Murder by Death pours out its rich, dark Bitter Drink
There are many ways to measure an artist’s commitment to the often thankless business of making music, whether by tallying up the days spent each year in a tour van or by considering the lowly part-time jobs endured between stints on the road.
To get a sense of how committed singer-guitarist Adam Turla is to Murder by Death, all one has to do is ask him about toilets. In more than a decade on the road with the Bloomington, Indiana–based Americana act, the baritone-voiced frontman has been exposed to the kind of facilities that would make lesser men head back to school for a career that has nothing to do with music.
“I could talk to you for days about the experiences of rock-club bathrooms,” Turla says, speaking on his cellphone from the band’s tour van.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good look at them, and the nightmare that they can sometimes be. The joke is that, if the men’s room has a toilet, that’s all you’re looking for. A door on the stall is kind of classy. A door on the bathroom is the height of decadence, and a lock on that door is usually unattainable.”
Turla has every reason to hope that Murder by Death’s current tour will be elevating the group to the kind of clubs where the plumbing doesn’t suggest that the Middle Ages never ended. The band is on a creative high with its excellent new album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, said record proving that plenty of folks care about the group, even if its career trajectory has been what the singer describes as a steady but slow one.
Murder by Death used Kickstarter to fund the recording, and was rewarded with an avalanche of support, raising $87,000 more than the $100,000 the group was hoping for. That not only made the album the third-most successful music project on the site to date, but also ensured that Turla and his bandmates had the time to do things right.
“There’s such a thin line between lush and baroque,” Turla explains. “You don’t want things to sound too pretentious and artsy-fartsy—something that’s so layered that you can’t reproduce it live. But you also need to accept the fact that some records need more than two guitars, bass, and vocals. That’s been the trick of our group: having a cellist since the beginning, a piano player, and then a bass player who uses all kinds of crazy effects. When you’ve got all these options, part of the challenge is sifting through those options, making it pleasing to the ear without making it all seem like too much.”
Fans have been rewarded with an outing that swings confidently from coalmine-black gothic Americana (“Lost River”) to bass-bombed country-grunge (“I Came Around”) to trumpet-laced Tex-Mex (“Go to the Light”).
One constant is Turla’s older-than-his-years baritone. Think Johnny Cash near the end of the line with the American Recordings albums. Another is the all-engulfing sense of brooding menace that colours Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon.
“I feel like the media focuses on keeping things light,” the singer says. “I love comedy. But I feel, especially in music, everything has a real dance-y, feel-good vibe these days, whether it’s disco or indie pop. I don’t get it. I’m not a dancer, although I admire people who are great dancers. We’re a band that finds darker stuff—whether it’s books, music, or movies—more interesting.
“Darker content has always appealed to us, whether it’s Cormac McCarthy or David Lynch,” Turla continues, right before finishing with a laugh: “I mean, our band’s name is Murder by Death, for God’s sake.”