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Murder By Death | Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them | interview | Adam Turla | alternative | Lollipop
Murder By Death
Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them? (Eyeball)
by Daniel Lukes
photos by Kristin Callahan
You'd hardly expect the perfect antidote to the current omnipresence of screamo to come from Geoff "Thursday" Rickly's label, Eyeball Records. Yet truth is stranger than fiction, and this is where Bloomington, Indiana quintet Murder By Death ended up when Rickly fell in love with their dark, morbid cello-enhanced tales of whiskey, love, and the devil. MBD's music may sit in that dank and gloomy place somewhere between Leonard Cohen's soulful rasp, Greg Dulli's much-missed Afghan Whigs, and the portentous epics of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but this band doesn't actually sound like anyone else, and if there's any justice in this world, one day, they'll be huge. Sitting in the bar of New York's Bowery Ballroom, frontman Adam Turla answered the questions whilst (eye-catching) cellist Sarah Balliet looked on.
You guys are signed to Eyeball Records: How do you feel about being lumped in with screamo?
It hasn't harmed us, I don't think. We've actually been able to get a pretty open audience, because there'll be the hardcore screamo kids, then there'll be some indie kids, and it's kinda nice. Otherwise, we'd probably just be doing indie shows or rock'n'roll shows. We went on tour with Poison The Well earlier this year. It was a straight-up metal tour, and man, it was awesome. The fans were incredible. That's what makes me happy about the degree of success we have. It's kids from all different styles, fans of all different types of music. They're not just there because we represent the scene they're into at the moment. We don't really fit in with what's going on right now, so it's going to take us longer to find our place. We're still looking, still trying to figure out who our audience is.
A lot of screamo bands say they're influenced by The Smiths. You guys actually are
Matt (bass player) and I definitely grew up on The Smiths, The Cure, and Joy Division. Our first album is more influenced by that sort of stuff. David Bowie has always been a big influence, and Tom Waits - lyrically, and the style of his songwriting - has been an idol.
MBD has a pretty unique sound: How do you describe it when people ask what kind of music you play?
We say dark, epic rock. The key is definitely that it's very epic and dark. Every song is minor. We don't have a single song that's major. It's pretty funny, because at least that is pretty clear. We've been described as pretty much everything. We've gotten a lot of Nick Cave comparisons, which I think is pretty cool. I hadn't heard him when I started the band, but thematically and instrument-wise, I see a similarity, and it's definitely a compliment. We get compared to Cursive a lot by the indie kids, and that I don't see. Rock band with a cello: We're the two bands with a cello right now [if you conveniently overlook Rasputina. -ed].
I'm intrigued by the old-fashioned photos.
That's what we were going for. We've always felt there was something old-fashioned about the music, and one of the greatest compliments we've received is when people say it could've come out thirty years ago as easily as today. I've heard that when some people play the record for their friends, they're like "How did I miss this band when they were around?" That's kind of cool, because I like the old-fashioned setting. We did those death portraits, and our video is set in the Old West. We've worked with authentic 100-year old costumes, and I like the handwritten inlays of the albums. I find it suits the music better than doing some glossy computer-generated picture.
Death crops up a lot. Are you a pretty morbid fellow who dwells on that kind of stuff?
Not as much as you might think. The album Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them? is a story about death, and so there's a lot of carnage, I guess. In college, I took a bunch of classes that focused on Voodoo and shamanism and the dark arts. I think it's very fascinating, so when I go to write a song, I'll make references to things I might've learned in religion classes or literature. The story is that death gets shot in the back in New Mexico and vows revenge. So the main theme is revenge, from his perspective. And for the people in the town he comes to, it's pretty much them waiting to die. So it's about waiting for death as opposed to just contemplating it.
Do you believe in life after death?
Being a Religious Studies student, it's very hard to believe in anything. When you read about Maori tribesman and their conception of death or life after death, next to the Christian context, next to the Buddhist context, they all seem logical enough, they all seem to make sense, so I don't really know what I think. But I do think that in life, whether or not it's after death, you reap what you sow. I feel if you don't live a good life, chances are, it's eventually going to bite you in the ass.
Is the movie you take your name from any good?
It's hilarious. It stars Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Truman Capote, all these famous guys. It came out in 1976 and is a spoof on murder mysteries. It's dark, but kind of humorous, and we felt that worked for us, because our music's so dark, but we don't take ourselves too seriously.