Unstable Decibels

Unstable Decibels: Murder By Death

We talked to singer, songwriter and guitarist Adam Turla from the band Murder By Death about comics, music and more

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By Ryan Penagos

Cover art to "Good Morning, Magpie" by Murder by Death
Whether you heard Murder By Death's song "Coming Home" on one of the trailers for "Inglourious Basterds," have seen their live shows or heard their albums, you know the band's intense brand of wicked, dirty, American indie rock. And if you haven't checked them out yet, it's high time you do!

Currently on a massive worldwide tour in support of their latest album, "Good Morning, Magpie," Murder By Death shows no signs of slowing down. Luckily, we were able to spend some time with singer and guitarist Adam Turla to talk about the band's music, his love for comics and more!

Marvel.com: As a comic book fan, what have you been getting into lately?

Adam Turla: I've recently gotten into comics in the last year or two.  I never really read them as kid. I have a couple of friends who work in comics, one is a writer and another is an illustrator.  I went and bought their stuff, and I started taking recommendations, and I've just read a ton in the last year or so. 

Marvel.com: Marvel stuff, I hope?

Adam Turla: Probably yeah, I didn't really look to see who the publishers were, but people lent me a ton of stuff.

Marvel.com: It's a great town. So, tell me a little bit about the comics you're reading right now.

Spider-Man
Adam Turla: I just finished From Hell [by] Alan Moore. He's the one who has just been blowing my mind.  When I first started reading comics, I didn't realize how literate you could be in comics form. I didn't realize [that] you could have such complex stories. I don't know why I didn't start reading earlier! I think I started with Watchmen or something a couple of years ago, and [have] just gone on from there.  [I've read] all the classics: the more modern classics, like Sandman, and [I'm] reading some old SPIDER-MAN stuff. Just doing the rounds, here and there, just talking to as any people who are comics fans while I'm here on the road.  I've been writing down some recommendations, maybe you should tell me what Marvel Comics I should be reading.

Marvel.com: The list just started to grow in my head.  What do you think of the old SPIDER-MAN stuff?

Adam Turla: It's fun; it's cool to go back to see where the icons came from.  It's funny how different the old style is. It doesn't have the long form arc that today's comics have. It's really [in] the newspaper style where it's an adventure packed into a smaller package.

Marvel.com: In terms of Marvel, if you're checking out the early AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comics, I highly recommend that you also read the early FANTASTIC FOUR. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did about 103 issues together. It's wildly inventive and beautiful, you can watch their art transform over the years as they helped build the foundation for what we're doing now.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN
by Alan Moore
and Alan Davis
Adam Turla: Cool, definitely, [I'll] check that out. I haven't gotten to that.

Marvel.com: If you like Alan Moore, he did a great CAPTAIN BRITAIN series for us. It's really dark.

Adam Turla: Yeah, of course. I heard about that.

Marvel.com: Can you think of anything else that you've been reading? Do you gravitate more towards the super heroes or the darker, grittier stuff?

Adam Turla: I like the gritty stuff. I just read Promethea [and] I loved that. I'm basically on a big Alan Moore kick lately.  I also read Y: The Last Man. Our tour manager had that in the van, and basically he just passed it around and we all read that. It was so poppy, that was a really fast, easy read.

Marvel.com: Did you cry at the end? It hits some people in the emotional gut.

Adam Turla: [scoffs] Nah! That's cool though, that it's powerful that way. I definitely had a fun time reading it. I'm trying to think [of] what else I've read.

Marvel.com: Do you read comics on the road? How do you digest them, as a touring artist?

Adam Turla: I didn't bring any comics into the van, mostly because I didn't want them to get destroyed. Mostly everything that comes into the van inevitably gets destroyed! [Although] we managed to keep track of our tour manager's copies of Y. If there is a comic book store near any of the clubs, I'll go check that out. I like [having] comics a lot on tour, because we get very little sleep. We play late shows and then we have to travel a long way because we're not on a bus, we're a van and trailer. We're at the hotel for six or seven hours, and you're supposed to get ready for bed, sleep, [and] shower, in that time.  You're kind of groggy all day. You're tired, and I can't sleep during the day, so it's nice with comic books because it's not [like] I'm trying to read Dostoyevsky.

Murder by Death, photo by Greg Whitaker
Marvel.com: I was just thinking the exact same thing. You're not trying to get into Dostoyevsky or something insanely dense and complex on the road.

Adam Turla: Yeah. While I have read some on the road, for example,  a lot of days you just want something that is a little more accessible for that kind of mood. You're lounging in the car, but you're tired.  It's been really nice for that.

Marvel.com: Do you read on any digital devices?

Adam Turla: No, I do so much work on the phone and the computer, because I manage our band too, [that] I'm always working. I'm not interested in my phone unless it's doing work for me. Same thing for my computer, I rarely ever use my computer for anything that isn't work related. I'm old fashioned, I like print material. Like the Kindle, my friend showed me it, [and] when I heard the idea, I thought it was terrible. It goes to show how much I know, because it's selling like crazy. It was better than I thought it was going to be. But still, I just don't want to stare at a screen. I like to hold the pages in my hand, I like the paper, I like the fact that the ink is printed onto it, that all the colors are arranged to be exactly that way. I'm just not attracted to that format at all.

Marvel.com: You mentioned that you guys are on the road right now, and you're constantly on the go. How do you acclimate yourself to that kind of lifestyle? Is that just the way it is for you now?

Murder by Death, photo by Greg Whitaker
Adam Turla: At this point, yeah, we've been playing for 10 years now. There have been times where we're just miserable from not going home, and having such a schedule everyday. It's interesting because the rewards of the job are really good, and every day there is some reward, you know, [like] if someone really enjoyed the show and says something nice. Or you see a friend that you wouldn't have seen, or wouldn't have been able to keep up a relationship with, because you're coming through their town. Those things make a big difference for our trips, especially for our long ones. This tour that we just started is three months long, [and is] seven weeks in the U.S. We go home for four days, then we fly to Europe and do five weeks in Europe. It's a long trip. We're also more successful than we were five years ago, so this is our job. It's our job, we're showing up for work, just like everyone else. Sometimes our job is way easier than some people, but sometimes it's just exhausting. It's just what we do.

Marvel.com: You mentioned that you guys are a lot more successful than you were a few years ago.  Didn't you have a song in an "Inglourious Basterds" trailer?

Adam Turla: Yeah! I was actually driving when I found out. I looked down at the email, you could just see the first couple of words and it said "Inglourious..." I opened up the email, glanced at it and it looked like we had gotten it. I knew that they were interested but there were so many opportunities that [had] never come to fruition. We got home like two minutes later and we had the full offer and they were requesting for the use of that song. We were really excited, because I love Tarantino, and that's actually my favorite Tarantino movie.  We went and saw [the movie] as a band. We were just really happy to be a small part of such a great, great movie. We're such movie lovers, so it was really special for us.

Marvel.com: I'd like to hear from you about the influences and the direction of the new record. Each of your albums seem to have a specific sound and ideas behind them. What was behind this record?

Murder by Death, photo by Greg Whitaker
Adam Turla: There's a couple of themes there. We've done concept records in the past, well, I don't really like calling them concept records, but that's what other people have said. Two of our albums "Who Will Survive," and "Red of Tooth and Claw" are long form narratives that are just basically set to songs. Part of the story is in each song, but each song is its own little story.  So vignettes that make up a whole narrative. It's a fun way to write. I really enjoy having each song have a purpose. With this [new] record I didn't do that, because I wanted to try something different. This record is more about my experience in the woods. I did a two-week solo camping trip where I went out there, by myself, into the back country of Smokey Mountains, Tennessee. I just needed some time to write. Ultimately I ended up seeing themes pop up in the lyrics. Nature became a big part, because it rained the whole time, like doomy nature. There's themes of loneliness, and our classic Murder by Death drinking song. We always like to do a drinking song, mostly because it's just fun. It's really great for the live show. I love a rowdy drinking song.

Marvel.com: Have you played any of the new songs out yet?

Adam Turla: Yeah, we tested a few a couple of weeks ago at South By [Southwest]. We played the whole album in order for the studio release show. We're still kinda getting the hang of some of them. By the end of this tour, I'm sure there will be all these little nuances that we'll have figured out that will make playing the song that much tighter and that much more interesting. It's really fun, some of these songs are really fun to play live.

Marvel.com: What's your favorite song to play live currently?

Murder By Death
Adam Turla: I really like this song "King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs." I get to play slide guitar for the whole song, which is really fun. The first half of the song is this slow, sad, sort of melancholy feeling. Then right in the middle of the song it makes this switch and it goes into this really aggressive snare drum beat.  It just has this movement--this feeling of motion--it's totally captivating to perform. People seem to really like it when we play it live, and I'm hoping that as people get more familiar with the song there are a couple lines [in the song] that I think would be great if the audience sang with us. That's the part I'm most excited about, whenever we have a new record, I love it when people start to know the songs.

Marvel.com: Where is your favorite place to play?

Adam Turla: Oh I couldn't say. We like to play everywhere.  I love to travel, I love to see different towns, I love to taste the food that's local. I really enjoy going to Europe just because I love the distinct culture changes.  I love that one day I'm in Germany having sauerkraut and eating sausages, and the next day being in Italy--where I can actually speak Italian because my mother is from there--eating some amazing pasta at some unassuming little bar, and then the next day we're in Ireland, or something. It's really fun to see the cultural changes.

[In] the U.S., our shows are way rowdier.  It's actually an advantage [that] the U.S. has. It's sort of drunker, rowdier. It's definitely more of a rock show here. 

I should also mention, [that] I'm actually writing a comic book with my friend [Mike Costa] who is an illustrator. Who knows when we'll actually finish it, but we're starting to get some sample pages together. It's based on our albums: "Who Will Survive" and "Red of Tooth and Claw." We're going to try [to] open up the story and go deeper. It's pretty fun. 

Marvel.com: It's a cool outlet, for somebody who is super creative. It must be fun to try your hand at something new.

Adam Turla: It is fun.  I just dove in! I don't know how to write for comics, I don't know what to tell the illustrator, but he said I was being really clear and it was working pretty well. It's a fun little side project.  His illustrations are just spot on, he really nailed the way I imagined the characters looked.

Follow Murder By Death on Twitter and visit murderbydeath.com for music, news, photos and tour dates.

 

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