Murder By Death belong to the same musical family of Against Me!, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Handsome Family. They sing dark songs. They come from a folk tradition. Their songs are full of nature imagery. They are a critically acclaimed act that recently released another critically acclaimed album, Big Dark Love, and similar to Against Me!, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Handsome Family, they’re happy people.
An example of their dark, beautiful sound with nature imagery is the single from their 2012 album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. If you don’t enjoy the song and video for “Lost River,” you can stop reading now. The proof of happiness comes later.
We checked in with lead singer and guitarist Adam Turla while he was driving east from a west coast tour. Murder By Death performs at Bowery Ballroom Saturday, February 28, Music Hall of Williamsburg Sunday, March 1 and Black Cat Saturday, March 7. Hopefully all trucks will remain in one piece.
How is the tour going?
The shows are going great, the biggest tour we’ve ever done in terms of numbers and everything, so that’s really exciting. We’ve just had kind of a lot of bad luck. Our van broke down twice, gear broke down two nights ago, the last week has been kind of bananas. I think the fact that the shows are so good, that’s the reason we’re here.
I’m just looking at the other side of the highway right now and it’s just miles of trucks.
Where are you?
We’re in Kentucky now going back home and [it’s] just been a weird winter.
Why did you release this album in February? This seems like a horrible time to tour.
I actually really like touring in February, because you’re not competing with everybody. We were on the west coast and it was 80 degrees. The worst day of the last three weeks was like 50 and then just getting back home was the trick. It’s been really good, it’s been a really mild winter – wow, oh my god, a truck just got cut in half.
We just drove by this truck and the back of the truck was cut straight in half, open, with all the cops there all over the highway. Crazy.
Are you headed back to Indiana?
We’ve got a bass player who lives in Indiana still and Sarah and I live in Louisville, Kentucky now. And our keyboard player lives in Atlanta and our drummer lives in Oregon, and so we’re all over. Our tour manager was trying to fly back to Denver and his plane actually got frozen to the gate. They couldn’t detach it so it never took off.
After some more confusing talk about a truck accident, snow and trucks breaking in half due to snowy conditions, we finally got to the music.
I’ve liked your band since your second record, 2003’s Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them? My problem with your band, not your fault, my problem, is that I thought you guys were a hardcore band before I ever heard your music. Do you ever feel like with the name of your band and with the titles of your albums that you’re giving yourselves a disadvantage?
The movie Murder by Death (1976) was like the most ridiculous murder mystery comedy.
It does scare off people and it scares off sponsors and all sorts of like everything, but you know we were coming from more of like the rock and roll punk rock basement show type world, so we were never thinking about that when we started it. And to be fair like yes, I mean this band isn’t designed to be a pop group or like a misunderstood cult band,
Even if it would have been easier to not have to lose opportunities because of that. You know, I mean there’s a million bands out there that are designed for being like a hit – like Americana, I know three years ago everybody’s got an Americana band all of a sudden. So maybe it’s better to stick out and maybe it’s better to get people who aren’t just cashing in on the trend. I look at it both ways, we’ve certainly lost opportunities but we also gained fans by sort of placing ourselves apart from everybody else.
In a way it’s sort of a sorting out process. No one is accidentally going to see you guys, they’re going to have to seek you out and know they already like you.
Yeah and the truth is like we have a great career, we do well. And you know I get that question all the time about limitations and the band name, and the truth is we have a good band, so it’s really hard to think about tangible things we’ve missed out on, I mean There are tours that didn’t give us a chance because they think we’re heavier than we are and there are tours that say just the name turns people off because they’re worried that the audience will be afraid. But if their audience is going to be afraid of a band name that’s a joke, those people probably weren’t going to respond to the subtleties and the really subtle differences in the songs. They probably weren’t going to like us anyway. It’s a process which for us, I think we just feel lucky to have had a long, good career.
What I want to know is like you seem like in terms of like real life, you’re like happy right?
Your album is not happy.
Yeah, well, if we were a movie we’d be like a black comedy. There’s a sense of humor in some of the songs but it’s all dark comedy dark humor you know. And yeah, I know that we make very dark music but I mean I think the thing is that we just think it’s more interesting. Most of the stuff out there, both my wife and I and the other guys, we’re just not really interested in like the stuff that’s out there in the music world. And so we try to do something that sticks out a little bit and is more exciting for us, both to play and to write, but also to hear every night. And you know I think, again, pluses and minuses.
Sometimes you have people that get it and they’re like, “I love this, I’ve never heard of something like this, you’re my new favorite band.” We get people who’re big fans and follow us for a really long time, you know we’re their favorite band or whatever, that’s great. But we also get people who try to box us into some genre that we don’t give a shit about and then say that we’re not as good as another band at being part of that genre. Like well, yeah, cause we don’t want to be. That’s a complication that trying to do your own thing or you know basically people listening to a song or two and making some uninformed decision about you.
Well then who do you consider some of your peers? Who are some of the people who are doing some exciting things that you have a connection with?
In terms of our peers, there’s people we’ve played with over the years that we came up with, those are our contemporaries. I mean back in the day I remember we were kind of coming up at the same time as William Elliott Whitmore probably done more shows with them with than any other act, just a guy who had a great voice and picked up a banjo at a time when I didn’t know any band that was using a banjo at that point. Not like, unless they were traditional music, which was not popular in the indie or mainstream at the time. You know, I watched him for probably nine years before I saw another band with a banjo. He was doing his own thing and the pop world kind of caught up to that and now its used very commonly.
Against Me! was a great punk band, or is a great punk band, that we played with a long time ago and kind of, I think, really worked with a genre that’s usually is kind of predictable. I mean god their new record takes punk rock to gender issues, I mean that’s pretty wild, you know, I think that;s great.
I read a crazy book of poetry by a woman named Anne Carson [Autobiography of Red] the other day that has this totally bizarre reinvention of Greek myth and really crazy heavy stuff. I like that it’s really adventurous. I just like people who don’t really worry about just doing the normal thing and they just do whatever makes them happy.