By Janine Schaults
Fans often try to ply the members of Murder By Death with alcoholic beverages before, during and after the Indiana quartet’s raucous sets. This generosity, while not unique to the band, is surely bolstered by swig-worthy ditties such as “As Long As There Is Whiskey In The World” from 2010’s “Good Morning, Magpie” and a tendency to shun the solitude of the backstage dressing room in favor of mingling among ticket holders.
Frontman Adam Turla tries his best to appease all the two-fisted well-wishers, but must balance his role as the social ambassador for his songs and the proficient musician who must perform night after night.
“Every night there are quite a few people who are kind enough to want to buy me a drink and it’s like that’s great, but I still got to play the show tonight,” Turla says by phone from Bloomington. “If I accept all these drinks plus ones that come up while we’re playing, plus I have the option to drink at my own leisure, I’m gonna get fucked up and play bad. You have to definitely prepare yourself for the fact that you are out every single night and you’re not just out, but people want to be out with you.”
Making the transition from his “everyday self” into his “tour self” before hitting the road is as vital to Turla as practicing, since his time off mirrors the recreational exploits of the average 9-to-5 employee. “I’ve been home for three months and it’s just like I’ve been going over to friends’ houses or staying in or occasionally going out and shooting pool or playing darts, but I’m not a center of attention in my daily life,” Turla explains. “I mean, we go out on stage and people think you’re more special than you are.”
This adulation didn’t happen overnight. Using a slow and steady pace to procure a devoted fan base and hone the band’s macabre combination of murder ballads and drinking songs, Turla (along with cellist Sarah Balliet, bassist Matt Armstrong and drummer Dagan Thogerson) paid his dues over the course of ten years and five full-length albums.
“We’ve had a really unique experience in that we’ve never had a huge push from any label or had a big single or a moment in the sun. We’ve had a really reliable career that’s been driven by very wonderful fans that continue to support us over the years. We’ve just been really lucky in the sense that we’ve never had something and had it taken away. We’ve never felt like we were going to be massive and then it didn’t happen. We’ve just been able to do this on a very blue-collar, reasonable level,” Turla points out. “A lot of bands never had an opportunity to actually be comfortable with their art.”
Firmly ensconced at a level of self-sustainment allows Murder By Death the freedom to step off the spinning hamster wheel that is the music industry and pause in between albums. “Good Morning, Magpie” hit shelves last April, but Turla would rather let those songs breathe on stage for a while before rushing to push a new product into the world.
“I’m always torn on the idea of the album cycle. You put a lot of work in writing these songs and I hate the idea that you do two big tours for it and you’re like ‘next album.’ I’m not ready to bury everything. Let it ride for a little bit and then write some songs when you’re ready to write some songs,” Turla says. “I think one of the problems right now with the music industry is that in response to declining album sales everybody’s putting out more albums. The problem is the quality. Are you making something lasting? Is the thing that you made actually good? If you rushed it, probably not. I try never to force an issue.”
Instead, Turla and Balliet spend their pre-tour days digging through local shops to find antique lamps and building old-fashioned light boxes in order to give their stage show the musty aura of the Grand Ole Opry.
This attention to detail flows over into the recording process. When the time is right, Turla hopes to return to the seclusion of the Rocky Mountains, where he wrote a majority of the last album, to gather ideas for the next. However, this time out, Turla wants to bring the band into the formation of the songs.
“The more albums you write the more you have to consider what it is you want to accomplish instead of it being just another record so you can continue to have a job. I think it’s really important not to ever think about an album in that way,” Turla reasons. “I want to make an album because it’s important to make to us. It should have meaning. If there’s no meaning to you, how is it going to have meaning to other people?”
And the wait continues.
February 24 at Subterranean, 2011 West North, (773)278-6600. 9pm. $15. 17+.