A true accident if there ever was one; Bad Books was never an intended nor calculated side project of Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull. Though the two musicians have collaborated and performed together on tour and within the Favorite Gentlemen community of artists for years now, the genesis of Bad Books came from a simple idea to fill space and time off the road by collaborating on a small batch of songs together at the top of the year. With no agenda and no expectations, what was birthed just one week later was Bad Books, a fully realized album encompassing five compositions each from both Devine and Hull, with the members of Manchester Orchestra filling out the sound and the band. The self-titled debut will be released October 19th, 2010 via Favorite Gentlemen Recordings, the record label that was founded and has been run by Manchester Orchestra since 2007.
As songwriters go, Hull and Devine could not be further apart in terms of creative approach. The methodical wordsmith Devine, an English major from Fordham, is known to pine away for great lengths of time just to accurately pin-point one word within a lyric. "I was doing a take of 'You're A Mirror I Cannot Avoid' and stopped myself for fifteen minutes because I was having trouble justifying ending two lines in the same chorus with the word 'back.' Just sitting there, staring at the screen, writing different word choices. I asked Andy if he thought it mattered, and he said, 'Of course it doesn't.' Somewhere in that exchange is I think what differentiates us as songwriters. I think Andy trusts his instincts to lead him to the right place in a song, and sometimes I want to outthink my instincts because I'm scared of repeating myself, of resting on my laurels. And I think together, those two approaches meshed really, really well," Devine said.
Hull echoes that sentiment: "Kevin is very meticulous, where I came in with a few ideas and fleshed them out literally as we were recording. Kevin's songs were awesome and he was cool enough for me to throw in some ideas to change a part or add a bridge here or there."
In contrast to previous outputs from Manchester Orchestra and Devine, Bad Books cradles a much more noticeable pop aesthetic and energy than either artist has probably ever showcased before. Nowhere is this more evident than in songs like "You Wouldn't Have To Ask" and "Holding Down the Laughter".
Engineered by Robert McDowell (of Manchester Orchestra) with help from drummer Ben Homola, and mixed by Chris Bracco (of Devine's 'Goddamn Band'), Bad Books progressed in the most organic and natural way possible. Free from any boundaries or restrictions, Devine and Hull were able to craft a beautiful body of melodies, highlighting arcs of high and low throughout, and utilizing the stark imagery and storytelling for which both of them are known. "There was no governing framework," Devine says: "No, 'let's write these kind of songs and say these kind of things'. We just wrote, arranged and played each song to its end, followed where it led, and I think it brought us both to some pretty unexpected places."
For Devine, Hull, and the rest of Manchester Orchestra, choosing the direction of the road less traveled resulted in sonic harmonies and woven textures that meshed what these best friends do best. Some accidents were just meant to be.