Manchester Orchestra's new album is titled 'The Million Masks Of God'.
Life, death and the afterlife is a natural human rumination – one American indie rock band Manchester Orchestra explore in their sixth studio album, 'The Million Masks Of God'.
While writing the album with bandmate Andy Hull, Robert McDowell's father, who was terminally ill, took a turn for the worse.
The resulting record has become a beautiful tribute to the man who introduced McDowell to both the world and to music.
"I know that he would be honoured by what this record is, and my mother and my sister know him and know that he would, too," Robert says.
"It's an exciting thing for all of us to see the different ways – whether it's through this album, through his grandkids, through us – that he continues to live on.
"When things started to go south with my father, I found myself in conversations with people who had gone through similar or at least grief and loss and all of that, and I think at the bottom of it all, if [the album] can be helpful for anyone then that's all we can really ask for with music – I think that's why we all started making music.
"You have to find the good in anything, no matter how bad it is, and that's one of the few good things that I'm going to find in that entire situation."
McDowell says prior to becoming a family man, his father had been a hard-working singer and songwriter before "kind of parking it to the side" to focus on his kids. "Some of my earliest memories were him standing outside the door playing guitar."
McDowell says there are five Manchester Orchestra children now – himself a father of two, Hull a father of two, and drummer Tim Very a father of one – so they had made a point of teasing the kids into the record. "I know Mayzie (Hull's daughter) is on 'Bed Head', the first single, at the end of it," he laughs.
"Whereas the last record was kind of the fear of bringing someone into the world, this is the full circle of turning around and realising that what brought you in can also leave you.
"And so, the lyrics are Andy's lyrics, so without taking too much liberty on it, I would say it's a full circle, but also the notion that the things you do now still live on through your children – the same way my father may not be here now, he's still doing things that impact me, so you never stop being a parent after you stop living."
'...Masks' was co-produced by Hull and McDowell alongside Catherine Marks, who also worked on their 2017 album 'A Black Mile To The Surface', and Ethan Guska, who worked on Hull and McDowell's side project (with Kevin Devine) Bad Books' latest offering. "We love Ethan!" Robert beams.
"We got to work with him when he did some post-production work on 'Bad Books III', and then Andy and I went out for a writing trip and spent the day messing around in the studio with him in LA, and it was one of those situations where you feel like you've been making music with this person since high school.
"So it was a no-brainer where his strengths were so complementary of what Catherine's were, that bringing both of them in just made this entire album-making process very enjoyable. Having them as a team made me excited to work, and I'm eternally grateful for them."
A formidable production team on their own, Hull and McDowell teamed up and produced Paris Jackson's debut album, 'Wilted', which was released in November. McDowell says he has much admiration and respect for Jackson as an artist in her own right, in spite of her famous musician father.
"She has something, which I'm sure her dad had as well, which is, she knows when it's right – and so to be around that in the studio was a very, very cool experience," he says.
"But you know, I think that she is probably the most well-adjusted version you can be having Michael Jackson as your father, and I'm so impressed with how grounded she was, but also how she was making her album, and not making a reaction to being Michael Jackson's daughter.
"Overall I was just wildly impressed with her and cannot wait to see what she continues to do."