We were lucky to have Murder By Death swing by the Epitonic offices for a pre-New Year's Eve session while the beloved Bloomington band was in Chicago for a two night New Years' run at the Subterranean.
If you're unfamiliar with MBD, asking "What bands do they sound like?” probably isn't going to yield the information you seek. While it’s a universal tendency to compartmentalize, catalog, and classify music until we’re blue in the face, it's not a technique that works particularly well for this band, nor does it do their songs justice.
Murder By Death's distinctive sound is defined by frontman Adam Turla’s incredibly cavernous vocals and punctuated by cellist Sarah Balliet’s shadowy arrangements, resulting in songs that run the gamut between sinister and warm. These signifiers are most prevalent in the MBD standards "Brother" and "'52 Ford", while "Comin' Home" and the as-yet unreleased "No Oath" tell a story of bitter revenge fueled by a whiskey-soaked gunslinger mentality. Put it all together, and you're suddenly immersed in a Western-gothic atmosphere so distinct and striking, it leaves you looking around wondering when the tumbleweed is going to roll by.
Granted, it’s not exactly the most radio-friendly sound or subject matter but it's pretty clear that the Billboard 200 is about the farthest thing from the band’s collective mind. Before the session started, I had a chance to ask Turla why MBD decided to do their NYE run at the Subterranean (a relatively small club-like space) when they could easily command one of the city's larger music venues.
"We have more fun playing the smaller clubs," Turla explained, "Playing to a completely packed house and getting that intimate crowd interaction is what we love."
It may seem like a fairly innocuous statement, but it strikes to the heart of what Murder By Death is all about: playing their music, on their terms, to their fans.