Murder By Death: Interview
Low Singing About Dark Stuff

Indiana-based
rock and rollers Murder By Death are a band I have been a fan of for several
years and every time I see them, they've only got more fans. I'm not too
surprised, though since every album they've put out has been solid from the
experimental indie rock Like the Exorcist But More Breakdancing to the
narrative Who Will Be Left and What Will Be Left of Them? to their most
recent, In Bocca Al Lupo

They're currently on tour to promote that album, and I got a chance to sit down
with them prior to their set at The Metro in Chicago.

How's the tour been so far?

Adam:  It's been amazing actually.  The shows have been much bigger than we were
used to in the past and it seems like the new record is doing well. The crowd
response has been great, people are already singing along.

Sarah:  The tour's been great.

Any particularly memorable experiences?

Adam:  New York, the release day, was a spectacular show.  We played the
Knitting Factory and it was just crammed to the gills.

Matt:  I just knocked over a beer; that was quite an experience.  I didn't even
drink a beer yet...

This is your first national tour as a
headliner, how does it compare to doing opening gigs?

Sarah:  It's a lot more responsibility, especially this first week.  We've just
been doing in store performances and radio spots and all sorts of interviews and
it's been great, it's just a lot of work.  Everyone's a little tired, you have
to get to the club a lot earlier so there's a lot less sleep in general but it's
pretty worth it.

How was touring in Europe with Against Me!?

Adam: It was really fun.  We don't have a record out there so it's a very
different experience than here.  We're pretty unknown except like some of the
bigger cities

Sarah:  it was a lot like one of our first tours.  We were playing for a lot
more people but as far as being unknown and also not knowing where you are, it
felt like time travel back to when we first started touring.  And the UK is just
awesome.  Ireland is beautiful and I want to move there right now. And Against
Me! are really good friends so it was just a party on wheels, that tour.

Adam:  we're working on getting a licensing deal for this record worldwide so
we're working on going back there real soon as soon as we can figure that out.

I hear you guys have a new video to go along with your set.

Adam: Yeah, we have that big movie screen with the velvet curtains, so what I
did was make new videos for each of the songs.  We're using Nosferatu and
Cabinet of Dr. Calighari  for the stuff off of Who Will Survive...
and Like the Exorcist... but all the new songs have new footage.  I used
old 16mm films, there's one of bullfighting and one of cowboys and Haitian
dancing and tornados.  It's pretty fun and helps set the mood of the show.

What have you guys been listening to in
the van so far?

Sarah:  Yesterday, no today, I got a chance to listen to the Langhorne Slim
album, which is one of the guys who is on tour with us, and it was really good.

Matt:  We've been keeping it to headphones for the most part.

Sarah:  Yeah, whenever we put something through the whole van it's usually a
movie.

Adam:  We watch a lot of movies.

Sarah:  Yeah, we have a TV and a movie hookup in the van so we like to keep
those cranking.

Were you guys able to pick up anything
good after the in-store at Reckless Records?

Adam:  Umm, Pump up the Volume with Christian Slater, 99 cents. Yeah,
we're going to watch that on the way to Minneapolis tonight.

Matt:  I tried to buy Final Destination 2 when stopped for gas but they
wouldn't sell it to me. They said it was for rental.  Today we watched Bones
with Snoop Dogg.

Adam: I saw it at a gas station for two dollars and I was like, “OK, Bones

it is!”

So is that why your merch guy kept
charging people “bones”?

Adam: Probably.  Yeah, I don't think we ever watch good movies.  We watch, like,
Roadhouse.

The new album, In Bocca Al Lupo,
was put out on your own label, Tent Show Records?  What lead to creating the
label?

Matt: Uh, needing a label?

Adam:  We were label hunting and accepting offers.  We're not really too savvy
with the whole music industry thing, I guess we didn't even know about too many
labels.  Personally I don't read music magazines I don't keep up to date on what
all the “cool” labels are so I didn't even know where to start when we were
looking.  There were a couple that seemed right but just ended up not being
right in the end.  So we had an opportunity to do this and once it was explained
to us which is basically that you have the distribution of a big label but you
own the records yourself and you call all the shots, it seemed like it was the
obvious choice and so far it's been amazing.  So far the press is great and the
distribution is much improved over our last record and it seems like, we don't'
have any numbers, but it seems like it's selling well so I think the staff that
works for our label is doing a great job.

Now this is through East West Records?

Adam:  What it is, is East West is the staff so they work as Tent Show's staff.

Sarah: They're a company for hire to be your label's staff.

Adam:  So Tent Show is essentially us saying yes or no to marketing suggestions
that they do and we get to put our approval on everything.

Sarah:  And East West works for several other labels as well that are mostly
one-band labels.

Adam:  Like Lucero, they have the same deal and their label is called Liberty
and Lament.

What was your reaction to the new record
leaking early?

Matt: It's just bound to happen, it
happens to everybody.  At first you want to be like “Aw, shit!”

Adam:  Yeah like, “We want to make our big splash! This is going to ruin it!”

Matt:  But the kids have been really cool about it.  We have a lot of people
write in through the MySpace page and stuff like that and say “OK, I've heard
the record and I downloaded it but I'm still going to buy it when you guys come
through town.”  We've been really lucky that the kids have been like that and
we've got some really great artwork for it.

Adam:  There's a reason to buy it beyond just the music.

Matt:  Right, and I think a lot of the people that are into our band like the
aesthetic appeal of it as well. Once I realized that was probably going to be
the case, I wasn't all bummed out about it.  And, you know, at the end of the
day, everybody knows the words when we get there.

Adam:  Yeah, the truth of the matter is they got the record more than a month
[before] the day our record came out in New York so there's over a hundred
people singing along to all the new songs and how could we complain about that? 
And then we sold a ton of CDs!  It has not affected the sales, I don't think, at
all.  Personally, this release actually helped me figure out how I feel about
records leaking and downloading because I never really had an opinion.  I never
really had a frame of reference that mattered.  I mean, I'm sure there are
people who will get our record and will never come see us live or pay for a
ticket or buy the CD but oh, well.  At least they have it.

Sarah:  Unless they just don't like it then it's fine that they didn't buy it.

Adam:  And if it's the standard in the industry and it happens to every band,
then that's just what it is.  You can't really complain because every other band
has to compete the same way.

How was the recording process and
working with J. Robbins?

Adam: Awesome.  He was a great guy.

Sarah:  Still is.

Adam:  Yeah, well...

Sarah: It was really fun.  We went to Baltimore to his personal studio and I
don't think any of us had spent any time in Baltimore before and so we didn't
know what to expect and it was really fun just kind of throwing ourselves into a
new city.

Adam:  We moved there for a month.  We lived in a hotel where they had a door
guy and we got to know the night staff and we became good friends.  Oh,
Sandra...

Sarah:  Yeah, it was a ball.  Not to mention the recording process itself was
just wonderful.  J. was just a dream to work with.

Adam:  He's really passionate and will work late into the night if he needs to.

Sarah:  He just... gives a shit.  And I am, personally, really nitpicky about
every note that I play and he was right there with me.

Adam:  He's got enough of the anal, which is good!

Sarah:  Yeah, you have to have it.  I'd be sitting there saying “No, I just
think I just have to phrase this differently” and he'd be right there saying “
Ok! Let's go!”

Adam:  He wanted us to be happy, he wanted us to do our best and I think we
really did.

Matt:  And if shit ever did get tense about that time his wife would appear with
a giant plate of baked goods.

Adam:  She must have made cookies and brownies at least fifteen times!  I think
she was fattening us up so that we could empathize.  Like, “We're all on the
same level now!”

Matt:  She was very, very pregnant at the time and she felt the need to do
something.  Like, “All I'm doing is sitting around being pregnant!  I know, I'll
make some brownies and take them over to the studio!”

Adam:  Yeah, they just had the baby like three, four months ago.

Sarah:  They're both just wonderful people.

Matt:  They are really cool and their band (http://www.channelstheband.com)
is also sweet.

Am I remembering correctly that you guys writing this album in an abandoned
church?

Adam:  No, what we were doing was demoing the record.  There's a local recording
studio in Bloomington, which is an old church that's been converted into a
studio and there's a big graveyard by it.  I mean you're just looking out the
window while you‘re recording at a graveyard.  It's called Farm Fresh, and it's
a spectacular recording studio and we do everything there.  We do our records
elsewhere but everything that goes on comps, soundtracks, and we demoed the
whole record there and he helped us shape the songs.  We actually practice in
this old meatpacking plant and it's a dump!

Sarah:  It's really scary

Adam:  It's adventuresome.  I mean... it is what it is.

Sarah:  It's cheap, that's what it is.

Adam:  Yeah, so we were writing when we were home in Indiana and that's the
place a lot of the songs took their shape.  I'd go in with an idea and everyone
else would just kind of throw their stuff on top and we'd work the song out.

Sarah:  The coolest part, I think, about the recording studio is that Jake, the
guy that works there, lives there as well and his bed is right up against the
wall that faces the graveyard and his living area is actually under the church
so he is actually lying on his bed, essentially underground next to this
graveyard!

Adam:  His head is probably about five feet from the next corpse.

Sarah:  He told us, “You know, I don't know if this is going to work out, it's
getting a little creepy...”

Matt:  He's really freaked out by zombies, especially now.

Adam:  They come in every now and then for a nightcap...

Could you explain the theme for In
Bocca Al Lupo
?

Adam:  Yeah, the last record was one long story and this one is inspired by
Dante's Inferno in the sense that we wanted to write about sin and guilt
and ultimately redemption as well.  The idea was that each song is about a
different person who is negatively impacting the world, one way or another.  I
wanted all these different stories and that's why some of the songs sound very
different from each other.  They're about different people and so I didn't want
them to sound identical so I sang in different voices in different songs and
that sort of thing.  So it's linked throughout the whole album with those themes
but there's no overarching concept other than that theme.

In Bocca Al Lupo seems to be your most “country” album
especially in the Johnny Cash-sounding vocals.  Was this a conscious decision
going in?

Adam:  It's was a conscious choice in that I decided I wanted to sing lower but
I wasn't listening to tons of Johnny Cash at the time and thinking “Oh, this is
what I want to do!” but it's low singing about dark stuff.  So I cannot deny the
comparison at all, at least in the shared sound

Matt:  It's better than getting compared to the Crash Test Dummies!  Didn't that
guy have three balls or something?

Adam:  I don't think so.

Matt:  That was a rumor!

Adam:  That was a rumor, but that was sixth grade.  But I wanted to sing more
like my speaking voice, which was lower, and I finally just learned how to sign
the way I like.  That was where that came from.  But who knows?  Next record if
I feel like being saucy maybe I'll sing in a completely different way.  I don't
know... well, probably not.

Continuing with that “country” versus “rock” idea, you're making a lot less
weird sounds with your bass on this album...

Matt:  No I'm not.

Sarah:  Aww...

Matt:  No, it's all right.  I kind of felt like it was maybe time to, you know,
play bass or something.

Adam:  I think it also comes from not having the piano as a fifth player we
needed to focus on making the songs unified.  I mean, there's only one guitar so
there's only so much I can cover.  Matt, also I think you were getting more into
bands with really “rock” bass at the same time we happened to lose the piano.

Matt:  And a lot of that noise stuff that I used to do, as much as I like it, a
lot of it was because there wasn't much room for me to do anything.

Adam:  Yeah, the piano would play the low or the cello played the low end...

Matt:  With all that stuff there in the same frequency range it's kind of like,
“Oh, how about I go up real high and go ‘squeeeeee!'” that's kind of all there
was.

Adam:  In the same way you found a way to do some of that unique bass stuff like
on “Steam Rising” you were doing that weird baritone tremolo-y stuff at the end.

Matt:  Yeah, and a lot of it came from when we went in to write record number
three it's like, “What haven't we tried?” and so a lot if it came about
naturally like that.

Didn't you guys have someone filling in
for a while for your original pianist after he left?  What happened to him on
the new record?

Adam:  Well, when it came to write the new record he didn't want to tour all the
time and it just became evident that it was not going to make sense.

What are your hopes for the new record?

Matt:  Total crushing domination?  What did the last metal band you talk to
say?  That but bigger!

Adam:  Well, so far this tour has been great because the clubs we've been
playing and supporting the last few years are starting to fill up with us being
the headlining band.  And we like clubs like this, the Metro in Chicago and The
Bowery in New York and we just want to continue to be able to play venues like
this, maybe some theatres so we can keep up the theatrics and just have the
audience grows and hope the old audience likes the new record.

Sarah:  We also want to get out of the country more.  Definitely want to do more
Europe, maybe go to Japan and that sort of thing.

So, no more opening slots for Poison the
Well?

Sarah:  They were awesome!  They tear it up in their own special way.

Matt:  I would be content to just play rooms like The Metro, know that the rooms
are going to be full and that people are going to be up to it and to be able to
take out whoever we want to support us and know that it will help that band.  In
2003, Thursday took us on that tour and all the shows were great and it helped
us a lot.  I would love to be in that position to help bands that aren't that
well known.

Adam:  There's something to be said about being able to show up to a venue and
know that it's going to sell out and bring whoever you want and put them in
front of 500 people a night and to be able to keep doing that, I have confidence
in the shows.

Matt:  Job security.

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