I had heard of Murder By Death before, but I never listened to them until I saw them in 2009. That changed everything. They were opening for the Gaslight Anthem, and I remember that before they even started their set I was intrigued by the fact they had a cello player. Sometimes, a band pops into your life at the perfect moment; there’s something you’ve been missing out on, and you don’t realize until you first hear it. That’s what happened with me and Murder By Death that night. As they played their set, the only way I could think of describing them was like this: they were like Johnny Cash meets Cursive. Take the subtle country twang and the deep booming voice of lead singer Adam Turla, add some indie and alternative rock influences, and throw in that gorgeous cello, and voila: you have something that’s pretty hard to describe; you have Murder By Death. There’s something about them, something cinematic that sets them apart from other bands. Needless to say, I was totally hooked by the end of the set. I needed to hear everything they’d made, from the concept album about the Devil waging war against a southwestern town, Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? to the very different, but equally epic Red of Tooth And Claw. The more I heard, the more I liked them, and I jumped at the chance to see them live earlier this year at Johnny Brenda’s. Currently, Murder By Death are gearing up to record the follow-up to 2010’s Good Morning, Magpie. I had the opportunity to ask Adam Turla a few questions about the new album, and you can check out his answers here:
Question: So you’re writing a new album right now, right? How’s that going?
Answer: Pretty much ready to go! We’re starting recording in early January. [We’re] very excited. The material is particularly strong.
Q: For Good Morning, Magpie, you went out into the woods and wrote the majority of the album. Did you do anything like that for this writing process?
A: We mostly holed up in the basement and just spent a massive amount of time writing. I started much earlier than usual, so we had more songs to choose from and more time to develop ideas.
Q: What are the new songs like, musically and lyrically? Are they in the same vein as Magpie, a logical progression perhaps, or a departure?
A: A little bit of everything. Since we added Scott Brackett [formerly of Okkervil River] as a multi instrumentalist, we are able to do a lot more detail in the songs. It’s been really fun being able to write with piano again, and also add accordion, mandolin, vocal harmonies, and percussion. There are several songs that sound more like our 2003 album Who Will Survive, several that have a Magpie feel, et cetera.
Q: Until Magpie, Murder By Death has always had a history of doing epic concept albums. Is this going to be a concept album with a story, or something more like Magpie (a collection of songs that fit well together and share some themes but don’t tell a story per se)?
A: It’s kind of both. The album fits into the story told in Who Will Survive and Red of Tooth and Claw, but I didn’t want to force a story. The songs were coming in so strong that changing lyrics to fit an absolute story perfectly seemed like a sacrifice to the album. Obviously my opinion is biased, but I am a pretty self-critical person, and I would say that there are three of the best songs we have ever written on this record. I’m extremely excited to record this album.
Q: Typically, do you do all the writing lyrically and musically, or is the music more of a group effort–like things just come together in rehearsals and whatnot?
A: I write most of the lyrics while writing the skeletons of songs, but a couple of the songs’ lyrics came after the music in this case. Sarah wrote a lot of the lyrics for one song this time, and Scott wrote another. It’s been fun having help in that department!
Q: What inspires your lyrics? I imagine it varies since you have albums like Who Will Survive that tell pretty elaborate stories with little basis in reality, at least in terms of major plot points (zombies, the devil, etc), and then you have Magpie, which seems more concrete at times, grounded in reality to a certain extent. Do your inspirations vary for writing different types of songs?
A: Sure. The albums have been written at different times in our career so we have various inspirations and goals. I always want the lyrics to fit into the “world of Murder By Death” though–it grounds the changes we do to the style of the music. Often my lyrics are a response to what I feel is missing in most music I am hearing at the time–I get mad because I hear some crappy song that gets popular in the indie world, and I rush to do the opposite of whatever they did. I guess creating a song to me is a soothing way to fill the world with the opposite of whatever I hate.
Q: When can we expect to see you touring again, specifically coming to Philadelphia again?
Probably not until we have the new album put-on, so maybe late spring.
Q: You have a lot of songs spread out over a few albums that reference or mention whiskey, including one that’s explicitly about whiskey/drinking, “As Long As there is Whiskey in the World.” Any favorite types of whiskey?
We live in southern Indiana which is bourbon country. The stores all carry the small batch bourbons of our neighbor Kentucky, which is about 80 miles away. I like most bourbons with a hand written number on them, as long as they aren’t too oakey. George T. Stagg, Bookers, Bulleit–all that good stuff. I’m also happy rye has gotten more popular, and thus easy to find lately. Bottoms up.