Murder By Death x Vinyl Mag

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Murder By Death is a genre-defying, whiskey-soaked five-piece originally from Bloomingon, Indiana.  They’ve graced us with six full-length albums and are gearing up to release a seventh (hu-freaking-zzah).

I got a little phone time with Adam Turla (vocals, guitar) recently to talk about the album, as well as their upcoming tour dates (below – Athens readers, I better see you on the 25th), their Halloween plans, and their annual show at the Stanley Hotel.

Vinyl Mag: I saw on Facebook that y’all were listening to the master recently. Where are you in that process now?

Adam: Record’s done. I actually ordered all of the vinyl yesterday. I put it all out myself. We haven’t released our record, and we haven’t announced it yet, but we do have a release. All the wheels are in motion…now we’re planning the tour for the album, and we’re planning the special edition vinyl, and we need some t-shirts. It’s especially a really fun time, because the creative work is done, and now I just look for artists I like to get involved; there’s a side of it where I get to just say, ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this.’ It’s a lot easier than trying to write a song that means something.

VM: You said you’re looking for artists you like.  How do you find them?

AT: At this point, having been around for a long time, we just know a lot of artists…that’s been one of the things that I never really thought about when I started playing music is how cool it is that, even though you’re in a different field, you get to associate with people who have other creative jobs, and that’s been a real pleasure. Like some of the t-shirt designs – they’re just shirts – but some of the designs for this record release were just amazing. If you’re selling something, I want it to look good. I don’t want to just slap my name on some junk and tell people to buy it.

VM: You always package your LPs really awesome, and I know you just said you like to collaborate with artists. Are you doing sort of the same thing for the vinyl?

AT: Yeah, with the new record, we hired a friend of ours who is an art teacher and artist. We’ve never done this style of album design. We often do images or wood carve, that kind of thing. This time it’s like a mixed media centered around photography…it’s got a different feel to it…we’re doing some cool, special stuff for the new one. We’re doing mirror board; we got a lot of stuff. I’m really excited. I get a sample in a couple of weeks.

VM: Specifically for vinyl, why is it important to you to put so much design into it, especially now that a lot of people are doing Spotify and MP3’s?

AT: That’s how some people get their music; I never really did it. I like records, and the whole reason the band got into to doing vinyl was because we just happen to listen to vinyl. The label, back in the day for our first record I’d asked them, ‘Hey can we do vinyl?’ and they said, ‘Eh, we don’t really want to spend the money.’ I get that. So I thought, ‘Well, can I do it?’ So I started putting it out just because nobody else would, and it ended up becoming this thing where now the fans know we put it out, and they like that, and they know that we’re going to do a cool design. It also ends up taking away the middleman or middlemen who are all seeking a cut…I think an album represents more than just the music. I was one of those kids who sat with the record and poured over everything, reading all the details that they’d give me. It’s nice to include that; it’s nice to have the lyrics and to have the whole impression of the project.

VM: Yeah, I think that’s interesting what you said, because I do tend to think about musicians collaborating with musicians, but it’s cool that you’re collaborating with artists of different media.

AT: Yeah, I love it! For example, I have a friend that I grew up with who is a comic book artist. I wrote a song for his Kickstarter that he did last year, and he did some design work for me. It’s really cool, because I’ve known this guy forever, and we like each other’s art, but there’s not an obvious way to collaborate, but we’ve found ways to do that. Like, he just did a really cool poster design for us. It’s just nice to brainstorm ideas and come up with fun ways to work together.

VM: Can you tell me more about the concept for the upcoming record?

AT: It’s a little different than some of our other records. Sometimes I’ll do more ‘concept-y’ records where it’s a story that I’m telling with the songs. There is a link that kind of popped up as we were writing it – there are a lot of songs that are more sort of darker love songs or non-traditional love songs. I’ve always been bored out of my mind by radio love songs usually. Sometimes there’s great stuff out there. Especially modern stuff just seems really convoluted in the lyrical content, so I was trying to write songs about love that is not just unrequited love with teenage lyrics.

There are songs about the love and the fear that comes with a parent’s love; there’s a song that’s about a totally unacceptable, obsessive love. It just explores the idea of love in different layouts. I was trying to write songs that I thought were interesting but still love songs. So that was actually a really a fun experiment.  At times it was actually really difficult.

It really developed…the coolest part about it is that sonically, we were able to finally choose some stuff that we’ve been working on a long time, and it really suited the songs.  I think the thing we had to struggle with the most was playing less, basically. It’s a struggle for everybody to be playing all the time. It’s really hard to sit back and let somebody else do a bunch of work, and then when your entrance comes in, it’s even more dramatic. I think for the first record, we really felt like we nailed that idea of, ‘I’m just going to sit out for a minute, and when I come in, I’ll do something really special.’ We just kept cutting parts, and that was really satisfying, and the record sounds bigger for it.

VM: Possessed by Paul James covered “I Came Around” for the 20-year compilation for Bloodshot [Records]. The track list I read is really awesome, but how did that come about?

AT: You know what, I haven’t even heard it yet, but I’m going to. I’m glad you brought that up; I need to check that out. I didn’t know it was happening. I just heard about it from the label. I knew our label was doing a release where artists were covering Bloodshot songs – it’s a cool idea. It’s their 20-year celebration, and the label’s been around for a long time and put out a lot of great stuff. I think it’s a really fun way to celebrate those releases, also to bring them back to people’s minds. I didn’t realize that was happening until a couple days ago, so I need to give that a listen.

VM: So, you’re playing the Stanley Hotel again. Is that going to be an annual thing?

AT: I think it is. Basically it was intended to be a one-time thing. It started as two nights, 300 tickets a night. We thought, ‘okay, we sell out at 600 capacity in Denver. This is like an hour and half from Denver. We’ll be able to sell 600 tickets for this.’ It was really fun, and it’s really interesting.

That’s one of the main things; we try to do interesting things. If we were bigger, we would do really crazy thing, but we just do as much as we can with the amount of fans we have. We try to keep the job interesting for everybody. I had that idea a couple years ago; we actually pulled it off. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing in this band. The shows were awesome, and everybody dressed to the nines. It was just really fun and positive. Everyone was saying, ‘you gotta do this again, you gotta do this again.’So we announced it again with an expanded capacity.

We had it a third night last year, so we ended up doing 900 tickets. We had an expanded capacity this year, so it was like 500 for three nights – sold out right away. It’s just crazy, because when we did it, it was for the idea.

It’s great for us, because if [fans] want to do this every year, we’ll come up with more ideas like this. We’re really lucky to have an audience that wants to think outside of the box. It’s more than just going to a regular club; they just want to do something fun and interesting. That’s something I’ve loved about them for a long time, and I’m just starting to realize we just need to take that idea and basically just host a bunch of parties.

VM: Yeah, it’s really cool, because a lot of people just want to passively go to a show, but this is an interactive thing that your audience is getting behind.

AT: Yeah! The show’s over at around 11:00, and I close the bar every single night at three in the morning, because usually people want to talk to the band; they want to talk to me about shows, the band, and their experience. I just want to be available to the people. It ends up being more personal, because it’s also a slumber party since you’re all staying at a haunted hotel. That’s awesome! It’s the sort of thing where I would have lost my mind as a kid if I had heard about it. If I were 18, and a band I was into was doing something like that, it would’ve been the best thing!

VM: Are y’all doing anything special for Halloween?

AT: No, actually. The band doesn’t have any plans. We’re playing a show right before that. I might just pass around candy.

VM: Do you have a costume?

AT: Yeah, I’m working on it. I think I’m gonna go with Macho Man Randy Savage. Sarah [Balliet – cello, keys] and I have been talking about it, and she’s thinking about going as the Undertaker. I have this cursory interest in wrestling. When I was a kid I thought, ‘this seems kind of cool.’ I didn’t know much about it, but I loved those guys when I was a kid. I thought they were just crazy dudes.

VM: You’re ‘working on’ your costume. Does that mean you’re making your costume?

AT: Oh yeah. I’ll make a sweet champion wrestling belt. You have to make some of it; that’s the fun part. We had a costume where Sarah and I went as the old man who’s trapped inside the whale. So we had raggedy clothes with beards, and we made an eight-foot long, cardboard whale. I just sat inside the whale at the party we were at. Definitely my favorite costume I’ve ever done.

VM: When was that?

AT: Maybe about five years ago.

VM: Y’all moved from Bloomington.  Why the move?

AT: Well, 15 years there was great, but it was just time to try something else; move to a bigger city to some extent. I love Louisville, because it feels like a big and a small city. It feels like you get both sides of it. We started realize that Bloomington had a smaller feel. Personally, I think that it’s a good thing to be from a small city, just having a quiet place to go back to when we were on the road all the time. It was really nice. You get the modest town. There’s a college there, but it doesn’t really enter people’s lives unless they’re a student or you work at a bar. I think it was just time to try something new. We have some family down here, lost of friends have moved down here, so it was kind of an obvious choice.

VM: Is this going to affect your Thanksgiving plans with Lil Bub?

AT: [Laughs] Good question. I haven’t seen her in four months. I actually need to repost that video, because we are big fans. She’s awesome.  Her owner is such a good dude. He’s got the right idea…he’s not an Internet guy; he doesn’t give a sh*t about memes [and Internet fame] and things like that. His friends convinced him to start posting photos, and it just took off and happened to him, and he went with it, and he went in the best possible way. He’s raised something like $100,000 for animal charities. It’s insane. The guy has turned down so many opportunities to make money in order to fundraise instead.

VM: Are you excited for your tour?

AT: Yeah, it’s just a short, little one. It’s just four shows. It’ll be fun, and we’ll dust off the cobwebs. We’re so focused on the record this year, so we just haven’t really done much live playing. I feel like when you do less, not a lot of shows, you’re a lot more fun at each show, because there’s kind of a danger that you might screw up.

VM: Y’all are coming to Athens, so I’ll be there for that.

AT: Awesome, yeah we’re excited. I realized that it is the first headlining show that we’ve ever done there, which is crazy. We’ve been there a million times.

VM: Yeah, I saw y’all last time you were here with Say Anything. So, it’s been a while.

AT: Yeah, we hadn’t played in Athens since 2002 before that show.

VM: I did an interview with you at SXSW 2013, and you recommended that I listen to Shovels and Rope, which I totally have.

AT: Oh cool! They’ve gotten huge since then!

VM: Yeah, I got in before, so I appreciate that. I was wondering what you were listening to lately and if you have any new recommendations.

AT: I have not been listening to that much stuff lately. I think because when I get into writing, I get so focused on the song…the thing I’ve been listening to most lately is David Bowie, because I went to the exhibit in Chicago. They had a bunch of music and costumes and all sorts of stage stuff. I’m a big Bowie fan. For the exhibit, we drove to Chicago just to see that.

VM: I saw the “Dance Magic Dance” thing on Facebook.

AT: Still going strong.

VM: Such an awesome movie, good call!

AT: Probably time for a re-watch. We’re doing scary movie days for October.

VM: So what’s today?

AT: I don’t know yet – probably something bad. That’s the fun thing about horror movies is that it’s not all good movies. We’re due for a crappy one.

VM: What’d you watch last night?

AT: We watched Wake in Fright, which is an Australian movie from the 70’s. It’s weird, because it’s not really like a horror movie in the traditional sense, but it’s really unsettling, and it has this really strange vibe to it. It’s more like an art movie than it is a horror movie.

VM: What is next for y’all?

AT: Getting the record out and letting people know it’s out there. It’s crazy, because I’ve been working on it for a year and a half, and what happens next is we wait for it to come out and get promoted for a while. By the time it’s actually out, some of the vinyls have been out for a while. Right now it’s just in a holding pen, waiting until people can hear it.

VM: What are you going to do as soon as we hang up the phone?

AT: Eat a sandwich.


Tour Dates:

Oct 22    The Concourse at The International    Knoxville, TN
Oct 23    The Jinx Nightclub    Savannah, GA
Oct 24    New Brookland Tavern    Columbia, SC
Oct 25    40 Watt Club    Athens, GA
Dec 30    The Gothic Theater w/ Lucero   Englewood, CO
Dec 31    The Gothic Theater w/ Lucero   Englewood, CO
Jan 02    Stanley Hotel Concert Hall    Estes Park, CO Sold Out
Jan 03    Stanley Hotel Concert Hall    Estes Park, CO Sold Out
Jan 04    Stanley Hotel Concert Hall    Estes Park, CO Sold Out

Emily is an over-enthusiastic lover of music, books, movies, fashion, and culture in general. Her love of music spans across all genres (what is a genre anymore? she waxes poetic to herself), though she was nursed on true punk and will never understand “redneck country” music – tractors are not and cannot be sexy. Emily currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and considers herself to be a great wit, though she is still waiting on validation from a credible source.


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