Web version: Bloomington's family on wheels 

Murder By Death tours and tells


WHAT: Murder By Death, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Creepin’ Charley and the Boneyard Orchestra
WHERE: The Vogue
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 23, 8 p.m., $12, 21+

To set yourself apart from the fray as a rock band, the key is instrumentation and lyrical intensity. For Bloomington’s Murder By Death, orchestration (via cello, with cavernous, angular laments kindled by classically-trained cellist Sarah Balliet, and a sonorous baritone sustained by vocalist and guitarist Adam Turla) yields an undeniable presence for the Midwest quartet.

As for sage lyrics, religious undertones and poetry concocted from Turla’s studies at Indiana University, where he is a senior, speak for themselves: “Tell my wife / in our yard buried underneath the pine / there’s a shoebox full of money / of which I never earned a dime / Use it to start over / the way things should have been / live honest and love again.”

These lyrics from “The Big Sleep,” off “In Bocca al Lupo” (2006), stood out for their maestro as the most memorable lines he wrote on the band’s recent record. The album came as a labor of love.

“We all went back to school for a semester and wrote ‘In Bocca al Lupo,’” Turla says. “Then we’d fly out every other weekend to play college gigs … just so we didn’t fall off the map. … We decided not to mix the two again. It’s been like a full-time job for the past five years.”

Tour dates with headliners like the Rev. Horton Heat — including at the Vogue in March — have secured the musicians’ schedules for the next few years. They’ve virtually become an overnight sensation in Europe, touring the U.S. and international destinations “eight months of the year and recording one.”

“Traveling is a great advantage,” Turla adds. “This year, we went to Europe four times. This December, we’re going to Australia for the first time. ... In spring, we hope to tour Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.”

Returning to his ancestors’ homeland may inspire Turla, a self-proclaimed chef, to prepare more authentic dishes in his rare spare time. “My grandmother was a peasant in Italy and worked in the kitchen of a duke in her region,” he says. “I’ve made it my job to learn the recipes of the food I ate as a child. … Maybe I’ll open my own restaurant.”

Future plans aside, for now Turla, the platinum-haired Balliet and their cohorts, Dallas, Texas-based bassist Matt Armstrong and new drummer Dagan Thorgeson (who joined the band mid-winter), will rely on themes of sin, guilt and redemption to keep their music going, like “an anthology of short stories.”

A new album is in the works, according to Turla, “somewhere between ‘Who Will Survive and What Will Become of Them?’ [the band’s best release to date — a concept album centered around the devil’s revenge on a Western town] and ‘In Bocca al Lupo.’”

“We’ve got pretty much all the songs written,” Turla says. “We haven’t recorded it yet. Thematically, it’s classic Murder By Death, but I wrote a couple songs for this new one that are good [themes like] ‘scorned lovers,’ and [one is] a total sex song. We’re branching out.”

Surely, the gentle undertaker of storytelling did not refer to “love”? Before now, the subject has been nearly untouchable for Murder By Death, who, instead, flirts with raw and fluid folktales of dark subject matter. Perhaps a change is coming for the frontman and his crew, or could it just be restlessness?

“I think I’ll stay in Indiana, [but] at some point — like right after I graduate — I see myself living abroad for a while. I have big plans for travel and adventure,” Turla says. “I’d really like to get away. … The band is completely my life, so if [I] find a spare moment, [I] usually want to spend it at home.”

But Turla doesn’t always find himself encased by the saloon-baron, gun-slinger mentality that resounds in his songs. Rather, when he and his bandmates are in Bloomington, they live like regular students. “Thankfully, no, we don’t get treated like celebrities,” Turla says. “It’s so nice to go home and invite everyone over for a barbeque and for a swim. … We go night swimming in the rock quarries or in Lake Lemon.”

This, of course, is between long car rides with bickering bandmates.

“We’re very much like siblings or a big married couple,” Turla says. “People drive each other crazy. … [We’re] together all the time. It’s very much like a big family on wheels.”


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