With a successful Kickstarter campaign behind them, a new album in stores and a lengthy tour underway, the true heirs to Bloodshot’s “insurgent” legacy continue to do things their way, period.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
With their seventh album, the Indiana-based indie rock/folk/country band Murder By Death didn’t exactly intend to write another thematic album. But once the songs were recorded and the final pieces of Big Dark Love (Bloodshot) were falling into place, a theme started to emerge: non-traditional love songs. From the paternal love to a stalker’s obsession, no one can blame the folks in Murder By Death for writing a clichéd love song.
With Big Dark Love, the band best enjoyed with a glass a whiskey has turned in their strongest collection of songs yet in their more than decade-long tenure, blurring the line between haunting and beauty.
Adam Turla’s subtle, but emotive vocals blend perfectly with the cello/guitar combo. Driving through Texas in the middle of their latest tour recently, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the record and talk about why he could never be in a genre-specific band.
The group: Turla, drummer Dagan Thogerson, keyboardist David Fountain, bassist Matt Armstrong, cellist Sarah Balliet.
BLURT: Congratulations on this new album. And it looks like the release had a really good first week in terms of sales.
TURLA: Thanks, yeah, it’s our seventh record and I’m just happy that people are still interested and it seems that the fans are pretty excited by it and that’s great. We like the record a lot and for us, it’s like let’s get over this release week and get back to doing what we do, play our shows.
This was the second record you did through crowd-funding, through Kickstarter, right?
Yeah and although I always see it as we run a pre-sale through Kickstarter. The record was made and it was going to come out, I just see it more for pre-selling. Every band pre-sells, we just do a bigger, weirder one through Kickstarter.
What kinds of things were you able to offer through Kickstarter?
It’s mostly just the physical goods. The record, we sell it on CD, but the vinyl is always pretty popular. We also did a poster art book, which is 15 years of posters from Murder By Death shows that I’ve collected over our career. There’s all these different artists that we had to contact and arrange the use of these flyers. It’s really cool. I think there’s about 100 or so of our favorite posters.
There was also some goofy prizes; like one, we’re going to the Kentucky Derby with this couple and we’re throwing a bourbon tasting party and having a wild day in Kentucky with them. There’s a couple of private shows that we’re doing, including a birthday party and a backyard party. We also did a Golden Ticket, where you can get into any show we’re doing. We get e-mails from fans all the time from fans that are looking to help us out, so we took some of the ideas that these fans have suggested and I put them all in one place.
You guys have not shied away from putting out very –specific thematic albums. Is there an overall theme to the songs on Big Dark Love?
There wasn’t intended to be. I started writing the record almost two years ago now and then we started rehearsing it last year and scrapped a lot of songs. I’d say if there is a thread, it’s that a lot of the songs are non-traditional love songs and they’re about love in a way that’s not just like a pop song love. There’s not an obvious “I love you” or “Why do you break my heart?” type song, but it’s more like actual love; I’m conflicted in my emotions… I love this person, but. I knew that this would be potentially polarizing and the reactions have mostly been positive, but some people just don’t get the subtly. It’s fund. We just wanted to do something that was a little less obvious.
You also talk about paternal love on one song and that’s just not something you hear on most albums nowadays.
Yeah, that was out point. That song you’re talking about, “Natural Pearl,” fits that bill and I think the idea was try and do something more interesting than the obvious song. I don’t listen to pop music and I don’t really like the pop music that’s out there right now. That’s not what I want to write about; that’s not my calling. I write about what I find interesting and just hope that people will get it and that it will have some effect on them.
Compared to the last few albums, it seems like there are a handful of songs on Big Dark Love that are a lot more accessible. I’m not sure if that was intentional.
I think it’s mostly coincidence, but I think it was more a result of when Sarah (Balliet) and I started working on songs, one of the things we both agreed we wanted to do on this record was be less verbose. Our mantra was brevity. I’m aware that one of the things I do a lot in my songwriting is pack a lot of words in and have a lot of versus, because I do enjoy the story-telling element. I love the idea of telling a while story in four minutes. But we just thought, let’s try and do a whole story where we leave a little more to the listener’s imagination. Let’s sing about situations, but have it be a little more vague and as a result as couple of the songs on the record are actually more accessible because they are more melodically-driven and it’s simple. When you hear a good pop song, it’s usually pretty simple. It’s not a super ornate thing, it’s usually pretty simple. We were just thinking about it as let’s not get stuck in our old habits, let’s go the other way.
Though many would argue that Murder By Death is an Americana band, I first come across you guys in punk zines…
You seem to seamlessly move through both genres pretty easily. Has that led to some weird tours or show pairings?
We’ve done it all. I think the truth is that the band has never fit in anywhere and it’s been our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. We don’t get a lot of festival offers because, I think, festivals want a more straight forward band; we’re going to get a punk band or they feel we’re not right for an Americana festival. I think the band sometimes scares off some people. We have played with all types of bands and I attribute a lot of our success as being willing to play in front of any audience and just play. For that reason, I’ve always been attracted to the punk mentality.
The reason I’ve never started just a punk band is because I don’t think I could just be a genre band. I want to do my thing and love it or leave it. I think that’s why some have been so kind as to embrace us is because we do what we want. I’ve talked to punk bands that actually feel conflicted about writing outside of their genre because they’re worried that their fans will leave them. That’s the saddest thing. You should fucking be rebels… it’s a shame when your rebellious genre is trying to contain you.
I think that’s pretty cool when someone like Chuck Ragan, who is known for loud punk rock with Hot water Music, goes the acoustic route on his solo stuff.
I think that makes sense with someone like Chuck. I was talking with Rocky Votolato, who we’re on tour with, and we were saying there are a lot of similarities between what is being called folk punk now or Americana and punk. There are simple chord structures, simple melodies and the approach to the songs and it actually makes a lot of sense as punk rockers get older they go back into time a little bit and embrace this other tradition and it works… It’s tough when people expect you to play the same music when you get older that you played when you were 18.
You think of a band like Blink-182; they have kids and are still out there singing about high school.
I just cannot imagine. I’ve thought about that sort of career and what does it feel like when you’re something years old and the only people who understand you are the ones that are being nostalgic or are 15 years old. That’s crazy… That would just be hard.
Murder By Death wrap up their US tour next week then head to Europe and the UK. Tour dates at their website.