Murder by Death’s unique sound makes us nostalgic for the Old West

“Screw it. If all else fails and I’m still hungover at 6:00, I just get drunk again.” That’s sound advice from Adam Turla, a man who has done his fair share of playing and partying like a rock star. He laughs shyly as he recalls his “tried and true” remedies for hangovers and discusses Murder by Death’s current tour opening for Reverend Horton Heat.

Five hours in a hot, sticky car on a Saturday afternoon would be enough to dampen the brightest spirits, but the lead vocalist and guitarist for the band seems downright pleasant. When asked if the endless road trips to get from here to there grow old, he simply replies, “No, you just have to take what comes with touring.” It’s that relaxed, just-go-with-it attitude which keeps the band relatable and relaxed through the chaos of cross-country touring. These natives of Bloomington, Indiana, got together around seven years ago to do two of their favorite things – play music and party.

“The time just adds up. We had known each other from just going on and being in college, drinking and having a good time. It was more just for fun, but some opportunities came up and we just rolled with it. None of us planned in the beginning to make a career out of it,” explained Turla.

That’s exactly what those opportunities turned into. Turla sings lead vocals with a mysterious, smoldering voice while jamming on the guitar. Sarah Balliet contributes her talents to a couple of unexpected instruments for a rock band – the cello and keys. Alex Schrodt brings life to the drums and Matt Armstrong thumbs the bass.

The combination of members and talents creates the unique sound of the haunting Old West – I’d expect them to be wearing cowboy garb and dodging bullets in a saloon shoot-out. Turla’s voice resembles a young Johnny Cash, whom they reference in songs like “Sometimes the Line Walks You.”

In seven years the band has recorded and released four full-length albums, an early EP and a seven-inch tribute for their musician friend Matt Davis, who died tragically at a young age. Their most recent release, In Bocca al Lupo, has received a plethora of praise from critics and fans.

“The style is different. It’s supposed to be an anthology of short stories. Each song is a different story about sinners and redemption. This album is much less coherent from the others, because it’s not all about one story,” Turla describes. It’s curious how the busy band members find time to generate new ideas for songs, but that creativity keeps fans interested in the ever-changing moods and plots of their albums.

When asked about his blossoming creativity, Adam replies, “It just sort of comes up. Sometimes I spend a long time working out an idea, sometimes it’s quicker, but it’s all natural.”

If only we could all be so lucky. Turla has a very charismatic, laid-back feeling about him. There’s nothing more enticing than a down-to-earth band that’s slightly reserved and withdrawn offstage, but really knows how to amplify a crowd while on stage.

Even the stars can get a little star-struck when it comes to meeting other bands. Adam Turla explained, “Well, we’re on tour with Reverend Horton Heat, and all the guys in the band are such spectacular musicians that I feel in awe of their ability. They’re so talented, and I really admire them. We got to play with the Pogues, my favorite band, a while back. That was a really big deal for me. Meeting them was a little terrifying.”

Another terrifying event was when Adam ate a snake egg. Yes, a real one. “I got really sick, but it was a bet I had to oblige. I had to go to the hospital, and they managed to remove it, but I got really sick.” Talk about one interesting hospital visit. Adam explained that many more antics go on during a tour, one of which was happening as we spoke. The tour manager for the group is also in charge of the driving and, therefore, the music played in the car.

“He goes online and downloads music we’ll hate, because he does all the driving. He’ll pop in some terrible emo band with the sole purpose of torturing us.”

Aside from the quirks of touring and recording new albums, Murder by Death is very serious about music. They always play the song “Those Who Stayed” at the end of a set to energize the crowd for the next band. Their work behind the scenes translates into a “dark cowboy”-themed masterpiece on stage, and on March 27th expect only the best from this wild bunch from Bloomington. What else can you expect from a guy who had a snake rummaging around in his stomach?

Come see Reverend Horton Heat, Murder By Death and The Tossers at the Highdive next Tuesday night. The doors open at 8 p.m. for the 9 p.m. show, which is 19 and over. Tickets are available in advance for $20.

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