Interview: Murder By Death

When you have a voice that sounds like a resurrected Johnny Cash dabbling in the forces of evil with Glenn Danzig, no one really expects songs about girls, cars and endless summers to come rolling off of your tongue. Indeed, Murder By Death’s Adam Turla is well-accustomed to narrating stories through song with heavier themes – sin, guilt, revenge, and (of course) death, just to name a few. However, the band’s most recent full-length release, Red of Tooth and Claw, is much more than an assortment of direction-less tragedy. Murder By Death bring the spirit of centuries old Americana to life with haunting, ragged tinged tales that instantly provoke brutal self-reflection. In anticipation of their Friday show at the Annex, Turla recently took the time to answer several questions about the band’s inspiration, and the art of storytelling.

Tell me about how you all found each other and created the band.

We were drinking buddies at college in Bloomington, Indiana – thought it would be fun to have a different kind of band.

What were your musical experiences growing up?

I took blues/jazz studies from 13-16 and occasionally played live in a group with my teacher in Detroit. Sarah [Balliet, cello/keys] went to high school at a youth performing arts school in Kentucky, and Dagan [Thogerson, percussion] and Matt [Armstrong, bass] were always looking to be in rock bands.

What inspired you to start writing?

A lack of anyone else I knew writing original stuff. Same reason I started singing.

There’s a line in “Boy Decide” that goes, “You’re too old to fuck around and too young to die.” Did you relate to this stuck-in-the-middle kind of existence before making the decision to seriously pursue music?

We never actually made a decision to seriously pursue music. It kind of just happened, and suddenly it was our lives. Sarah actually came to Indiana University with the intention of going to the music school here (one of the best in the country) and then decided she didn’t want a music career…ironically, two months later, she joined the band that gave her one.

That line from “Boy Decide” is very reminiscent of topics like aimless youth, societal dissatisfaction and moments of significant personal choice that were popular with beat poets. Is literature a big influence for you? If so, who are some of the writers you admire?

Literature is a huge influence and interest of mine. When I was 15 the beat poets were of major to interest to me with themes of Buddhism (which I went to college to study), and travel. My favorite authors have been pretty steady for the last 5 years, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

How did Tent Show Records come about?

A strange record deal that involved having our own label that was paid for by someone else. It worked and didn’t work—we didn’t have time to run a label for anything but our own bands and didn’t want to sign a band and then not have time to work hard for them.

How do your songs usually evolve from initial idea to finished piece?

I write the melody and lyrics all in my head and then eventually show it to the band who make it real.

How much of your own life are you comfortable injecting into your music?

Some, but like my favorite authors I like to fictionalize some of it and wrap a shroud of mystery around some of the stories.

Why do you think music is such an effective vehicle for the stories you create?

Brevity. I have more trouble writing long passages.

There’s a Greil Marcus quote that says, “It is a sure sign that a culture has reached a dead end when it is no longer intrigued by its myths.” Taking this into consideration, it seems that your band is doing all that it can to perpetuate American culture. What attracts you to the mythology and romanticism of old America?

Exactly what you are suggesting – fear of a dead end in culture. With 500 channels on cable, entire neighborhoods of boorish taupe monstrosities, and Paris Hilton a major news figure, I try to give people a little more credit for the kind of material they can take in. We create stories that attempt to have a meaning, rather than temporary entertainment.

Your lyrics frequently describe themes of physical suffering and a kind of dark emotional desperation that isn’t always easy to find in modern music, but they’re common in old traditional folk and blues. Do you think our generation is at all affected by the more “sanitized” content in popular modern art, music and literature?

Maybe. I think giving people only media that is easy to swallow is practically criminal. Ok ha maybe not that bad. But luckily there will always be an ebb and flow of intelligent trends in order to counteract the inane.

Lots of your songs (like “The Big Sleep” for example) seem to hint at religious prophecy. Do you look to religious texts as models of powerful storytelling?

The greatest, most insanely improbable stories are our religious stories. They illustrate peoples’ fears and hopes.

Do you ever worry that the excitement of your music takes away from the power of your words, or does it alternately serve to amplify their affect?

We attempt to have the music evoke the tone of the lyrics – we spend a lot of time trying to create an interplay.

Tell me about recording Red of Tooth and Claw. How did that experience compare to the recording of your other albums?

We were very practiced and just blew through the 3 weeks. The producer Trina Shoemaker was a badass – we just went in, played 2 or 3 takes and it sounded great. It was a very organic recording with few little edits.

What do you enjoy about performing live?

Everything.

What is the most important thing you try to achieve when sharing your music with a crowd?

Not fucking up because my mind wanders.
Murder By Death will be in town on Friday the 29th for their 9:30 pm show at the Annex. Madison’s own National Beekeepers Society and Crane Your Swan Neck open the show.
-Shelley Peckham

Murder By Death- Brother

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August 27, 2008

Shows To See This Week (If you like…)

Friday May 9

If you like Matt Pond PA, Stars, or Iron & Wine try..

MARGOT AND THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO’S with special guests CAMERON McGILL + JENTRI COLELLO

Genre: Rock/ Indie/ Folk

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s is an 8-piece indie-pop/orchestral pop band from Indianapolis, Indiana. The band’s sound, categorized as “chamber pop”, has been compared to the indie rock groups Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, and The Shins.

Quiet As A Mouse- Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s

9:00 pm @ Orpheum Stage Door 608.255.8755 $10 adv $12 dos – all ages

BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Friday May 9

If you like Blitzen Trapper, Ryan Adams, or Neko Case then try

THE AVETT BROTHERS with JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD

Genre: Folk Rock

4 Free Avett Brothers Song Downloads

9:30 pm @ High Noon Saloon 608.268.1122 $15 adv /$18 dos – 18+

BUY TICKETS NOW!

Presented with Muzzle of Bees

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Saturday May 10

If you like Matt Nathanson, Nicole Atkins, or Ingrid Michaelson try..

Three of Hearts Tour featuring TODD CAREY / ALEXA WILKINSON / JONATHAN CLAY

1 Free Todd Carey Song Download

Saturday 9:30 pm @ Cafe Montmartre 608.255.5900 $8 adv $10 dos – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Saturday May 10

If you like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or The Detroit Cobras try..

THE KILLS with special guests TELEPATHE

Genre: Rock/ Electronic/Indie

Fever- The Kills

NPR.org, April 4, 2008 Article and song of the day

Saturday 9:30 pm @ The Annex 608.256.7750 $12 – 18+

BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Monday May 12

If you like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, or Drive-by Truckers try

JAMES MCMURTRY with THE DEDRINGERS

Genre: Rock

James on NPR’s All Things Considered

Monday 8:00 pm @ High Noon Saloon 608.268.1122 $15 adv – 21+

BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Wednesday May 14

If you like Ryan Adams, Okkervil River, or Jason Collett try

JOSH RITTER with DAWN LANDES

Genre: Rock/ Indie/ Folk Rock

“Ritter’s off-the-cuff approach intersects with a winning pop melody..the neatly arranged horns, fiddles, and piano play against Ritter’s tumbling lyrics. -Onion AV Club

To the Dogs or Whoever- Josh Ritter

3 Free Josh Ritter Song Downloads

Wednesday 8:30 pm @ High Noon Saloon 608.268.1122 $15 adv – 18+

BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Thursday May 15

KT TUNSTALL with special guest PADDY CASEY

Thursday 7:30 pm @ Barrymore Theatre 608.241.8864 $27 – all ages

SOLD OUT!

Presented with JAM Productions

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This W(eek!) in Shows

Watch out Madison music fans, lots of shows to check out this week highlighting talent in smaller rooms. Catch them before they are too big to get cozy with!

Today Friday April 25

SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD

Genre: Bluegrass

“Slap your knee to these guys and you’ll be sore the next day.” – New York Press

Split Lip Rayfield- Truth and Lies

With THE JAVELINAS Friday 9:30 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $12 adv – 21+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Sunday April 27

THE ACORN

Genre: Indie/ Folk Rock

“..a melodic hodgepodge of brass, rumbling drums, intricately plucked guitars, and Klausener’s plangent vocal melody do more than their parts to propel a charming, inspirational lyric. Elsewhere, the group avoids generic world-music traps, using dynamic shifts and evocative instrumentation to forward the narrative…” -Pitchfork

The Acorn- The Flood Pt.1

With special guests JOHN CRAIGIE + MARTY FINKEL Sunday 8:00 pm @ Café Montmartre 255-5900 $8 BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Monday April 28

LIONS

Genre: Rock

Lions create a blend of retro riffage, artful noise, melodic interludes, and revolutionary attitude with a live show that has been described as “furious” with “a full- frontal assault” that will leave you “half-deaf and disoriented.”

Lions- Metal Heavy Lady featured on the Guitar Hero 3 game

With DROIDS ATTACK and UNITED SONS OF TOIL Monday 8:30 pm @ The Annex 256-7750 $7 – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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Tuesday April 29

FOALS

Genre: Pop

“The British band takes cues from recent dance-rock and post-punk revivalism as much as the early-’80s stuff that inspired the revival in the first place” -Onion AV Club

Foals- Balloons

2 Free Song Downloads Here

With WORRIER Tuesday – early show 7:00 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $10 dos – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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THE MEDIC DROID + A CURSIVE MEMORY

Genre: Techno/ Rock/ Power Pop/ Indie/ Alternative

The Medic Droid

Free Song Download From The Medic Droid

Genuine sound that dances with ACM’s overwhelming sense of raucous energy and refusal to take themselves too seriously.

A Cursive Memory- Everything

Learn More About Both of These Bands or Enter to Win Tickets Here

With special guests SINGLE FILE and THE WHITE TIE AFFAIR Tuesday 6:30 pm (doors open 6:00 pm) @ Orpheum Stage Door 255-8755 $8 / $10 dos – all ages BUY TICKETS NOW ! Tickets also available at Strictly Discs

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Thursday May 1

CHRIS PUREKA

Genre: Americana/ Indie/ Acoustic

One stark, solo acoustic guitar builds into layered swan songs and raspy serenades that resonate with unassuming depth and candor.

Chris Pureka- Interview and Song Momentary Thief

Plus MARTHA BERNER special early start time Thursday 6:30 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $10- 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW!

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PETE FRANCIS (of DISPATCH) + MATT POND PA

SORRY EVERYBODY- THIS SHOW HAS BEEN CANCELED BY THE ARTISTS. WE WILL FILL YOU IN IF WE LEARN MORE- REFUNDS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE POINT OF PURCHASE!

Genre: Folk Rock/ Indie/ Pop

“Pete Francis (of Dispatch) presents a style combination of Funk, jazz, reggae, folk with musical influences of Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis, which culminates into a sound that takes you on an amazing ride.” -CD Baby

Pete Francis- Shooting Star and the Ambulance

“Employing handclaps, sing-along choruses, and guitar solos with equal measure, the more intricate musical arrangements punctuate and add layers to Pond’s slow-burning guitar melodies.” -The Boston Globe

Matt Pond PA- Sunlight

With special guest DICK PRALL Thursday 9:00 pm @ High Noon Saloon 268-1122 $15 adv and dos – 18+ BUY TICKETS NOW !