Posted March 2, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Murder By Death Explores a Weirder Kind of Love

Murdered By Death by Greg Whitaker
Murdered By Death by Greg Whitaker

On their seventh full-length album, Murder by Death’s Americana sound mixes with enlivening new pop, electronic and psychedelic rock. Singer-guitarist Adam Turla has a distinctively deep, gravelly voice that really resonates, especially when accompanied by rich instrumentation. He phoned on the way to a Phoenix tour stop and he talked about the approach the band takes on Big Dark Love, which was recorded at La La Land in Louisville, Kentucky in the summer of 2014.

The band was formed in Bloomington. Is there a good music scene there?
It’s a small town and every town has musicians. There’s a lot of local bands now and there were then too. We were all musicians when we got there so we started this group and it took off right away. We were playing DIY shows in basements because we were 18 or 19 years old. Eventually, we got in front of people who thought we should take the band more seriously. It’s been building ever since. This year will mark 15 years.

When did you start playing music as a kid?
I was 13 or 14. My buddy got a guitar and was playing all the time. One day, my friend’s mom found this acoustic guitar at a garage sale. I gave her 20 bucks for it. My buddy started playing lead guitar so I started writing songs that he could play.

You have a really distinctive voice. Were you a fan of singers with big, deep voices—guys like Johnny Cash, perhaps?
No. The truth is that it took me a long time to learn how to sing in my own voice. In 2004, I took voice lessons and they told me to sing lower than my speaking voice. It made me a lot more comfortable as a vocalist. If I had to pick a favorite vocalist, it would have been Eric Burdon from the Animals. That’s the person I stylistically emulate the most. It’s all about range. That’s what I enjoy the most as a singer.

I read that Thursday’s Geoff Rickly helped you guys out in the early days. Is that true?
It’s funny. We had a gig booked at this anarchist bookstore in 2002. There was a band that needed to jump on the show because their show was canceled. The band was Thursday. We put them on the bill. They opened up. The guys were really nice and liked our band. There were probably 30 people at the show. Six months later, they were on the cover of every magazine. They helped us with Eyeball Records. They took us on our first real tour. It was all small towns playing to 400 or 500 people a night. We had never done anything that successful. It was the first time we weren’t just throwing darts at a map and hoping that people showed up. For us, it was a great opportunity to play in front of people.

Being from a small town from Indiana, it’s not a given that you can become successful.

That seems like an unlikely pairing.
Honestly, it was just that he liked us. He just wanted to get us in front of people and that was great as far as we were concerned. We had been playing with indie bands. We didn’t know what was happening with the East Coast emo scene. We did two tours in that genre and then did more Americana shows. We were opening for whoever wanted to take us on tour. We just wanted to play in front of a large audience and hope that people responded. Luckily, they did. In the course of 2003 to 2005, we went out with Thursday, the Weakerthans, Against Me! and all sorts of different bands. It was a real variety.

At what point did you start using Kickstarter to fund your records?
In 2012, we were putting out Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. I had seen people doing projects through Kickstarter. Because we put out our own vinyl and I run our business, I wanted to do a special pre-sale for the record. I wanted to do something more than ‘buy our record’ on our web store because that’s boring. I looked at the backend of the site and really wanted to try it. I had never seen a medium-sized artist use it. It’s usually smaller stuff. I was ready to go and the record got pushed back. During that time, [Dresden Dolls’ singer] Amanda Palmer did her 1.2 million dollar Kickstarter campaign. We never expected to do anything like that, but we were surprised to see that she had similar ideas. We pre-sold the last one through Kickstarter. Our project is different. You’re pre-buying and there are options. It’s available like that for one month.

Talk about the new album, Big Dark Love. How do you see the album in relation to your other releases?
It’s a natural, later album for us. We think a lot about context and how the new songs will fit into the show and what fans will think. We don’t think about what critics will think but we hope they’ll like it. The first thing that matters is that it’s interesting to us. Our experience is going on the road and meeting people and hearing their stories. We don’t expect to win any awards. The record has been well-received. Every show is sold out on this tour. We’ve been playing really old songs. We’ve gone back to old songs and one person noticed that it’s the feeling we were going for off our first record. It’s cool to hear that people are listing to the back catalog.

Do the songs link thematically?
I try not to write concept records and sometimes there’s a thread. I call it links or a thread. With this one, the easiest way to decide how I feel about it is that there are untraditional love songs. “Natural Pearl” is about someone trying to protect their child to a fault. It’s about the overbearing love. Big Dark Love is about a love that’s too intense. They’re love songs but about a weirder kind of love.

It’s our most subtle album. I wanted to make it more moody.

“Hunted” is a very narrative-driven song. What inspired it?
There are so many different variations on that song. We stripped it down and then cut things out. I realized later it’s about being a man and understanding with clarity the awfulness that can come with the male gaze. It’s about the idea that women are constantly sexualized and fetishized. It’s almost a love song but it’s not okay. The idea is that we as males don’t know what it’s like to be hunted. It’s this feeling I’ve been having. It’s connected to [politician] Eliot Spitzer and these people who have this fucked up perspective on women. It’s not healthy.

You recorded in Louisville in 2014. What was the studio experience like?
We moved there right before we started recording. We recorded in three separate sessions instead of trying to track all the songs and put the stuff on top. That’s the general idea. We focused on three to four songs for a week. We wanted to strip as much stuff away as possible and make the songs interesting and subtle. That’s what we chose to do. I think it worked. The studio was incredible. We sent it to be mixed by John Congleton who mixed our last record. We love the way he mixes our records. I’m really happy with the production.

The band’s been together for 15 years now. What’s been the key to keeping it together?
I get asked that all the time. For one, the group of people we have are very appreciative of the opportunity to do what we do. We try to keep it together. It’s harder when you have egos clashing. A lot of bands think they’re going to be artists and the whole big thing. The most successful bands, or at least the blue collar bands that are on the road all the time, make it a point to learn the business to side to make sure they’re not out there burning themselves out for no reason. We just want to get to know the job we’re doing. So many people go through the experience and no one takes anything home from it that they could apply. I learned so much from the experience.

Upcoming 2015 Shows 

March 4

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May 28

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Hamden, CT – The Ballroom at The Outer Space

Charlottesville, VA – The Southern

Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer

Washington, DC – Black Cat

Raleigh, NC – Kings Barcade

Tampa, FL – The Orpheum

Orlando, FL – The Social

Atlanta, GA – Terminal West

Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge

Bloomington, IN – The Bluebird

St Paul, MN – Turf Club

Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall Ballroom

Chicago, IL – Subterranean



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].