Murder By Death is a group not easily defined by current labels.
For over 10 years, many have tried to label the band hailing from
Indiana. Comprised of singer Adam Turla, bassist Matt Armstrong,
cellist Sarah Balliet and drummer Dagan Thogerson, Murder
By Death has tried to side step convoluted genres and sub-genres.
Some will say alt-country, some will say gothic southern rock, but
singer Adam Turla likes to keep things simple. Rock and roll.
Before their show at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA on March 5,
I got a chance to catch up with a very under-the-weather Adam Trula
and talk about labels, stage presence and what the future holds for
Murder By Death.
Hybrid Magazine: If somebody's never heard a Murder By Death
song before, how would you describe your sound?
Adam Turla: Ideally I'd like to say, go online and listen
to it, you know, but you don't just say that. When you run into a
guy in a deli, like we did today, we say, "dark rock and roll
with a little country mixed up, but it's not heavy." For a person
that has no perspective on the difference between Americana and indie,
it's like we don't know what we're doing anyway so we just simplify
it. Rock and roll.
HM: You definitely have a unique sound. When you first started,
did you set out to create an alt-country, rock, post-punk band with
an electric cello? Or did it just kinda happen?
Adam: You know, it's funny, when we started this band, I don't
think I had ever heard the team "post punk" or Americana.
What we were really just doing, we were a bunch of kids in college,
sophomore and freshman, and we used to get drunk. When we would get
drunk together we found out we could all play instruments. We used
to play and just have fun. Then a couple people saw us and thought
we should try harder. So we kinda gave it a whirl and slowly, very
slowly, we got some notoriety. Offers for shows; opening for bands.
Eventually we got a couple of big opening slots, and suddenly we had
ourselves sort of a miniature career. So we had no intentions of doing
anything other than making up some songs. All we knew is that we wanted
to be different. There was no band that we were just trying to sound
like. We were like, let's just do our own thing. This song could sound
like "this" and this song could be totally different. We
started very eclectic.
HM: So, the name Murder By Death comes from the satirical
who-done-it mystery film from 1976 by the same name. From that, what
influences you other than music? Books? Film?
Adam: Yeah, that's the main thing with us. We don't do a song
where it sounds like, "this" or "so and so", it's
more just, when I'm writing lyrics at least, I'm thinking about story,
narrative. I'd rather do that and have that sort of cinematic quality
to songs than have it be more of a pop song or a jingly song. It automatically
puts you left of center when you're not writing songs for the same
reasons. We're just trying to do something that's a little different
and trying to develop. Over the years, when we say, "who are
we, what are we trying to become" and I think over the last couple
of years, we've realized we were doing a rock band and we have an
upbeat live show. I like shows that are kinda riled up. Back in the
day we did more quiet stuff than we do now. It was fun for a while,
but frankly it was like, after you've played something like twelve
to thirteen hundred shows, with this band, the rock shows are the
ones that are more memorable and fun than a dreamy kind of quiet show.
HM: Besides people simply enjoying the music, what kind of
feelings, emotions or messages do you want people to take when they
listen to Murder By Death.
Adam: One of the main things I try to do on our albums is,
we have these dark songs where I try to have a little bit of optimism
on the records. The main thing that I try to communicate, if I have
to say, "what is the message I really want to communicate?"
I'm trying to communicate that as dark as it may be, there's always
hope, there's always opportunities to change. There's a lot of songs
that sort of work that message in like "Spring Break 1899",
"End of The Line". Just a lot of songs that have that sort
of hopeful feeling.
HM: I think a lot of that has come out on your newest album,
Adam: Yeah, there's definitely some of that, like the song,
"Yes" is about losing the people you love but just trying
to understand that it's all part of the bigger process. Sort of struggling
and identifying with the challenges of life.
HM: So you guys just finished up a bunch of shows with Builders
and the Butchers and you're going out tonight with Fake Problems,
how has the road been for you guys? You guys seem to tour a lot.
Adam: Yeah, we've toured a little bit less over the last couple
of years, which is nice. And honestly, the shows have been incredible.
Every show has been really good. Every show is full. We're really
lucky, because even though it's taken us a really long time, to get
where we are now, there's always this gradual increase and we're always
doing a little bit better. So it's just really rewarding to see that
after ten and a half years, we're still growing. That's something
that we've seen a lot of with our friends' bands over the years, or
acquaintances we've met, we feel really fortunate that most of the
people we know that had any success kinda skyrocketed up for a minute
and kinda fell back down and we just had this kinda gradual little
upswing. A few more people every time.
HM: Obviously you're kinda sick right now, do you get bent
out of shape and tired of being on the road? You're known as a hardworking
band, what keeps you going? The fans? The excitement still?
Adam: Yeah that's the thing. I feel fucking horrible right
now, but when I get up there, well hopefully I'll be drunk, which
helps, just to power through. We have a day off tomorrow so basically
I'm going to put every ounce of strength I have left into tonight's
show, because, like you said, we have a serious work ethic. We really
try every night. I really want to kill it. So tonight we're gonna
go up there. I'm going to be tired, I'm going to have trouble breathing
and it's going to be hard to sing the big notes. But I think if you
just put everything into it you can usually push the way through the
night. Tomorrow I'm just going to sleep all day and be back at it
by Monday. We wrap up this tour in about 2 weeks and then get my R&R
then. It's like, when you're on the road, the show must go on. You
have to play. People paid to see you, you can't just cancel a show.
Most people will not know that I'm sick. I'm not going to say anything
because why make yourself [look] like some martyr? Unless I'm really
fucking up, then maybe then I'll blame it on that. I'll be like "Aw,
I'm sorry I'm sick!" I try not to mention it. I've been sick
for a week and I haven't mentioned it yet.
HM: So you're just past the ten year mark as a band, what's
the most important thing you've learned throughout this whole experience?
Adam: I think it's really important to learn to get over the
idea that you're just going to be an artist. At some point you have
to learn how to run the band. How to make sure that you can actually
support yourselves. At some point you have to abandon the idea of
being just "the artist". If you get really famous, and everybody
does that work for you, then great, then you can just be that guy
where people just baby you and you just have to write your songs and
show up. But, I think, with the majority of bands, at some point you
learn that you just have to dive in and how to be or understand what
cities you do best in. Where you have a draw. Who should you open
for? I think you just have to try and study what's going on in the
music world and try and learn from it. And that's just good life habits
anyway. It's good to just figure out what you can take from your experience
as a band. I've learned that when you're in a band, it is a business.
Even if you don't want it to be. It has to be. You have to pay your
taxes. So at least you can learn something along the way. Maybe when
you're not in a band, years later, you can apply it to something else.
HM: I know you're not feeling well, so I'll ask you one more.
It's been about a year since Good Morning, Magpie. What's going
on for the future? Are you planning to write more material?
Adam: When we get home from this tour, we're going to be doing
writing and take a little time off. This summer's going to be, we're
doing three or four shows a month to keep well practiced. Then our
summer is going to be all about writing. Hopefully we'll get some
good stuff. We're not going to rush it.
HM: Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.
Adam: No, thank you.
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