Features Interviews Murder By Death

Interviews: Murder By Death

It's a little while after soundcheck and I've lined up shots of Jameson along the corner of the bar. I motion towards the drinks as Adam Turla walks over, but he smiles and shakes his head.

"It's the fourth shot I've had to turn down tonight!" he says laughing. We leave the shots and Adam and I walk backstage to chat.

This is the third time I've interviewed Murder by Death. I began seeing the group late in my high school career, and since that time I've racked up a number of their of concerts due to the band's previously hectic tour schedule. Adam has always been friendly and generous with his time after the performances, which is how the two of us first met, and one of the reasons why I'm trying to goad him into drinking with me. I remind him that his band has made a career singing about whiskey, but he's still not having it.

"If I had every drink that someone offered me…you can't do that all the time. I've got to be smart."

At the time I didn't know this would end up being a larger theme for our conversation. Talking to Adam for the next forty-five minutes, however, it's clear that after over a dozen years spent as one of the hardest working bands around, Murder by Death are starting to act like one of the smartest.

I'm not the first person to make this observation. After 2012's wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for the group's album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, media outlets labeled the band as entrepreneurs, and along with fellow Kicksstarter Amanda Palmer, began citing Murder by Death as the vanguard for the DIY culture for the internet age. It's also around this time that the band's music began appearing more readily in other mediums, showing up in television shows, video games, and most famously in the trailer for Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards. This exposure has lead to some interesting opportunities, including lectures/speeches on crowdfunding at various institutions for high learning, but while their Kickstarter or commercial placement may have lead to more awareness of the band, the singer takes it all in stride. When I asked the unavoidable questions about the band's crowdfunding campaign this is how Adam responds:

"People want to be part of something, I think, and Kickstarter…It's really just a well designed platform to market your album. The fans like it. If we end up doing it again for the next album, my main thing is going to be like: ALBUM IS MADE! The only thing we're doing here is pre-selling it, and there are a few extra things you can get, too. If you think it's funny or interesting or cool you can get it."

Adam talks about these things with ease and comfort: at this point of their career the band's extracurriculars have become so engrained within their mythos that they often become the main focus of many articles and interviews. This isn't to say that all of these things have been heavily planned or thought out. The progression has been the natural course for where Murder By Death are at and how they want to represent themselves. Take, for example, the band's three day residency at the Stanley Hotel, the iconic Colorado setting for Steven King's The Shining , early next year. The upcoming concerts will be the second time the band have taken over the hotel's ballroom, and while the more cynical might view the event as a cash grab, it's hard to think of a better setting for Murder By Death's atmospheric drinking tales or moody cello. Besides, when the ability to play at the Stanley comes up in conversation, Adam is downright giddy.

"It's an idea I had about two and a half years ago. I wanted to perform at the Stanley Hotel Concert Hall, which is haunted, and is a beautiful old concert hall. It's next to the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King's The Shining. It's two miles north of Denver, in Rocky Mountain National Park, with beautiful hiking and beautiful scenery…and ghosts. We announced two shoes at only 300 people a night capacity and they instantly sold out. It's not that different than a normal show but there is just something in the air, and something about the concoction to the movie, the haunting, their connection to the music, and most people dressing up. I don't know. It's amazing."

Amongst all the talk of how the band operates, surprisingly what a lot of other articles overlook is that none of Murder By Death's success would even be possible without the work they put into their music. The group have been together for over a dozen years now, and in that time have worked to grow and cultivated their sound to its current iteration. From the Johnny Cash inspired vocals to the beautiful layering of sounds backing the tracks, a Murder By Death track is instantly recognizable within the first couple seconds of a song. The band is currently in the midst of recording their latest album, composed mainly of songs Adam has been working on over the past year, and sees the band’s first release with touring member David Fountain.

"David is a fucking incredible studio guy. I would say, ‘Hey, can you do some back-up vocals,’ and fifteen minutes later there would be the tightest most perfect back-up vocals for the whole song. Same with any instruments I'd ask him to play. I couldn't believe it and neither could the engineers. The other day I caught him tuning one of those African thumb pianos. He's half mad scientist."

As our conversation finishes up, I try one more time to get Adam to take a shot with me, and again he shakes his head and laughs. Later that night the band plays one of the best shows I've ever seen them perform to the biggest crowd I've ever seen them play in front of. They're tight and pitch perfect, causally bantering back and forth with each other and the audience, and more than anything they seem like they're having a lot of fun. It's a great look for Murder By Death, truly well earned. Look for the band's new album out early next year.

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Words by Graham Isador on Oct. 13, 2014, 4:08 p.m.

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Murder By Death

Posted by Graham Isador on Oct. 13, 2014, 4:08 p.m.

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