To Adam Turla, singer/guitarist of Murder By Death, there's
nothing worse for a band than getting stuck in the same place musically.
"I hate that when I hear a record and I think 'Wow, this
sounds just like a less interesting version of their last record,'" Turla said
in a recent phone interview. "That's just the most disappointing feeling for
In making the latest Murder By Death album, Good Morning, Magpie, Turla and his bandmates did plenty of things
differently to help achieve the goal of giving the album its own distinct
One of the big steps involved the way Turla went about writing songs for Good
Morning, Magpie. He decided to get away on
his own to write, so there would be no distractions that would interfere with
the initial songwriting process. It was the first time Turla had stepped away
from the band to write a Murder By Death album.
Turla got away, all right, all the way to the mountains of Tennessee to kick
start his writing process.
"I wanted to just be creative," he said. "And I love to camp when I can, and
the band has sort of in some ways has prevented me from doing some adventures I
would have set out on...I'd never done just like a solo camping trip. I thought
this is a perfect opportunity to just take the ideas that I had for material
for these new songs and focus entirely on that, with nothing else in my way.
Wake up in the morning and just start writing and write until you go to bed. I
mean, I hiked and I fished. I had other things going on. But I always had like,
what do you call it, a (note) pad in my back pocket and a juicy pen ready to
write down those ideas as I got them together."
The isolated setting, Turla said, definitely filtered into the songs he wrote.
He wrote one song, "You Don't Think Twice (When You're Shaving' With A Knife),"
as a way to amuse himself, never thinking it would develop into a song the
group would want to record.
"I had no intention of introducing (it) to the band," he
said. "I wrote it because I was bored and lonely. I didn't speak to anyone the
whole time I was out there."
Other songs also came to reflect Turla's surroundings and experience.
"The last two songs on the album,
'White Noise' and 'The Day,' are gloomy nature songs," he said. "That comes
from the fact that while I was out there, it just absolutely poured the whole
time I was there. I got stuck in some pretty scary situations out on a trail by
myself...Nothing is more terrifying than nature out of control.
"One other thing I noticed about
how the experience shaped the record was that there were a couple of songs that
actually have like a hiking speed to the song," Turla said. "I was writing them
while walking quickly down a trail, and I noticed that a lot of them are
perfectly sort of timed to my footsteps, which I think is really cool."
Once Turla returned to civilization, he and his bandmates gathered in their
home town of Bloomington, Indiana for six weeks of rehearsals before doing
something that was another first for the group – staying at home to
record Good Morning, Magpie.
"We just had a very reasonable work schedule," Turla said of the recording
sessions. "We worked 12 to nine every day. All of the songs were ready to go
when we went into the studio. So it really was just a question of going in,
getting as much done as we could. We kind of had an open time schedule, and we
didn't kill ourselves. I think that by going in prepared and being ready to
record, it really made for a comfortable setting."
Together, the various steps in the process of creating Good Morning,
Magpie resulted in an album that Turla
thinks retains the basic musical identity of Murder By Death, but also
introduces some notable new facets into the group's sound.
"I think the main thing is that we tried to be very aware of our past material,
while also deviating from it," Turla said. "So with this one, we tried to make
it a little more upbeat and a little brighter at times. We wanted it to be an
album of extremes. So there are dark songs, especially 'The Day' and 'White
Noise,' are really dark, and the bright songs are bright without being like
The sound that has carried through the five Murder By Death albums is nothing
if not unique, and it was present when the group's original lineup of Turla,
cellist Sarah Balliet, bassist Matt Armstrong, keyboardist Vincent Edwards and
drummer Alexander Schrodt made its debut album, Like The Exorcist,
But More Breakdancing, in 2002.
Four more albums have followed, along with a couple of personnel changes.
Edwards left the group in 2004, while Schrodt was replaced in 2007 by Dagan
Thogerson. But Murder By Death has maintained its unique and
difficult-to-categorize sound from the start.
It's a sound that falls somewhere between Americana, rock and blues, and has a
certain feel of the Old West and Southern Gothic built into its cinematic
Turla finds it hard to explain exactly how a band rooted in the heart of the
Midwest came to write music with rather far-flung influences. He noted that the
band certainly didn't try to imbue its music with any certain influences, be it
old west, Southern Gothic or otherwise.
"I remember the first time I saw a write-up that said Southern Gothic. I had no
idea what that was," Turla said. "Like I knew Edgar Allan Poe was Southern
Gothic. I knew about it in terms of literature, but musically (I didn't).
"We never had a goal, we never had a main motif that we were going for in our
writing process," he explained. "So it's just a matter of getting these
individual musicians together, we all have these varied tastes, but we can kind
of agree on Murder By Death. We just piece together these songs according to
what we think the temperament of the content suggests. That's where we come
However Murder By Death fell into its sound, it is a compelling mix. On Good
Morning, Magpie, the group retains its
rustic sound, but applies it to an enticing range of settings. "As Long As
There Is Whiskey In The World" is a cheery romp that combines spaghetti western
and Irish tones. "King Of The Gutters, Prince Of The Dogs" is a deliberate
track whose measured pace gives the song's winsome melody time to really take
hold. A more rocking side of the band comes out on the fast-shuffling "Yes."
Fans can expect to hear a few of the new songs during Murder By Death shows
this spring. But the group isn't forgetting earlier material, either.
"This is our fifth album, and there is stuff that people expect to hear
and want to hear, and we're happy to oblige them and do the old
stand-bys," Turla said.