result of great care and craftsmanship by both Hull and Devine. Songs like Hulls "Lost Creek" and Devines knockout rocker, "No Rewards," touch on matters profoundly personal to both songwriters, tackling big themes with passion, precision, poignancy, and power. Hull further displays his mastery of lyric narrative on the elegantly articulated tour de force, "Pyotr," a true account of Russias Peter the Great placing his wifes lovers head in a glass jar and then ordering the adulterous Catherine to visit it daily, told from the twin perspectives of the Tsar and the head itself.
As before, each songwriter brought in material that seemed to fit the Bad Books project. Whereas their first album essentially gathered five fully formed songs each from both writers, Hull and Devine were now comfortable enough to workshop together, allowing each others expertise and sensibility to inform the finished product.
"Ive never had anyone do that with me before," Hull says. "Ive always written everything. Ive never asked for any help. But this time, I asked. I said to Kevin, this is what I want to say here, how can I say it better? And he was able to help me, which is cool. I think my pride probably up until this point wouldnt have allowed that to happen, but to be honest, I dont really care anymore."
"Theres so much delicate ego involved," Devine says, "you can feel very vulnerable. I think it speaks to how much we relate and respect each other that now it seems to have developed into letting even the most sensitive part of what we do be up for grabs."
Hull and Devines six-year friendship is manifested throughout the album by their intimate, often magical harmonies. Having begun experimenting with vocal layering while touring the first Bad Books record, the two friends made a conscious effort to bring that intriguing influence to the new album. The close voices on tracks like "42" and "Pyotr" superlatively express and counterpoint their increasing familiarity.
"Our relationship is built on these heavy talks," Hull says. "We both have different views on things but theres kind of a thread that runs through our beliefs. Hes a wise guy and theres a lot that I can learn from him."
That kind of camaraderie marked the recording of Devines stunning "Ambivalent Peaks," an intensely felt song "about navigating the depths or the shallows of your self-understanding, of who you are and why youre in the relationships youre in." Spurred by the subject matter, the session somehow evolved into an expansive "band therapy session" in which all involved divulged their own private takes on love, romance, and the whole damn thing.
"It was a pretty beautiful moment," Devine says. "Everyone was sharing openly. I know it sounds a little hoary or anti-rock 'n roll, but it was something that deepened an already deep connection."
Justifiably proud of what theyve accomplished together, Bad Books plan to continue to develop their union with considerable touring. Full-scale itineraries are currently being planned for North America, Europe, and Australia.
"This record deserves to be worked more than the last one," Hull says. "It doesnt matter what band youre in, if you create something that deserves to be worked by touring, we should try and push this as much as we can."
"Weve made a record that stands up favorably against anything either of us have made on our own," Devine says. "I think it has the potential to connect with people who dont like either of us a whole lot. I think it could turn some heads."
As inspired, expressive, and fully realized as anything in either artists outstanding back catalogues, Bad Books II reverberates with boundless excitement and artistic fervor. While all involved intend to continue their day jobs, Bad Books is now very much a going concern, "a second color that we paint in," according to Devine.
"Were both continuing to grow," he says, "and this band is part of that growth. I think what happened on this record will actually end up informing what happens with each of us and the records we do next."
"Bad Books became a band," Hull says. "When we started, it was really just Kevin and I coming in with five songs each because we wanted to do something together. There was no real plan. Now I dont ever see us stopping."