All it takes is one listen to any of Murder By Death’s six albums to know that they are not a singles act. There are no one-hit wonders here, no two minute and 30 second tracks in which two minutes consist of repeated choruses. In other words, they are a band out of time almost, an Indiana ensemble whose recorded work is to be enjoyed as an entire cohesive unit. This isn’t fast food, but something to be savored.
Of course, being a throwback to an earlier era without digital downloads and quick hits for an attention-span deprived world does come with a price, and for Murder By Death, that price was a Kickstarter campaign that hoped to raise $100,000 for the band to release its latest album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, on vinyl.
They didn’t get $100,000 though. Instead, they made it to $187,047, making it the fourth highest funded music campaign on the site.
“It’s pretty scary,” said frontman Adam Turla. “It was fun, and inspiring and interesting, but at times, it was definitely harrowing. I remembered when I pressed launch, we were all together, loading up the trailer for the tour, and I was really stressed out about it because I wasn’t sure if I’d picked the right goal or if I had finished everything and had it all proper. I just wanted to do it right. So there’s definitely a moment of fear. And then as the pledges started to roll in, it was very exciting because it was really fast, and moving faster than any of our presales ever had. But I didn’t know what to expect. It was pretty surreal and a huge undertaking, but we’re obviously very glad we did it.”
Offering everything from an amusement park trip with the band and a Book of the Month club to the ability to design tattoos that drummer Dagan Thogerson and pianist Scott Brackett would get put on their body forever, the perks were unique, fun, and appealing to the band’s hardcore followers. Perhaps most intriguing though was the ability to pledge and then select a cover song for the band to record. 13 backers paid $1,000 each for this perk, and while there is an eclectic set already recorded, the one many are eagerly awaiting is MBD’s take on Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous,” said Turla. “We tried to do it really straight. It was straight recording, except with dudes singing.”
While figuring out how they will distribute the cover tracks, the band is currently on the road supporting Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, with its Thursday, February 28th stop at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn already sold out. It’s a normal occurrence for the captivating live act, and the songs on the new record certainly fit in with the rest of the band’s canon. As for the entire impetus behind the Kickstarter campaign, Turla is straightforward in what he hoped to get out of the whole process.
“One of the reasons why we’ve always put out vinyl is that we write albums, and it’s always about having a comprehensive package,” he said. “And sometimes that literally extends to the actual production of the physical goods. We don’t write singles for the radio; we never thought that’s how we were going to gain popularity, and that’s not who we are and the band we’re trying to be. So in our 12 year career, we’ve watched the industry change and watched even the music sort of conform to the iPod and more to a single serving listening experience. I just went in the opposite direction, and vinyl was part of it. And I think part of what’s cool about vinyl is that the people who are into it, they like the packaging, they’re interested in the beautiful, physical product, and they’re collectors. It’s a different kind of listener. So I thought that by putting out these cool, special edition vinyls, it’s sort of a response to the mainstream.”
Sell out crowds on tour are a pretty good response as well, making it clear that cookie cutter music isn’t always what the public wants. And MBD is far from cookie cutter, with Turla’s songwriting and storytelling gelling with his bandmates’ efforts to take listeners to a different place with each track. It’s something Turla says comes from reading some of Latin America’s greatest writers, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“I think it’s because it’s a blend of fantasy and reality,” he said. “I remember when I first started to find my writing voice, maybe around 2002, one of the things I decided to do was make outlandish statements in lyrics, but have them be said in a literal way. So instead of using metaphor all the time or similes, I started to say lines that were impossible, and then deciding that that was what the story would center around. And when I was reading that kind of literature, the magic realism and what not, they have an expertise in telling a story that’s very believable but has incredible elements that seem otherworldly or impossible. And I really like that. I think it’s more of a perspective thing down there and a way of interpreting life.”
And though his rare free time is spent traveling or rock climbing (or sometimes both, as on a recent trip to Thailand), keeping him from pursuing more conventional literary pursuits, the words to MBD’s songs will always keep you compelled as you find new wrinkles each time you run through the lyric sheet. But as the band makes its trek across the United States, it begs the question, is everybody listening, or just enjoying a night out?
“That’s a question that’s been coming up a lot more lately,” said Turla. “What does Miss Manners have to say about how an audience should behave at a show? (Laughs) I’ve seen a lot of indie or folkie groups lash out like ‘don’t talk at my show,’ and get really upset about it. And my opinion has always been, we’re entertainers, and it’s a privilege to have people at a show, no matter how good a writer you are, and your job is to engage them. For the most part, we don’t really have a problem with people talking through our sets too much. It’s pretty rare that I notice it as being a negative or a large amount of people doing that. You’re supposed to go out there and get them to shut up without telling them to. (Laughs) So I try not to take it too hard if that’s happening. Though every once in a while someone will try to directly engage us while we’re on stage, and they’ll try to have a conversation with you in the middle of a song, and that usually means at the quiet part of the song. That’s pretty obnoxious, but that’s the least of their problems.”
True, but as old school vinyl and album lovers, Turla and company are just as old school in their approach to touring. Just play and the rest will figure itself out. It seems to be working.
Murder By Death plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Thursday, February 28. For more information, click here