Interview by Jonah Bayer
It's difficult to think of anyone similar to Murder By Death
when it comes to both their history and musical output. For over a decade this Indiana-based rock act has toured with everyone from Poison The Well
, and in the process they've cultivated a cult-like fan base via their unique sound, which mingles elements of country, indie rock and alternative music into collections of songs that are the sonic equivalent of No Country For Old Men
While frontman Adam Turla's distinctive baritone is reminiscent of Johnny Cash, though as a christian, Cash probably wouldn't have approved of all of the references to whiskey and the devil which dominate Murder By Death's lyrics on their latest disc, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
. That veil of somberness, however, has been the key to Murder By Death's ability to cultivate a unique relationship with their fans, who raised $187,000 on Kickstarter to help fund this release.
PureVolume: You're currently celebrating the tenth anniversary of your debut Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing by performing songs from that album live. What's that experience been like so far?
Adam Turla: The parallels between then and now are funny. Our CD release tour for that album was our first cross-country tour. It was a month long and the CDs showed up at the second to last show because they were late — and the tour we're on now was supposed to be the album release tour, but now the album isn't coming out until late September. Our luck hasn't changed but the band is certainly much better because we're playing The Casbah in San Diego today, and almost exactly to the date 10 years ago I remember there were two people there to see us at the same venue.
PV: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
is your first album with multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett [formerly of Okkervil River
]. What do you think he brought to the table?
AT: Scott is playing like, seven different instruments on this album, and there are tons of back-up vocals which we've never been able to do before because the other guys in the band don't sing, so there's all sorts of cool harmonies. There's a vibe that we haven't been able to tap into for a long time by having an organ again, and there's also a new sound from the mandolin, accordion and percussion that we've been able to add by having a fifth member and a guy who can pretty much just pick up anything and play it. It was more of a challenge to arrange this album but it was also more exciting.
PV: Many songwriters write in the first person whereas the songs on this album are third-person storytelling. Is that perspective something you've always gravitated toward?
AT: The way I like to write is to try to tell a story that, through a metaphor or the eyes of a character, reveals some sort of truth about life or the world, and that's one of the things I really focused on with this record. With the song we already released, "I Came Around," I wanted to write a song about being wrong, and regretting the way you judged someone and it being too late to do something about it. It's about going to a wake for someone you didn't like and realizing in the way that people interacted at the wake that you were just judging this person. Everybody saw this person in the same way but you chose to see them as a negative thing. I just wanted to create some complex stories that also made for fun and interesting songs.
PV: That example also includes another common trait of your writing — it's really dark.
AT: I think any writer, at some point, has to decide what they think is missing from whatever media it is they work with, and my thought is that it's your job to fill those missing gaps with something that needs to exist. In the 12 years that we've been playing, I've seen a lot of sort of self-indulgent, throwaway pop lyrics happening from the indie scene where it's just like, junky love songs that are emotional sort of nonsense, and I just never really have been interested in that.
PV: Speaking of which, Murder By Death is unique in the sense that you've had a really interesting trajectory. You've never had a hit but you seem to keep getting more popular.
AT: We don't know any experience other than just finding our way with the small degree of success that we have achieved. I've seen a lot bands appear on the scene for a moment, get the same tour we were fighting for and then disappear into obscurity. Of course you feel a little jealous at first when bands take the quick road — and then a year or two flies by and you can't even remember their name anymore. Nobody does. Suddenly, one day you realize that maybe the long way is pretty fantastic because you've created this relationship with your fans over time that most bands don't have.