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Bigger, darker, badder


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  • Murder By Death

I was living in Bloomington when IU student Lauren Spierer went missing. There wasn't a day during that summer, spent waiting tables by day and freelance writing by night, that I didn't see posters plastered with her face or see her mother and father on local news outlets, pleading for answers about their disappeared daughter. It was a dark time. I think of her, those posters and that summer, often.

And, a year later, when I heard Murder by Death's track "Hard World," from then-new album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, I knew frontman Adam Turla had been thinking of her, too.

"Just barely 20 with a slight frame
And a hunger for something that I couldn't name
I went runnin', I went runnin'
Running barefoot into the night
I got hair the color of a silk worms dream,
The prettiest little thing that you ever did see.
They come runnin', they come runnin'
Anything they can do, they clamor for me."

— Murder By Death's "Hard World"

That song, upbeat and driving as it is, haunted me a little. And when I grabbed the new Murder By Death album, Big Dark Love, released in February on Bloodshot Records, I realized Turla had done it again, grabbing me this time with stalker anthem "Hunted."

"I'm always really affected by that kind of tragedy," he told me last week by phone. "I remember last year when I was writing, a lot of the stuff that was coming up in the news was youth that were misguided about women. The last song on the record, 'Hunted,' I realized after I finished writing it that it was about the idea of the male gaze, and how sometimes guys have no idea how oppressive they're being, projecting sexuality onto women."

His inspiration: "At the time, I remember the big news story was [Isla Vista spree killer Elliot Rodger], this kid who felt like women owed him attention, so he killed this girl. There's this sense of entitlement that every person's right is to be loved, and you don't have to put anything out there or work at it."

"Hunted" is a dark song on an album of dark songs. Scratch that — have the gothic Americana rockers ever written anything not immensely dark? (Besides their drinking shanties like "As Long As There's Whiskey in The World.") It's an area of interest for Turla, the group's principal lyricist and songwriter.

"Every year, there's multiple stories of misguided youth, young people who are living hard and wild. I think it really gets to you," Turla says. "I would never want to trivialize any tragedy like that. But I think that if you're trying to write a song, and as long as you're not trying to get a ton of press for it or celebrate it, writing a song can be the best thing."

Turla knows that sometimes his band gets, as he says, "really dense with lyrics, and really intense with the music." They make a conscientious effort to include songs with a degree of simplicity on each record, sonic palate cleansers of sorts.

"I've always felt like we need to counteract our work with other work that you make," he says. 'For every super-complicated song, I try to acknowledge the elegance of simplicity and do a song like [2010 album Good Morning Magpie's "Foxglove"] ... We try to have some simple and beautiful stuff."

To complete the vision for record seven, Murder By Death — cellist Sarah Balliet, drummer Dagan Thorgerson, bassist Matt Armstrong and Turla — brought on multi-instrumentalist David Fountain. He took over for Scott Brackett, who was unable to continue touring with Murder By Death.

"He was just filling in while we were trying to figure out if Scott was going to be able to continue touring or not," Turla says. "He couldn't, so David was doing such a good job that it made sense that he join. He has a great voice, does tons of backup vocals, plays mandolin, keyboard, banjo, percussion, trumpet. ... We feel very lucky."

They'll play with O'Death at their Saturday set at Pit Stop. It's not the first time they've played with the Brooklyn punk Americana band. They first toured with them in 2008, have covered each other's songs, and see each other when time allows.

"While you're getting ready to play a show, getting to hear a band that you're genuinely a big fan of puts you in the right mindset. I also think that our bands complement each other very well," Turla says. "It feels like you're controlling your art project. [Audiences] walk in the door, and the next couple of hours you'll be experiencing something that we think goes together really well."


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