- Greg Whitaker
- Murder By Death
SAVANNAH adores Murder By Death, and lucky for us, they love us right back. The Bloomington, Indiana band entered its 16th year of existence in 2016; they're headlining festivals and selling out all across the country, but they still love moseying down to Congress Street to play The Jinx—the smallest club in the whole world that they play at this point in their career.
Last time they were here, the band was gearing up to release a seventh studio album, Big Dark Love. Adam Turla’s deep, Cash-style vocals and Sarah Balliet’s signature cello strains remind audiences that it’s a Murder By Death record, but there’s a poppier sensibility on that release that amped up their usual roots-influenced Gothic sound. With more instrumentation and a tougher approach, Big Dark Love is an exciting chapter in the MBD catalog.
The band’s cut back on their typically demanding touring schedule to write and rest up. Turla and Balliet are happy in their new Kentucky home and look forward to heading South for a weekend at Shaky Knees Festival.
We caught up with Turla on the latest record, the fruits of physical labor (he’s renovating a house!), and how time off allows him to experiment with all kinds of songwriting techniques.1. On touring less:
Right now, our situation is that we’re pretty much taking the rest of year off following a couple festivals and stuff like that. We haven’t really given ourselves much of a break in our history of 16 years; it’s sort of a necessary breather before we start thinking about writing again.
The typical thing would be to do this weekend, take couple weeks off, get to writing immediately, book studio time, start planning the album release tour. This way, we have more time in different sections the cycle of an album. I feel like, for me, that will just benefit the writing more than anything.2. On songwriting:
It’s impossible for us to write on the road—there’s no opportunity to have time to yourself. For me, I think, it’s better to say, ‘Okay, now I’m going to just write.’
One thing I’ve done in past is go out into the woods, leave for a week and say, ‘Alright, I’ve got this notebook and a bunch of ideas, so I better just write this out and come up with something.’
Sometimes you end up writing to entertain yourself—it can be so boring to be by yourself for a week—so you dig into yourself and say, ‘What do I have to offer?’
One thing I love to explore with this writing session is I like to see what happens when you’re doing multiple versions of writing. We do experimental work together in a group more for certain songs; others, I’ll bring finished to the group.
We used to write songs back in the day where we’d get together, a bunch of people and instruments, and wait until somebody comes up with a line. We haven’t done that style in so long. That way is somewhat tedious, you can work a day and come up with nothing interesting, but to allow ourselves the time do to something like that, find a song or two like that, you come up with different songs than when you write a song by yourself. Doing that, you tend to be really organized—‘I’m gonna streamline this and edit it down based on the organization of how a song should be’—but when you’re kind of just letting something happen, you get weird bridges and things that might not have made it in if you didn’t start saying, ‘I really like this part; how do we work it into the song?’
My hope is, after we take a break and it’s time for me to start digging, I want to approach a bunch of different ways of writing.3. On moving to Louisville, Kentucky:
It’s been two years, almost to the day. We’re home, working on fixing up an old house. It’s been really fun, and it’s just a ton of work. I’ve been doing eight, twelve hour days. It’s awesome, it’s so different than touring. It’s a pleasure to be outside working all day.4. On Big Dark Love's evolved sound:
Every time we release an album, we say it’s really different. Then, when we look back on them, they’re not wildly different: the heart of the band is always in there, always. Each project, looking at it definitively, producers naturally have a sound that might be a little different, but the sounds and people are still the same. With this one, we were trying to do certain things differently—there are songs that are some of our very early stuff, songs that are totally new, songs that fit the more general sound of band.
Basically, the same way with all our records, some people say it’s their favorite, some don’t like it as much. When you’re releasing a seventh album, it’s certainly harder than releasing an earlier album. Some people have an idea of what they’re going to hear; you can never get in someone’s head. We literally get people that very confidently tell us how one specific album is clearly our best work—people have said about every album written hear it all the time we were at our best on this album. Sometimes it’s the new one—we like hearing that. You want to feel relevant. I get people who think our first album that we slapped together as a bunch of sophomores in college saying, ‘That’s your best work’—it’s definitely not! It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives.
People seemed to like [Big Dark Love]; the tour we did was most successful tour we ever had.5. On returning to The Jinx:
It’s such a fun way to start up! It’s the first day of a four-day weekend.
The Jinx is the smallest club we play. Really. It’s the smallest club we play in the world, in terms of amount of tickets we sell. There’s something fun about that; it’s a bit of a roots show. The people at Jinx treat us really well.
It’s going to be a fun show. We’re playing stuff from all our albums. We’ve practiced over 50 songs for the tour, so we’re really covered so we’re not just doing same set every night. We have no idea what we’ll play that night! It depends on what people want to hear. We’ll feel it out.