Adam Turla was packing boxes when I called him. Lots and lots of boxes. The singer and founder of Bloomington's Murder by Death is in the midst of fulfilling $187,048 worth of donation rewards.
That's right; they raked in just under $200,000 in a month to support the release of their fifth full-length album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. The average successful music Kickstarter asks for and receives approximately $5,000. But Murder by Death offered so many promotions, special considerations and, frankly, bizarre reward options that their fundraiser spread like wildfire across the Internet, almost doubling their goal. The campaign ended as the third-highest music Kickstarter ever.
"I've spent the last two weeks, 10 to 15 hours a day packing all the orders," says Turla.
And, indeed, it sounds like he's stacking something when he picks up my call. Inside those boxes are things expected -- CDs, vinyl, specialty posters, T-shirts -- and and unexpected -- globe lanterns emblazoned with album art, book club selections, whiskey crew patches and more.
But the really good stuff won't fit in a box. Fan-plus-band activities include an entire day at Cedar Point riding roller coasters and playing carnival games ($4,001); a Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour ($6,500); and, of course, shows in donors' basements ($4,000).
They'll spend the next several months honoring the eccentric requests of their highest donors. Dagan Thogerson, the group's drummer, will bear a permanent mark of their recording-setting campaign -- someone bought the right to tattoo whatever they'd like on him.
"I have a feeling he's going to get it in the next month on this tour because we'll probably run into one of the tattoo artists that come into our shows. It's funny -- that sold in about 30 minutes," Turla says.
The fan's final choice?
"It's going to be a picture of Jesus and the devil roasting marshmallows over a fire."
They'll be flying to eight different locations around the globe to play basement, living room and special occasion shows for super fans willing to pay big bucks for their own private concert. In fact, one's already done.
"There was a wedding of these fans in upstate New York; they were getting married on a beautiful property. The groom pledged the money and he wanted us to serenade her, just a few songs, acoustic after they were married," says Turla. "She spotted us as soon as we showed up and started crying, saying, 'Did he do this for me?' It was adorable."
Their next few private shows will be at an antiquities shop, a few more weddings and a Canadian barbeque cook-off.
"A lot of cool, weird places," says Turla.
Although the group's spent the last few years traversing remote parts of the world, they're always happy to come back to Bloomington.
"Most of us still live here; we love it. Our drummer has been living in Portland, and Scott [Brackett, keyboardist] is from Austin. But I own a house here. I love it, I'm entrenched."
Part of the joy of living in Bloomington is enjoying the same musical community that fostered their growth.
"I try and go to The Bishop as often as I can; I think that Dan [Coleman, of Spirit of '68] is doing an amazing job there. He's bringing acts to our town that would never have been there two, three years ago."
They often have a hometown release show at The Bluebird, where they'll play Thursday.
"The Bluebird is one of the bigger rooms in Bloomington.We play The Bishop just because we like it a lot, but it's much smaller. If we're going to do a CD release, we want to get more people out; The Bluebird is the biggest place to do that."
Attendees will be able to see the group's slightly modified lineup. Original members Turla; cellist Sarah Balliet and bassist Matt Armstrong will be joined by drummer Thorgensen (a member since (2007) and Brackett. Brackett's the newest member of the crew, a seasoned musician who's a welcome addition.
"Scott was in Okkervil [River] for a really long time, like six or seven years. He wanted to be in a band where he was considered more of an equal member. Okkervil has a constant changing rotation of musicians, aside from the main guy, Will Sheff. He came out for SXSW and played horn on two songs and we hit it off with him right away," says Turla. "We hired him on as a tour member, and for about a year he was an additional musician, and then I made the offer to him to be an equal member. We thought about it and about one and a half years ago, he decided to come onboard. I'm so glad we did it."
Brackett joins a group that's been on the road almost since their beginning. After meeting at Indiana University in 2000, the members -- then called Little Joe Gould -- recorded Like the Exorcist, but More Breakdancing, which was released on Eyeball Records in 2002.
Years of shows followed, as the group progressed from opener on dates with groups like Thursday, The Weakerthans and Interpol to headliners on tours with Ha Ha Tonka and Langhorne Slim. Eleven separate EP and LP releases followed too, including Tuesday's Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon.
Distinctive elements of the group are refined on the release -- Balliet's sonorous cello ties together ballads, marches and instrumentals. Lyrics and arrangements carry on the gothic punk style that's earned the group acclaim and a large following. Perhaps, most notably, is the return of Turla's roaring baritone. His deep, rich voice (remarkably lower than Breakdancing's weaker tenor) has earned him an annoying amount of comparisons to the Men in Black.
"The thing that I always get that I sound like is Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. Both of those guys are awesome, but I don't actually listen to them much, especially when I saw the comparisons starting. Whenever I see a comparison, my instinct is to shut that down," says Turla. "Those guys are legendary; I don't want to listen to them and therefore copy their style if I'm already being compared to them.
Similarities non-withstanding, Turla has to protect his voice from the rigors of a decade of hard touring.
"I've been working on just reserving [my voice]; I use honey if my throat's feeling raw, just to make sure that we don't screw up the shows," says Turla. "It's really important to me. Touring is the way that we've been able to keep this band afforded."
He'll be packing boxes quietly as they wrap up their Kickstarter mailings and prepare for the 20 dates they've announced in October where Turla expects they'll see a lot of new fans for the first time.
"The truth is -- [the Kickstarter has] just been really effective in getting the music out to new people. While we couldn't expect how much work it was going to be, we knew we were in for a really busy fall," says Turla.
Listen to Murder By Death's last album, Good Morning, Magpie, above.