Murder by Death (band)

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Murder by Death
Murder by Death onstage
Murder By Death live in June 2011
Background information
Origin Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Genres Indie rock, alternative country, indie folk
Years active 2000–present
Labels Bloodshot, Vagrant, Tent Show, Eyeball, TEAM AV
Members Adam Turla
Matt Armstrong
Sarah Balliet
Dagan Thogerson
David Fountain
Past members Alex Schrodt
Vincent Edwards
Scott Brackett

Murder by Death is an American five-piece indie rock band from Bloomington, Indiana. Their name is derived from the 1976 Robert Moore film of the same name.[1]

History[edit]

Early years (2000–2002)[edit]

Murder by Death was formed in 2000 in Bloomington, Indiana, by guitarist Adam Turla, cellist Sarah Balliet, percussionist Alexander Schrodt, keyboardist Vincent Edwards, and bassist Matt Armstrong. One of the group's first shows was at the Channing-Murray Foundation's cafe The Red Herring in Urbana, Illinois, with former American Football drummer Steve Lamos' solo project DMS. After the show, the head of the TEAM AV record label with which Lamos was working offered to help Turla and his bandmates secure additional shows. Around the same time the band met Thursday vocalist, Geoff Rickly, when the two bands played on the same bill at a gig in their hometown of Bloomington. Rickly introduced the band, known at the time as Little Joe Gould, to his friend Alex Saavedra (owner of Eyeball Records), who also took an interest in the band.

In 2001 the band self-released the eponymous Little Joe Gould EP and early the next year contributed the song "I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" to the TEAM AV compilation Foreign Nationals. A short time later the group changed their name to Murder By Death, which they felt better represented their sound.

First works (2002–2006)[edit]

While still performing under the name Little Joe Gould, the band headed out on an 11-date tour stretching from California to Louisiana with the Chicago-based band Volta Do Mar. On this tour the band honed the songs for their debut album, which was recorded in several Chicago studios with Tim Iseler, then a guitarist with the TEAM AV-affiliated band Re:Rec. Both the tour and the recording engineer were arranged by the TEAM AV label, and the resulting Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing was released on Eyeball in August 2002. The band extensively toured behind the album with bands such as Cursive, Interpol, and The American Analog Set. In July 2003 the band released a split album with Volta Do Mar entitled Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer in honor of the grandfather of the TEAM AV label owner who appears on the cover. Along with the song "Canyon Inn, Room 16" from the Little Joe Gould EP, Murder By Death also contributed "Knife Goes In, Guts Come Out" and the instrumental track "We Watch a Lot of Movies" alongside an alternate version of "A Masters in Reverse Psychology". Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer was recorded with producer D. James Goodwin during sessions that would ultimately bear the release of Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? in October. In December the band released a tribute 7" single for friend and musician Matt Davis of the band Ten Grand who had died earlier that year, before continuing to tour nationwide with Lucero, The Weakerthans, William Elliott Whitmore, and Rasputina.[1][2]

"Those Who Left", from Like The Exorcist..., is an eight-minute instrumental, often played live in total darkness. This song is often paired with "Those Who Stayed," a shorter instrumental from the same album. This pairing, played during encores, is seen on setlists as "The Two Evils" or "Medley of Evil."

My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way provides guest vocals on Who Will Survive... track "The Devil in Mexico." Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly provides guest vocals on the Who Will Survive... track "Killbot 2000." William Elliott Whitmore provides guest vocals on the Who Will Survive... track "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue." According to the band's website, he sang to them through a telephone while he was on the side of the road in Texas.

In Bocca Al Lupo (2006–2008)[edit]

Pianist Vincent Edwards left the band in 2004 in order to return to academia. Cellist Sarah Balliet added keyboard duties to her cello playing. More touring was followed by a stint back at school, during which time the band wrote their third album, In Bocca Al Lupo, which was released in May 2006 on their own label Tent Show Records, an imprint of East West Records. Vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla described the records's inspiration as coming from "a basic idea—sin, in the Dante/Divine Comedy sense—and doing 12 songs that were very unique and about different people."[3] The title is an Italian good luck wish, literally translating as "in the mouth of the wolf" and therefore a likely nod to the language and subject matter of Dante's epic poem, which Turla was reading during the writing of the album. The record also resembles the 1976 murder mystery from which the band takes its name - a pastiche of bad deeds and of good intentions, heroism and forgiveness. Like its predecessor, In Bocca Al Lupo is a concept album, which also builds on the band's previous experimentations with unusual musical styles to include waltzes, jigs and gospel music. The songs are presented in the same spaghetti western theme as previous works, but Turla's vocals are sung in a new baritone range, which has been likened by many to that of country singer Johnny Cash. The album was well received and touring continued through the summer of 2006, including headlining shows supported by Langhorne Slim.[1][3][4][5][6]

Red of Tooth and Claw (2008–2010)[edit]

Red of Tooth and Claw, Murder By Death's fourth album, and first with Vagrant Records, was released in March 2008. Produced by Trina Shoemaker Recorded at Dark Horse Recording Studio and Mixed at East Iris Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, the record features former keyboardist Vincent Edwards on the song "Ball & Chain" and is also the first album to feature new drummer Dagan Thogerson, who replaced founding member Alex Schrodt. It continues with the band's trademark themes: "lust, betrayal, and classical archetypes of good and evil."[3] In Turla's words, the record is an "Homer’s Odyssey of revenge, only without the honorable character at the center." [3] The vocals are again sung in the same low, baritone range as In Bocca Al Lupo causing a few critics to speculate that Red of Tooth and Claw breaks less new ground than previous efforts, although in general the album has been well received. As described by allmusic.com the album "carries over some of the Old West outlaw feel of its predecessor, but it's more aggressive and freewheeling here. [...] [The album] isn't a departure for Murder By Death, but their ability to keep their sound fresh and vibrant speaks well of their musical abilities."[7] To celebrate the album's release, Murder By Death played two shows on the same night in their hometown of Bloomington.[1][3][4][8]

The song "Comin' Home" from Red of Tooth and Claw was featured in a trailer for Quentin Tarantino's award-winning film Inglourious Basterds.

Good Morning, Magpie (2010–2012)[edit]

On January 19, 2010, Murder by Death announced the pending release of their fifth full-length album, Good Morning, Magpie, on April 6 of the same year. Many of its songs were written by vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla during a two-week solo camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains. Though it is not built around a unifying concept, like several of the band's previous albums, Good Morning, Magpie continues to draw on folklore for inspiration. The title track, as explained by Turla in an interview, is a nod to the superstition that the magpie "has a bit of the devil in him -- and if you don't greet the devil before he sees you he can steal a part of your soul."[9]

After having been a touring member in the fall of 2010, multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett (of Okkervil River fame) joined as a permanent member in May 2011.

Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (2012)[edit]

On July 2, 2012, the band announced that their sixth album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, would be released on September 25, 2012, on new label Bloodshot Records. The first single from the album, titled "I Came Around", was released on July 10. On July 11, they released a one month project for $100,000 on Kickstarter. In total, it raised $187,048, making it the third highest music project on Kickstarter to date.[10]

Big Dark Love (2015)[edit]

On November 5, 2014, the band announced that their seventh album, Big Dark Love, would be released on February 3, 2015, on Bloodshot Records. A presale of the album was again set up through the website Kickstarter.

Style[edit]

Murder by Death plays a range of music including instrumentals, rock and alt.country. The band uses cello (with an electric cello for live shows) to create a gothic sound with occasional Western references.[3][4]

The band often arranges themes such as whiskey and the Devil into concept albums. For example, the band's second album, Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?, describes a story in which the Devil wages war against a small village in Mexico.[1][5]

Members[edit]

Current
  • Adam Turla – lead vocals, guitar, keyboards (since 2000)
  • Matt Armstrong – bass (since 2000)
  • Sarah Balliet – cello, keyboards (since 2000)
  • Dagan Thogerson – drums, percussion (since 2007)
  • David Fountain – piano, percussion, mandolin, banjo, backing vocals (since 2013)
Former
  • Vincent Edwards – keyboards (2000–2004, 2008, 2014)
  • Alex Schrodt – drums, percussion (2000–2007)
  • Scott Brackett – keyboards, accordion, cornet, theremin, mandolin, backing vocals (2011–2013)

Discography[edit]

Studio albums
Release date Title Billboard 200 Peak[11]
2002 Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing -
2003 Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? -
2006 In Bocca al Lupo -
2008 Red of Tooth and Claw -
2010 Good Morning, Magpie No. 200
2012 Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon No. 76
2015 Big Dark Love -
EPs
Release date Title Notes
2000 Little Joe Gould As Little Joe Gould
2003 Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer Split album with Volta Do Mar
2003 Tribute for Matt Davis
2008 Fuego!
2009 Finch Instrumental Soundtrack
Singles
  • Boy Decide (2006)
    b-sides: Boy Decide (Alternate), One More Notch (acoustic)
  • Brother (2007)
    b-sides: Moon is Up, Brother (Live), Don't Cry (Guns N' Roses cover, on 7")
  • Sometimes the Line Walks You (2007)
    b-sides: Dynamite Mine (Demo), Bang Bang (Sonny Bono cover), American Carny Theme

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Biography at allmusic.com
  2. ^ Discography at the band's official website
  3. ^ a b c d e f Biography at the band's official website
  4. ^ a b c Review of Red Of Tooth And Claw at punknews.org
  5. ^ a b Review of In Bocca Al Lupo at mammothpress.com
  6. ^ Review of In Bocca Al Lupo at allmusic
  7. ^ Review of Red Of Tooth And Claw at allmusic
  8. ^ Press clippings at the band's official website
  9. ^ Reilly, Dan (January 19, 2010). "Murder by Death Brave Bears and Floods for 'Good Morning, Magpie'". Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  10. ^ http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2012/120817kickstarter
  11. ^ Charts, Allmusic

External links[edit]