If goth kids existed in the Old West, the following three things would likely be true:
1. They’d bemoan the lack of black snakeskin boots (wanting the darkness of their souls to match the darkness of their soles).
2. They’d bitch about how much of a conformist Chester A. Arthur was.
3. Their favorite band would probably be Murder by Death.
While Murder by Death is certainly no goth band in modern times, the band’s blend of Adam Turla’s deep baritone vocals, Sarah Balliet’s haunting cello work, and lyrics conjuring up images of tumbleweed-strewn deserts, devilish deeds and whiskey would undoubtedly strike a chord with the outcast teens slumming around Tombstone.
And though the band’s rock sound is unlikely to draw the black eyeliner crowd, Turla does suggest some gothic skeletons in their musical closet.
“As far as direct musical influences,” says Turla, “when I was in high school, I was really into the Cure and so was our bass player, Matt. We didn’t wear fishnet stockings and shit or do makeup, but that was the music we thought was really cool. And we noticed that starting to come back with the record we’re writing now. There were a couple melodies that really seem like homages to the Cure.”
While the Cure connection can help to explain some of the band’s brooding darkness, it doesn’t account for the dusty settings of the songs. But as Turla explains, the lyrical backdrops can be attributed to his love of nature.
“I have an attraction to rugged places. When I’m writing, I’m thinking of and inspired by places I’ve been that really speak to me. The Badlands in South Dakota, I absolutely love it. I love going out West, whether it’s to the mountains or deserts,” he says. “I don’t pretend to be a person out there wrangling cattle or something, that’s not my life, but I do like solo camping trips, and rock climbing, and I built a cabin in my backyard. I have an affinity for things like that.”
While it’s hard to pigeonhole a sound as unique as Murder by Death’s, Turla and company have sought to keep things fresh over their 11-year run by not staying stagnant stylistically.
“When we started, we were very much an indie band. And then as we started to try to create an actual identity for our band, we started progressing more towards this sort of rock feel. I think largely because we were noticing there weren’t a lot of rock bands out there, and that was sort of bumming us out. So we were trying to make eclectic rock music that still had sort of that artsy, indie feel.”
Murder by Death is set to continue its evolution with its upcoming album, which they are currently writing. Turla is thrilled about the newly expanded sonic horizons, thanks to the addition of former Okkervil River multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett.
“The thing I’m hearing most on the new record is Scott, who is playing accordion, trumpet, keys, percussion, backup vocals, theremin — he just plays everything,” he says. “We’re able to take the storytelling part of our band and really get that in the highest gear we’ve ever been able to do because there are so many more sounds we can use to evoke a feeling.”
The band is now taking a break from writing before heading into the studio in November by touring through less traveled spots on the West Coast, including Bend, Reno, and Spokane.
“I like the idea of going out there and not playing one single city that’s usually on the tour,” says Turla. “We rented an RV, so it’s kind of a Murder by Death family vacation tour. We’ve been joking about it, cause we’re totally in a ‘mom and pop with kids in the RV’ tour vehicle.”
RV travel isn’t exactly riding into town in saddles. But when Murder by Death rumbles across the West to play some whiskey-soaked rock ’n’ roll, it makes for an audio saloon brawl worth checking out.
Murder by Death plays with Diamond Speedboat, the Hague and Anadonia • Thurs, Sept. 22, at 8 pm • A Club • $11-$14 • 21 • aclubspokane.com • 624-3629