As the Murder by Death gang rolls into New York City for Saturday and Sunday night gigs, it wouldn’t be accurate to call them rock stars, but after the success of their last album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, as well as the positive reaction to their latest, Big Dark Love, there is a sense that there are plenty of high expectations for the Indiana group.
“We’re very aware,” frontman Adam Turla said. “It’s our seventh studio album, we’ve been doing this a long time, and we’re very aware of needing to think about the context of the past and what we’ve done in the past and what people expect from us and what they don’t expect.”
That could be the death knell for a lot of bands, the idea that with a new group of fans coming in, you have to give them what they want while perhaps leaving the band’s hardcore followers behind. MBD is not a lot of bands, not by a long shot.
“I think they know that they don’t know what they’re gonna get,” Turla said of the band’s fans. “I think the majority of our listeners trust us, and they know that we’re not writing for any reason other than because we think the songs are cool, and that’s really nice. There’s no manager looking over our shoulder, telling us to write singles. We’re just writing for ourselves and we write the songs that we think are interesting. It is interesting to see people try to put our songs into the context of what’s hot right now, and it’s kind of funny to view our music through that lens, because that’s not a world that we participate in. As long as we can still play music, I’m happy, and things have just gotten better and better, so we’re thrilled.”
So are those who are on board with Big Dark Love, which captures everything that makes this band one of the most compelling listens today. There’s always so much involved in every song – from the lyrics to the performances to the arrangements – that you’re almost afraid to go from one track to the next in the fear that the following song won’t be as good as the one before it. Yet by the time you’re done, you can breathe easy and say “yeah, they nailed it again.” And for this one, Turla wanted to take things down a notch, but calling this record “mellow” would be quite a stretch.
“I started writing and started seeing some threads, and I thought it might be kind of cool to make a record that’s a little more subtle and a little less in your face in a rock way, a record that creeps up on you a little bit,” he said. “And as the songs kept coming out, they all had that kind of feel. Then we started rehearsing and it started coming together, and we really liked where it was going. We started to think about each song individually, like how does this fit into the world of Murder by Death? So for every song, we wanted a song to link it to in our past, and that was the way that we made sure that the record made sense to us.”
It’s made sense to the listeners too, both old and new.
“Yes, the last record did well, but we’ve had a great cult fan base for our whole career, and while it is growing – this is the biggest tour we’ve ever done, hands down – we always feel like our responsibility is to ourselves and our listeners more than anything else. We want to do something that we think is interesting, and it’s probably interesting to at least a bunch of the people that are already listening to us, and hopefully some new people.”
There will probably be more than a few coming on board this time around, and while it’s always good to hear of bands that deserve it getting rewarded for their efforts, it’s even better in the case of MBD because they’ve done it their way, staying afloat through the support of their diehard fanbase via avenues like Kickstarter, a lot of touring, and a focus on vinyl that began way before it was back in vogue again.
“When we started, I wasn’t thinking about the future at all,” Turla said. “I was just making music because I had to and, especially as a young person, I felt I absolutely had to create things. Now, I’m way more comfortable. I take a lot more time writing, and I really enjoy writing and crafting songs. I think there’s just less desperation when you’re in your 30s than when you’re 18.”
And in the end, there’s always something to be said for folks who still respect the sanctity of the album, especially in today’s world.
“Some people are album-oriented,” he said. “But you’re also talking about a time where people are listening to music on their phone and listening to music through YouTube at a weird, compressed bitrate. The majority of popular music right now is not designed to be on albums. They’re singles that are attempting to get a lot of airplay and traction. The last five, ten years have been single-oriented because of the change in the media form. But in the same way, there’s always a reaction to that sort of thing and people are writing albums instead. And we are one of those groups. For better or worse, that’s how we’ve always been. We’ll get credit for it, and we’ll get cut down for it. There’s always a little bit of everything happening.”
Just like a Murder by Death album.
Murder by Death plays the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on Saturday, February 28 (for tickets, click here) and the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on Sunday, March 1 (for tickets, click here)