Murder By Death’s Adam Turla has finally reached the other other shore with Spell/Bound, new tour [updated]

Murder By Death co-headline with Amigo the Devil at Lemonade Park on Aug. 9.

Murder By Death Press Photo Credit Becky Digiglio

[Update 8/10/22: Coverage of the concert is included at the bottom of the article.]

Some bands build catalogs over the years. Murder by Death has built a universe. Over more than two decades together, they have released eight deeply immersive albums, each one subtly broadening their sonic and thematic limits, and exploring what the band is truly capable of. On their ninth album, Spell/Bound, the band has taken their largest leap forward into lavish, spaced-out territory only hinted at on previous records. “Sonically, the direction we explored was more in the vein of almost trip-hop, like Massive Attack and Portishead, where we were trying to lean into a vibe that was chill but dark. We wanted it to be a record that was lush but not necessarily a wall of sound,” says frontman Adam Turla.

To thicken their ever evolving and increasingly ambitious sound, Murder by Death added a sixth member for Spell/Bound, Emma Tiemann, whose violin work complements Sarah Balliet’s haunting cello, a beloved staple of the band’s identity. After two pandemic years of fine-tuning and adjusting, the songs were finally laid down in California by producer Kevin Ratterman. On some tracks, like “Everything Must Rest,” this robust new lineup was able to produce a straightforward pop jam laced with an 80s Cure guitar lick over a simple, catchy hook. But on others, like “Incantation,” they unleashed an all-out orchestrated arrangement that feels like a winding road through dark and treacherous woods. Spell/Bound takes wild and unpredictable leaps at every turn, obliterating expectations and preconceived notions about what the band can pull off. In other words, entirely fitting for a Murder by Death album.

We sat down with Adam from Murder By Death—ahead of their co-headlining show with Amigo the Devil at Lemonade Park on Aug. 9—to discuss MBD’s new album, returning to the road, and more Songs in the Key of Robocop.

The Pitch: On social media, we can see that you’re shipping out all the new vinyl records today. There’s a truck full of packages. Is that how you kick off a tour?

Adam Turla: We’ve got a full second truck we have to drive to the post office to drop things off once they’re packaged. We just got a specialty pressing on the new album vinyl so there’s a few extra thousand to send out. We’re doing a crazy time where we’re trying to ship out everything before the tour begins, so we can have that handled, but the rest of the band is also headed into town so we can knock out a few days of rehearsal before the tour starts.

It’s a manic time with a lot of unreasonable goals, but so far we’re pulling it off, as we race to the finish line.

What was it like to launch a band-relief Kickstarter that you hoped would get you through a few months, only to now be releasing the rewards from that campaign two-and-a-half years later?

I feel very indebted right now. I often feel personally responsible when we do backer things like this.

Yeah, we’ve spoken now a couple times around a couple of false starts or optimistic stabs at this out here, like, hey, how good do you feel the odds are on this one? That’s

No, I mean, it’s good. You know, it’s like, it’s it, the question is just, you know, it’s like, I think it’s just, it’s just odd. It’s odd to when you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Like, there was something interesting about touring. We did the tour last fall, those makeup dates, and it was kind of interesting to have the, you know, it’s like, nice to have some guidance. You know, whenever, whenever we knew, we’re like, oh, we’re not supposed to play shows. Okay, now we can play shows, okay. Oh, we’re supposed to have vaccine tests, okay. You just want to as a musician, like you don’t want to be constantly doing health protocol, you know, so you just want them to tell you well, what is safe, because, you know, obviously, you want your crew and your band safe, you want your audience safe, the staff at the venues. So you just want to be told, like, this is the correct protocol for a live music event, you know, and it’s just kind of crazy. That has been, depending on the time that you’re dealing with it, it’s, it can be really just, like, difficult to get an answer. So this one is kind of like, Yeah, I mean, like, I’ve been going out to eat and, you know, doing more normal life stuff, but also, like a month ago, like everybody, I feel like so many people were sick, so you just don’t You don’t want to downplay that either. You know, you want to respect everybody as much as you can, but also just like, well, the, you have to sort of follow the cultural current like where what, what do people seem to think right now? What are people? How do they approach it? So anyway, we just we’re just trying to play the shows, do our best and try to get out there and celebrate finally getting to make this album.

Murder By Death Press Photo Credit Becky Digigliojpg Bw

As, as a brief aside about albums that really care about yesterday, you guys launched gold pressings of like The Exorcist, with all the profits going to the Health Justice Network. How did that pan out financially at the end of the day?

I was amazing. Oh, yeah, basically, it was the day. It wasn’t yesterday, but it was a couple of weeks ago. Okay. Yeah, we basically we did a post, we were just feeling awful about Roe versus Wade, because of all the people that you know, will be negatively affected by that. And, you know, when you feel helpless, sir, and I talked about this a lot, where it’s like, when you just feel like the evil of the world is pressing down on you, the only thing that ever helps, is to do something for somebody else. And so we just said, Well, you know, what we were out of the last pressing of this album, I just repressed this 20th anniversary thing. I wasn’t going to announce it for a couple of months, but I just said, I bet we could raise a little money to try to, you know, support people, you know, who are in need of services. And we launched it, and it was just a post on socials, it was one I just said, One day only, we’ll just put 100% of the profits towards this. And, you know, the idea was just like, you know, we’re pressing this thing anyway. And it, we were able to donate $5,000. So I mean, that was, I think that’s for, for a band, smaller band our size in to raise $5,000 profit in one day, you can just turn straight to unnecessary charity. That’s incredible. You know, we’ve been able to, that’s the way that I have found that is my favorite way to do fundraising is to just say, like, Hey, you as a fan, all you have to do is buy yourself a present. And then I will turn that into a donation. And we’ve raised like, at least $100,000 that way over the years, and it’s really cool. It’s like, you know, we’ve done it for everything from like, Center for Women and Families. In Kentucky, we’ve done it for, you know, like, ACLU or like, wildfires in Australia, or wildfires in America, or, you know, like, just trying to, you know, there’s a trans organization like, just, you know, basically whenever something affects our life directly, in the sense that, like, if there’s any time that we just feel like we can do something we try to, and having a vehicle that is supportive, like our audience, to just find a way that it’s you can turn you can turn your power into something good is awesome. I mean, it’s the best feeling like it’s nice, like going on stage is cool, it’s fine. You know, like, it’s nice to have people like cheer for you. But like being able to engage people to help other people is significantly more interesting

So when you guys went into the studio for sell ban that it has a sound that’s very different from a lot of the other previous murder by death album was was there like any sort of concert conscious, like, production concept that you were like, This is what this is gonna sound like?

Yes. Yeah, yes and no. So we worked with the same producer who did the other shore and is have done a bunch of recordings for us. So we knew that it was gonna sound really good because he’s extremely talented. And then we so we knew that that was, it was it was gonna have a big sound. And it really, we had some sense that we could go into a more like kind of like just like an enormous kind of quality and then we knew bringing in the violin that there was going to be an opportunity for, like extremely ornate array. instruments and articulated, you know, back and forth between the players. So we really wanted to roll that into the writing. And we did. And so what ended up happening is, you know, as we started getting the first couple songs done, we started seeing sort of the vibe of the album. And then we really just made sure we were prepared when we went into the studio, so that everybody could just play the parts that we had painstakingly arranged. And then once we heard it, you know, there’s a little changes you make here. And actually, I’m going to lay back here and not play. So that sounds those parts can sound better. But we also left ourselves time by being so prepared from rehearsals that we were able to go in at the end of each day. And basically dedicate time to say, Okay, I really wanted a lot of like, incidental sounds here, or I really want like keyboard layers here. For a fact, just at this one moment, I want there to be this sound like crazy person, Brian Wilson mania, production choices to where you’re like, I know, this is insane. But this is really like, every time I hear the song in my head, since I started writing it, I really want this insane thing to happen. And like, my notes for like, I have, like production notes, they just look like, like the ramblings of a maniac. It’s like, literally, like, they’re my family as a comment. And they would just be like, what’s this part here that says, like, bassoon explosion, like, that’s, it’s evocative, and helps me remember exactly what I want to hear, you know, and so there are these funny moments like that where then then you’d be like, I would say that to the producer. And every once in a while, he’d be like, I know exactly what you mean, go, he’s like, this is the patch that I think you mean, I just feel like, Yep, I’m like, and I would just play the part, or David would play it. And it was so funny, because we, we use sort of, like, a funny language, while we were making this record to try to communicate, because we just had so many ideas that were really like, clear and necessary to us. But also, like, you know, it’s not just like, play a pentatonic riff or something, you know, it’s like, it was it was like, we were going for a cinematic album. So we really needed to, like, say, like, well, like, what I really want is like, you know, in this Dario Argento horror movie, when Jennifer Connelly is being chased by, you know, bugs, there’s like a goblin song that just has this really like menacing keyboard part, like, I want to patch something like that. And we would go in and just sort of use these funny, obscure references that like, whatever just stuck out to us, instead of just trying to like, wing it, you know, we really tried to, like communicate better, and I think it work.Mani 004cddigi.eps

It’s not just an album influenced by the cinematic, it’s one that you’ve literally built with the language of cinema by pulling scenes and concepts.

Yeah, no, I mean, I think so I think that it was a big part of this album. And, you know, I’m really hoping that films use this record for like, you know, for the, for the movie, or trailers, or whatever. Because when we handed over to our publisher, he was just like, this is a publishing dream, because it’s so epic. And, you know, it’s like, sometimes you get a win with those, sometimes you don’t, I just like the idea that somebody is working on there, or, you know, their film or show or whatever. And then they’re just like, Oh, my God, this song would be perfect. You know, there’s something fun about that, or, like, this song just completes the thing that I’m trying to make. And, you know, there’s, there’s a, you know, we’re not writing specifically for that. But when he said that, I hadn’t even thought of it because I was so focused on the, you know, the act of making it. But, you know, I mean, if I was writing for publishing, I would basically want to quit, like, just how it’s not why I’m here. I just want to make I just want to make the thing.

Murder By Death Dan Ozzi

This is your first album, being released without a label?

Yeah, completely independent.

How does that feel?

You know, it’s, it’s challenging because basically it’s not even something it’s like that I wear as a badge of honor or shame or anything, I don’t have that many feelings, it just seemed like the thing that made the most sense to do. Right now. I mean, we’ve had so many records that we didn’t even like, see, if anybody was interested in working with us, or tried to shop the record at all, we didn’t even try it, because he just said, you know, we’ve been pushing in this direction for so long dealing directly with the audience. Let’s just try it. And I think it was, you know, when we worked with bloodshot for the last three records, we were basically doing the same process, but then we would, they would help us by using their team to promote it, and to push it into the world. And when bloodshot went to funked, we just said, Man, I don’t feel like hunting around for another label, and just trying to like, you know, convince somebody, that we’re still relevant, or whatever, you know, we felt like we had to do, like, let’s just make a great album, and then let’s just put the album out, you know, and there’s a lot more bands doing that with label services these days. And, you know, we have people that are, you know, filling in the roles necessary, that, you know, a label would have done. And, you know, it’s not the exact same thing, but it’s also just part of the changing climate of the industry. So it’s not, not that rare to be doing what we’re doing now, especially if you’re a, you know, a band that’s been around for a long time, you kind of just like, start to figure out how to do things on your own. And we’ve done so much between doing our own mail order and vinyl. And, you know, we’re heavily involved in every aspect of this band. So it’s like, let’s just try it. You know, I’ll see how it goes. The truth is, like the way we do them with the Kickstarters. It’s kind of like the most direct experience we have with the album anyway. So, you know, for now, I just can’t wait for it to get out in the world on Friday and people to enjoy it.

You’ve got the cave shows coming up. How many of these songs are you going to be performing for a live audience for the first time?

Wwe’re going to play the entire album start to finish to start the set in the cave on Saturday. Fabulous. So we have played two of them. Two of the songs to audiences that our family hotel shows, while we were still working on them. So we’ve actually like, modified one of them pretty dramatically since those shows when we finished up writing for the studio, because we basically played them live. And they said, we did this really challenging song live to try to like, see what it felt like, and it needed more. And we fixed everything that we were like 5050 on, and now it came out great on the recording. So we actually restart rehearsals with the full band altogether. Tomorrow, it’ll be interesting to hear. You know, since we made the recording, like it’ll be the first time we’ve just like sat down and played it. You know, as a live song, live interesting to like, here are a couple of the things because we did change parts in the studio from, you know, the rehearsals a couple of days before the studio, so they’ll sort of be like relearning some of these for the first time. And then the cave show will be a bit of a exciting thing for us, because there’s such a freshness to playing those new songs. So, but I think ultimately, it’s going to be exciting.

Are there? Are there any deep-cut tracks that you guys are having to pull out of the vault relearn ahead of the tour? Or are your hands full, mastering the new album that you’ve got? It’s more

I think, because this tour is a Coville with amigo the devil. We wanted to just keep the focus on, you know, we selected good good songs to play from the back catalogue. And, you know, 1000s of people have been, you know, asking for and that kind of stuff. And so we, you know, we’ve selected a good amount, like, maybe like 30 back catalogue songs, and then we’re gonna basically be playing like, you know, selections from the new record every night that like every song will be played on every song from the new record will be played on the tour, just with a different combination, depending on the night. So yeah, we’re just trying to like kind of follow you know, I’m curious to see which new songs translate really well alive. The end that people request, you know, I’m, I don’t know yet. I don’t know what people are going to be into. I’m curious what people’s favorite tracks are and so that’ll be that’s kind of the fun Part of doing an album release tour is your you know, you’re sharing your stuff, but you’re also like learning. You’re learning what people are excited about?

Well, why do a co headlining tour right out of the gate here? Or is it just because you and amigo have been trying to put this together for a couple of years?

So basically what happened was, we wanted to do amigo was opening the door for us when, you know, in early 2020, when the pandemic hit, and then he, we wanted to make up those dates with him. Because we thought it was a good bill. And so, but then he, you know, he really blew up with his latest record. So we just said, Well, if that sort of takes, like, let’s just do the tour, I also think that there’s so much saturation, with every band on the planet, on tour this summer. And so my thought was, like, you know, I’d rather like, you know, why go out with somebody that like, we want to, we want to play together, like, go out and compete against each other. And how, and both have, like, you know, fine shows, sign tours, when we could combine and have a better tour. And like, let’s just get, you know, we’re still in this weird. Everything is still affected by the pandemic, you know, touring, it’s still, every band I’ve talked to that’s been on the road is like, yeah, like, it was cool to be able to play the shows and everything, but like, you would show up in a city and just, you know, you’d be like, why wouldn’t this show selling as well, or whatever. And then you’d see like, the calendar of everybody on the road, and like, who’s playing the same night as you? And it was just like, oh, you know, a lot of people still aren’t even going to concerts again, yet, or not like as much as they used to. And, you know, there’s just like, there’s just a lot, everybody’s out there. And there’s like, all these bands that are trying to get one in how they can. So I think for us, it’s just, I think it’ll be fun. And then, you know, next year, we’ll go and do something on our own, probably, but who knows, maybe, you know, I really like partnering up with other bands. And thinking about the show as, like, a whole night. We’ve toured a lot, you know, we’ve been on the road for a long time. So I think like anything that can make a tour, exciting and an excuse to go out and have a good time is, and for the fans, I mean, to have a good time. That I think it’s a plus, I’m super stoked about the bill. I mean, Samantha Crane is opening for the first month of the tour, and I’m a huge fan of hers, and she’s really good friend of ours. So like, that bill is for me. Like, I’m excited to hear the music every night.

I imagine that once you’re back on the road here, there’ll be a little less out but but I did want to ask like, how have you enjoyed doing the Patreon stuff because I feel like your output there on some of these, like, show remembrance posts and sort of your your history of the band has been some of the certainly some of the biggest output output I’ve gotten from musician Patreon in the last couple of years, like a view? Or is that going to eventually wind its way into being a book? Or are you just gonna keep going on with this Patreon thing, or

that’s an idea that our manager had, but like, the truth is, like, I don’t want to take on any more projects right now. And the Patreon has been a lifesaver for us, because it’s the first time you know, we’re trying to just use all the stuff that’s out there and available to artists right now. Because it’s a great time to be an artist with being able to, you know, directly interact with people. And when we consider that we consider the patreon to basically be a, like, a fan club, you know, that’s how our manager explained it to me, because I didn’t want to do it originally. Because I thought, it’s just too much we have too many things going on. I don’t, I don’t know what I want to do. And then he just kept kind of pressing me being like, look, look at this, like you can do whatever you want. I was like, I don’t want to do videos. I don’t like taking selfies and I don’t like posting videos. It’s just not my world and, and he was just like, Dude, you can do whatever you want. And then I started going through like all my old archives of MBD stuff, and I realized, Oh, we could I could just tell the story of the band, as I remember it. And that became the focal point of that, which is that, you know, suddenly we’re just going back and trying to remember and in a way it’s you know, yeah, ultimately Is my memoirs which, something that some was more interesting than others, you know, it’s not edited, but because it’s parsed out into these, like a couple posts a month. I think it ends up being kind of interesting. And like, people, people check in and they say, like, Oh, this is when I got into the band. This is when the first time I saw you, that was the show, I remember that show, I was at that show. And like, someone posted an entire video of this crazy gig we played from 2002. That was like, we played with like, like the New York, Long Island, the hardcore band, kill your idols on Long Island at a hardcore show, because not many just like, let us jump on the bill last minute. And it was like the weirdest gig for us to play because we’re not a hardcore band. And it was, it was such a funny video to have, like, of all the shows, it was like, the coldest reception we’ve ever had, you know, in, it really was like, because all these tough guys were like, look, is this there’s a cello, you know, or what is that thing? Like, and, but then I remember at the show, people would like come up to the merch table afterwards. And like, seriously, like, secretly slipped me 20 bucks to buy, you know, whatever price here, because they weren’t sure if they were, like, allowed to like us. And because they’re the hardcore show. And that’s the, that’s the one, like, video, you know, taping we have from 2002. And it’s like, not even one we’re the majority of people like liked us or reacted well, and I just thought that was so funny. And like that came from, from that world where it’s like, oh, somebody saw me writing with a show. And then I was like, I think I have a video or, you know, it’s just fascinating when people have, you know, so you start sort of telling the story, and then other people’s memories come out, or they find old photos. So it’s been a just a fun, interactive way to actually enjoy doing it now. And now that I don’t feel so stressed about it. And I’ve had to like sort of just like the podcast element of it kind of got away from us, interviewing people. While we were working on the album in the last, like, you know, a couple months. I haven’t done as many of those but like, it’s fine. People don’t care. Like, they understand, like, I’ll do more when it’s, you know, when I have a moment. So anyway, just very, it’s been great, because the first time in our lives we’ve ever had just any kind of like steady income because they pay you monthly. And it’s like, oh, like, cool, you know, even if it’s just a couple 100 bucks or so and so, if that pays for your food for the month, you know, fans aren’t used to that kind of security and Patreon has been really good for that.

The final question here is when do we get more Songs in the Key of Robocop?

[Note: as part of a previous fundraising effort, the band recorded several of the songs that Adam sings to his dog Robocop when they’re alone in the house, as full tracks. The EP is available here and remains goddamned adorable.]

I thought about recording more. I’ve got dozens more that I sing around the house, but then I’d have to sit down, think about it, and figure out the chords. Might be too much work. But Robocop will be at the shows. He’s coming on tour with us.

Murder by Death and Amigo the Devil co-headline Lemonade Park on Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and ticket information is available here. Spell/Bound is available wherever you get your music.

UPDATE 8/10/22: Last night’s setlist is below.

The Devil in Mexico
Dynamite Mine
The Curse of Elkhart
Big Dark Love
Good Morning, Magpie
Last Night on Earth
Lost River Fuego!
Pizza Party! (at Gloria Estefan’s House)
That Crown Don’t Make You a Prince
Only Time
Until Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue
Comin’ Home

Steal Away

Categories: Music