Talking with Adam Turla of Murder By Death
On this most gloomy of Mondays in Bloomington, Indiana I was fortunate enough to meet with Adam Turla of Murder By Death at the Scholar’s Inn Bakehouse on the square. Adam walks in adorned in a black leather jacket, dark leather boots, and dark jeans. He’s a charming fellow with bits of grey in his whiskers (maybe I’m referencing a song here) whose voice is unlike his husky, howling singing voice that is heavily reminiscent of Johnny Cash with hits of madness akin to Tom Waits’ darker moments. From the get go, we dive into talking about the band and how things have been going with the band itself, now aged eleven years.
Adam reveals that Murder By Death is the band’s full-time job and that with meticulous and careful planning the band can maintain themselves on the money earned through the band. He explains (as we get our coffee) that sounds as opposed to songs are a driving force behind earning profits in today’s day and age, and that many bands that have garnered popularity over the past few years have taken a sound and repeated it throughout a record as opposed to letting a song live on its own. This is an entirely agreeable point and one that he strives to protect Murder By Death from falling victim to. He notes that these brushes with fame are accented by people’s idolization which in turn become dangerously addicting in a music climate heavily dominated by the cash machine.
We sit down, me typing notes words on my laptop, him humbly and happily ready for my questions. Its undeniable that he’s comfortable in the seat of the interviewee; constantly smiling and drinking his coffee. I ask him about the band dynamic and about how a band now eleven years old has changed and developed over time and if tensions had ever been high. Adam explains that Murder By Death had gone through the same arc as many beginning bands during their conception; practices were grueling attempts to conceive a song and often resulted in mismanaged time. He kindly notes, “We were playing for fun, we hadn’t really thought of the band as a means to live.” Now over a decade in he assures me that the band has made better use of their practice time, especially in reference to their new (as far as I know, untitled) album. The band has put in over seven hours a day on the new album, to which Adam notes when discrepancies arise in the writing process he’s learned to be more diplomatic about creative differences, stating: “…sometimes it’s better to just leave things alone and say ‘Hey, we’ll come back to this tomorrow’ and take a break.” His calm decisiveness makes the future of Murder By Death unforeseeable, for better or worse.
As we begin to talk about the future he speaks over Bob Dylan’s raspy voice in the background, “[The future] We take it as it comes, we never intended to be a huge band. We were just wanting to play shows and have fun.” He reminisces over the band’s beginnings, in which he booked the first three years worth of tours and didn’t really know what to expect from fans or venues. Most shows, he said, drew fair amounts of people who were largely enthusiastic about what was being played. This inspired he and his band mates to realize that Murder By Death could have the potential to be a full time job as opposed to a hobby. In the present, Adam talked happily about the new record. He’s confident in the work the band has put in, regarding the new record as a “hard piece of work.” Expressing simply that if the band never got any bigger, he’d be fine with it and that uniqueness, not fame was the driving force behind the band. Murder By Death is a band that wants to be challenged to do the unconventional he says. Murder By Death is a band that wants to see the world not to win over fans, but to find inspiration for their eclectic souls.
It is this eclecticism that Adam Turla conveys in his oft dark lyrics about death, the Devil, alcohol, women, and pirate curses. Adam admits at my mention of Western themes, “I never really knew we were doing a Western thing until people starting making art [about the band], I thought we’d be mistaken for metal [due to the heaviness of our name] or too light (due to the light-heartedness of Little Joe Gould, the band’s original name). Lyrically, Murder By Death propel listeners through dingy, bleak little worlds described warmly and almost hauntingly. Songs such as “’52 Ford” exuding an almost seductive mix of building guitars on top of traditional Spanish musical undertones while other songs, such as “As Long As There is Whiskey in the World” paint a vivid picture of a man stricken with both wanderlust and disorienting complacency. Simply put: the songs are more than unfounded, weak attempts at telling a story, but rather grand, vivid atmospheres and tales that are accented by the diverse creativity that the band can bring together musically.
For both those familiar unfamiliar to the band, Adam assures me that the new album will have some of the most diverse sounds in comparison to past releases as it’ll harken back to classic Murder By Death themes along the lines of Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? the band’s sophomore release. He details that the album will feature a fifth member, Scott Brackett (a friend and multi-instrumentalist) which will flesh out the new album in a very traditional way. Adam fleshes out the musical direction of the album more saying, “It’ll be a move back to old Murder By Death, but it’ll have some new stuff too. There’ll be some noise stuff, some aggressive stuff, a song with me whisper singing a dark story over a quiet musical arrangement, and some minimalist stuff.” He also shared the details of a new song entitled “I Came Around”: “The song’s about going to a funeral of someone you didn’t like, basically to spite them and over the course of the funeral or wake you start talking to the people in that person’s life who loved them and thought the same things as you and loved them anyway and then over the course of the funeral you begin to realize you might’ve liked them if you gave them the chance.” He hints that the song, amidst its reflective nature, has done well at the shows they’ve played it at over the course of the past two months. His eyes light up noting the fan’s reaction, stating that they just went absolutely crazy over the song and that he largely loves the accordion arrangement and howling he’s allowed to do within the song. That’s not all for sneak peaks into the album though, I sit and listen to him describe another song called “No Oath, No Spell” to which he explains as, “A depressing, Who Will Survive-era song as written with more songwriting experience. It’s a dark piano ballad that’s upbeat and spacey and almost glam rock (like David Bowie, he assures me, not Poison).” As both a fan and as an interviewer, I’m left curious and intrigued. Adam knows how to capture someone’s attention.
I conclude asking him the typical interviewer-interviewee questions and start to talk to him about random subjects such as bands and albums we’ve disliked over the past year, the state of rock ‘n roll, Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem and his strange inability to loosen up, along with the woes of copyright infringement to which he declares: “If someone asks me personally if copyright infringement or sampling is illegal, well fuck yeah it’s illegal. But I won’t pretend people don’t do it, thought I wouldn’t really know how to punish those did [commit copyright infringement].” Adam’s favorite album of the year?: “O’Death’s Outside. It’s more like their live show, as it captures the live experience. It blew my fucking mind, they don’t have any brutal fast songs and their arrangements are flawless. It has this foreign land feel. Every song is like a surprise and leaves you wondering what’s coming next. I must’ve listened to it seventy-five times already.”
As the clock nears twelve thirty we’re both left to attend to our engagements: mine being class, his being to begin work on the new album. He leaves me both entirely happy and taken aback by his humble honesty on seemingly any subject matter. I find comfort in knowing that a band who has existed for over ten years as well as travelled the world as extensively as they have can keep a strong sense of both work ethic and loyalty to their own personal values.
Murder By Death play the Bishop on December 2nd with (also local) Austin Lucas. I encourage you to check them out and lend them your attention, as they are incredibly deserving of your time (I’ve seen them three times, I can assure you it is in your best interest).
By: Josh Zoerner
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