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- Murder by Death
Murder by Death sounds a little exhausted.
When I reach cellist Sarah Balliet by phone in late June, she's in the midst of a long drive back from Martintown, Ontario, where she and Adam Turla (he Johnny Cash-like baritone) had just wrapped up the final show obligation from their record-breaking Kickstarter album fundraiser.
"We've been driving for 15 hours. It's been exhausting, but it feels good to be finally done," Balliet says.
For those (somehow) uninitiated in the new age of crowd-sourced album funding, note the steps: band wants to make album; band creates Kickstarter (or PledgeMusic, or IndieGoGo, etc.) to raise money from fans with different rewards corresponding with different donation amounts; band finishes fundraising; makes album; releases album; begins arduous process of filling all prize requirements; band takes long nap. In Murder by Death's case, the album was 2012's Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, the total amount raised was $187,047, and they traveled to seven different towns to play pop-up shows.
But that's not all that's tiring. The pair is in the midst of a move from Bloomington (where the band formed) to Louisville.
"We're headed home right now to start packing boxes, basically," Balliet says. "It's been our home for a long time, so it's pretty crazy for us."
Now, only their bass player, Matt Armstrong, still lives in Bloomington, the band's birthplace. It's been a place of fertile inspiration for the group. Although writers most often associate Murder by Death's lurid, story-song lyrics with a different place and time (specifically, 1890s, American West), one track in particular on Bitter Drink is very Bloomington, very 2012.
" 'Hard World' was very much inspired by Lauren Spierer [Indiana University student who went missing in the summer of 2011] being missing," Balliet says. "When we were writing, it had really just taken over the town, the posters of her face. The crazy thing is that when I moved to Bloomington in 2000, everybody was looking for Jill Behrman. ... It's something that happens a lot more regularly in cities all over the United States all the time. But a small town like Bloomington can really be rocked by something like that."
There's no denying that Murder by Death is drawn to the dark and dreary in song, and sometimes they pick a locale to match. They're repeating a run of shows this January at Colorado's Stanley Hotel. Sound familiar? It's the creepy place that inspired Stephen King's The Shining.
"It was just such a raging success last year ... that we thought, 'We just have to do this again,'" Balliet says. "It was too great."
But before that, they have more music to make. The's band in the studio with the band diving into new tracks already for a followup to Bitter Drink. They're recording in a series of sessions with Kevin Ratterman at his studio, La La Land.
"We're recording a new album this summer," she says. "We are writing and recording in bits and pieces in Louisville. We're plunging into it, just hoping to get the whole album done in three or four sessions. It's a hectic summer for us."
They haven't been to Radio Radio since 2011. They know it's easy for a band to overplay their home region, so they try to keep that in check.
"We try to keep it somewhat special," she says.