In 1996, Preston Hull was an 11-year-old living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He had just started to play the trumpet and liked to listen to the Mortal Kombat Soundtrack.
Now 26 and based in Philadelphia, Preston prefers music with more hyphens and forward slashes. His second solo record, Man Up is a collection of songs ranging in style from pop/rock to alt-country to straight-up piano ballads. These mature, but not too self-serious songs take on the familiar (women, relationships, home, change), as well as topics infrequently visited by songwriters (genetics, TV crime dramas, American-Pakistani relations).
Since Man Up was conceived and written without permanent band members, Preston was free to give each song its own unique arrangement and instrumentation, lending the album a diverse sonic profile: The guitar riff of “Little Spark” crackles with the energy of its namesake. Bright bells, lively synths, and the driving drum beat of “Mitochondrial Eve” contrast with the sober, thoughtful tone of “Goodbye To Boston”. The wistful, falling guitar melody central to “Arsla” reflects the story told through the lyrics and serves as a counterpoint to the song’s anthemic, singable chorus. And “More Than I Knew” opens with twenty-five seconds of lush classical brass and strings; then, the orchestration gives way to dark, jagged guitars and Preston’s own husky but warm voice.
Though listeners will hear a range of sounds, they will also notice that the album is heavily guitar-centric; distortion and power chords throughout the album hint at the punk and third-wave ska influences of his formative years. The song structures, however, can be deceptively complex—a nod to songwriters like Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, and Mark Knopfler, whose work Preston began to immerse himself in during his college years. Most importantly, the lyrics are always at the forefront of the music.
Man Up's eleven tracks are evidence of Preston's philosophy that our perception of "normal" song subject matter is too narrow. For example, Preston penned “Mariska Hargitay” to justify the many hours he spent watching “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” marathons on the USA network while eating cheese and crackers. With the beginnings of the poppy chorus in his head, he did a little research about Ms. Hargitay and found out that she is as awesome in real life as her character is on SVU. On another Wikipedia adventure, Preston came across the concept of Mitochondrial Eve, whom geneticists theorize is everyone on earth’s most recent, common female ancestor. He decided that she, too, was awesome and deserved a song.
Of course, there are songs about love and love lost—including "People In Love," a song that was also featured on Striking a Serious Pose. Preston realized that it was a strong song but that the fake piano he used on the first album sounded... well, fake, so he re-recorded it for Man Up. This fits in with his overall, laborious approach to music writing; knowing that there is a big difference between what one can get away with playing live and what bears repeated listening, Preston paid meticulous attention to the details of the album. He hopes that the more people listen to Man Up, the more layers they will notice.