Murder By Death
MURDER BY DEATH
Adam Turla: Vocals, guitar
Sarah Balliet: Cello, keyboards
Matt Armstrong: Bass
Dagan Thogerson: Drums, percussion
They may call Bloomington, Indiana, home, but since their 2000 formation, Murder by Death have been a band without musical borders. Theirs is a world where Old West murder ballads mingle with rock-injected Western classicism; where an album's sequencing can take listeners from a haunted back alley in rural Mexico to a raucous Irish pub. All of which is to say, Murder by Death albums don't just string together songs; they create experiences. With their fifth album (and second for Vagrant), Good Morning, Magpie (04/06/10), Murder by Death continue the tradition of border expansion that drove career standouts like 2006's In Bocca al Lupo and 2008's Red of Tooth and Claw. The difference, however, is that this time, the band literally went off the map to get there.
"Going into the woods helped me write in a way I never would've been able to otherwise," says singer/guitarist Adam Turla, recalling the 2009 retreat into the Tennessee mountains during which, armed with little more than a tent, a fishing pole and a notebook, he wrote the 11 songs that would become Good Morning, Magpie. "There were days where I'd sit down and write for seven hours, make dinner, and then sit down and write late into the night with my little camp light going: just intense, nonstop sessions of pure writing. I've never worked that way, ever, because with all the business of being a band, I've never had so little to do! Every day I was either cooking, hiking while writing, or writing. I didn't speak to a single person the whole time."
Be that as it may, Good Morning, Magpie still speaks volumes. Recorded at Bloomington's Farm Fresh Studios with Jake Belser (who most recently worked with MBD on their all-instrumental soundtrack to Jeff Vandermeer's 2009 book Finch), and mixed by Grammy-winning Red of Tooth and Claw producer Trina Shoemaker, the album weaves 11 disparate stories into a whole that's unlike anything else in the band's catalog. "These songs definitely come together as an album; we just aren't relying on a concept this time," says Turla, referencing the conceptual storylines that drove Murder by Death's last two albums as well as 2002's Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? "Being out in the woods with no pressure freed me up to explore different moods and different stories, all of which became linked through the experience I had writing them: just that sheer sprint of working in isolation."
With its junk-pile percussion and ramshackle Vaudevillian flow, "You Don't Miss Twice" is the only song on Good Morning, Magpie that directly references Turla's time in the woodsbut the song's spirit informs much of what surrounds it. "I was telling a friend how I thought this was our most upbeat record, and his reply was, 'Seriously?'" Turla recalls, laughing. "But 'upbeat' doesn't necessarily mean 'happy.' Take a song like 'Yes'it's got this fun, shuffling beat and this amazingly catchy melody from Sarah [Balliet, cello], but the lyrics are all about accepting death. Or 'Whiskey in the World,' which is basically a sad bastard's lament about how the whiskey that makes this character enjoy life is also what condemns him. That duality between the music and the lyrics is something we haven't done much until now."
Even though it was written in isolation, Good Morning, Magpie came together over six weeks of rehearsals back in Bloomingtonultimately marking the first time the band recorded a full-length at home. "We ultimately just decided to record in Bloomington because we had a friend here [Belser] with his own studio, and he'd already done a great job with the Finch soundtrack and our B-sides and 7-inches; and we also lucked out and had Trina [Shoemaker] basically making herself available to help us mix whenever we were finished. So then we started thinking, "Man, we have all this time to ourselves; we should just bring in our friendsmusicians from Bloomington and Louisville, Kentucky, which is about 75 miles awayand just play parts here and there. It was greatthe album ended up with a lot of different instrumentation, and we paid everyone in whiskey."
In keeping with Murder by Death tradition, whiskey also plays muse to a handful of Good Morning, Magpie's songsincluding the Balliet-penned opener, "Kentucky Bourbon," which sounds like a Bulleit jingle spun through an old Victrola. But as the album progresses, the songs wind through other locales and moods: from eerie Southern-gothic territory (the creeping, uneasy "White Noise") to an old Spanish cabaret ("On the Dark Streets Below") to the high-noon drama of the title trackitself inspired equally by Welsh legend (the title references a tale of the magpie as Satan's messenger) and the American West. No mere genre exercise, Good Morning, Magpie feels like a travelogue from a band that's logged the miles to write from experience.
"Travel is a big part of this band's reason for being," says Turla, noting that the past few years have seen Murder by Death's passports stamped in Alaska, Greece, Norway and the Italian island of Sardinia, among other far-flung locales. They have challenged their fans to book them all over the world - in as many unique places as possible. "I personally love the sense of variety you get from traveling, and I'm sure that idea influenced the way I approached a lot of these songs. Trying to use different styles and throw in different influenceswhether it's the way you turn a phrase or play a certain noteyou can suggest different places," he concludes. "That's the fun of fiction; that's the fun of movies, and music can have that effect, too. It's all about being able to transport people to another place."
THE LIFE AND TIMES
Since The Life and Times formed, oh, roughly 1,825 days ago and began disarming audiences and critics with unbelievably loud yet relentlessly beautiful music, the main constant for the band has been how uncategorizable they've remained. Sure, they're a "rock band", but one that skirts the boundaries of this word in each song, tipping their collective cap to the giants that loom in each melody.
Yes, they're still moody, spacey, sonically overwhelming, symphonic and always grandiose. But threading these traits together is the same obsessive attention to detail from singer Allen Epley, drummer Chris Metcalf and bassist Eric Abert that was the calling card of Suburban Hymns (DeSoto) and each subsequent release. The music made for their 2nd full length release Tragic Boogie (Arena Rock) reflects a process that's even more detail-obsessed than earlier efforts.
Quoth Allen Epley (gtr/vocs/etc), "We wanted to make the kind of record that a big-name band with a lot of money might make, except we don't have any money. But we said what the hell and decided to do it anyway by going in debt and built our own studio and recorded it in my basement". The result is a record with layered intricacies that rewards repeated listenings. It's also one that heavily scratches that rock itch, ahem, but doesn't drown you in Gee Whiz Factor bullshit.
The time granted by recording without being under the pro-studio-money clock was liberating. Some songs were recorded multiple times, trying different tempos and nuances. Songs like the title track 'Tragic Boogie' reflect an ethos of what they call "pre-post-production", where the idea is to try to "anticipate how we might manipulate the song in post on pro-tools, and then actually perform it that way as we were recording it, and not rely on post to create the effect". After recording , the bulk of tunes were mixed by Jason Livermore (Rise Against, Shiner) at The Blasting Room with the band and their fine-tooth combs in hand.
And though they have made a record for the ages, the live show is the proof. Blisteringly loud, unbelievably lush and brilliantly lit with white light, the sound created by these 3 gentlemen belies their numbers. The muscular 26" kickdrum thump of songs like 'Fall of the Angry Clowns' is not just heard live but felt in the belly. 'Let It Eat' recalls Blonde Redhead in 5th gear at 125mph, anchored by Eric Aberts' headbob-inducing bassline by the time we reach the chorus.
Where '07s The Magician EP (StiffSlack) echoed slivers of Floyd, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, Tragic Boogie finds them wearing multiple masks within one song, or even one verse. The majesty of 'Que Sera Sera' reflects an ethos of grandiosity of The Flaming Lips, while songs like 'Old Souls' and 'Catching Crumbs' owe a debt of gratitude to Doves and Interpol. And an instrumental with a name like 'Pain Don't Hurt' is proof that, while they are moody and melancholy, they refuse to take themselves too seriously.
Tragic Boogie, like the best albums made with unending attention to detail and looking to scale grand heights, never gets bogged down by the frippery. What really hits the listener are 12 foundation-changing rock songs that have been woven together with love and that slippery agent, time.
"We in the Ragadors have a vision for an unrelenting lifestyle of sustainable rock n' roll."
The Milwaukee based quartet create a raucous brand of straight-ahead, blistering rock-and-roll, grounded in a an obvious love for the blues.
What began as a casual song swap between drummer, Joshua Harper and lead singer Benjamin Hall has grown through two years of touring and recording into a band of friends who play with undeniable guts.
With wildly diverse musical backgrounds, from touring through the deep south in a gospel rock band, to studying jazz percussion, to making the jump from fingerstyle guitar to bass, these four gentlemen combine to create foot-stomping tunes and frenetic live performances.
In 2009, the Ragadors debut, self-titled EP was pressed from a live studio session with J. Christopher Hughes at Posthistoric in Milwaukee, WI.
After more than a year of touring, backed by unwavering support from their listeners, the group began sessions on their first full-length record in spring 2010.
Blackinkywells, a subversive affirmation of the possibilities that flow between the down beat and silence, is a recorded interaction between The Ragadors: Joshua Harper, Russell Leary, Benjamin Hall, Zachary Hoeppner and a cavernous room on Milwaukee's south side.
Benjamin Hall's desperate, pleading lyrics, in stark contrast to a satisfyingly confident delivery, unearth stories soaked in the complication of humanity.
The Ragadors pay homage to the mother's and father's of the blues with a sound nurtured in the wood-paneled basements of the midwest. With songs that harken the honest spirit of the blues, this record attempts to realize life's perennial struggle between dissonance and harmony. This is roots music through and through.
Today, their debut full-length album, blackinkyswells, is expecting release in September 2010. Having carved out a significant place for themselves in their hometown, The Ragadors venture forth to new territory, look for them in your city in the fall of 2010 touring in support of their new record, blackinkyswells.
1206 Regent Street
Madison, WI 53715
|Minimum Age: 18|
|Kid Friendly: No|
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|Wheelchair Accessible: No|