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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The ongoing story of Satan

The ongoing story of Satan

Murder by Death may be the musical equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino film. They’re a modern twist on classic forms: the four-piece lineup consists of guitar, bass, drums and cello. Old-school conventions of folk, rock, country, mariachi and Western murder ballads meld in new-age tales of the devil waging war on Mexico, fathers teaching their sons how to live in a deadly world and celebrations of the simple things in life, like sweet Kentucky bourbon. Recently, the band’s song “”Comin’ Home”” was featured in the trailer for Tarantino’s “”Inglourious Basterds,”” and last April the band released its fifth album, Good Morning, Magpie. In advance of MBD’s Tuesday show at the newly renovated Plush stage, Wildlife chatted with vocalist Adam Turla about travel, Tarantino and the devil-stressed world of his music.

Daily Wildcat: Do you have any favorite stretches of country that you like to drive through on tour?

Turla: Southern Arizona. I always love going down to the southwest. Part of it is definitely the weather, but also the view. It’s a lot more impressive than driving through southern Indiana. I love it out there. I also love the (California State Route) 1, driving up the California and Oregon coast.

The desert was a big inspiration for some of your older albums. What about the region appeals to you?

I don’t know, I’ve just always loved the more barren, hot places. It’s interesting, when I was writing the songs from Who Will Survive in 2002, I had quite a few trips out to the southwest. I really like the badlands of South Dakota. It sort of spoke to me, so I wrote about it. I recently went to the Sahara desert and spent a couple days out there … I just love that kind of climate for some reason.

What inspired you to go to the Sahara?

I was on my honeymoon (laughs). In September, I went to eastern Morocco … It’s somewhere I always wanted to go. One of the places on my checklist. It was incredible. We got a car and drove about 2,000 miles across Morocco, and spent a long time in the desert just kind of exploring.

Your music was used in the trailer for “”Inglourious Basterds.”” What did you think of the movie?

Let me put it this way — they asked us specifically to use that song, so we were so excited because we already knew about the movie, and we were already waiting for it. We love Tarantino. I think it’s his best movie, in my opinion. I couldn’t believe the incredibly long scenes of dialogue. We saw it as a band, and I remember turning to (cellist) Sarah (Balliet) after the first scene and saying that it was already so good. We were concerned that it was gonna be the first Tarantino movie we don’t like, and it’s the first one we’re involved in. We figured the second that someone asked us to use a song in a movie that it was going to be shit (laughs).

It’s such a cool idea for a movie. I love the idea of rewriting history just the way that you want it to be, and the idea that Hitler is killed in a movie theater by a bunch of Jews — talk about an awesome alternate reality. I read about an article that said that movie had to be made by someone who wasn’t Jewish. I think it would’ve been too much. There’s so much emotion that happened around that time, I feel you’d have to be an outsider coming in bringing different images to it. It’s the same way with Ennio Morricone, the Italian guy who wrote all the Western soundtracks.

What’s the last really great movie you saw?

I saw “”The King’s Speech”” and I thought it was great. I wasn’t that excited about it, but I was about to fly out for a trip and I had a couple of hours to kill. In the movie, the radio is just becoming popular and the king is now expected to be a sort of performer. I connected with that because I’ve had to learn to speak into a microphone, and I also grew up with a bad stutter. I think it hit more home than I realized it was gonna.

I read in an interview that one of the goals for your music is to create a world of Murder By Death. How did that world start?

It started with just writing the opening song of Who will Survive back in the day, and realizing there was a bigger story to tell. We’d write albums and realize this or that song could fit into the same world as other songs. We approach lyrics more like a book or a movie, rather than some just pop-y songs. There’s a bigger story to tell that I try to get at with each song.

The world of your songs has a very real devil. Does it have a God?

Interesting, I never thought of it so black and white before. I think when I was writing that song, “”The Devil in Mexico,”” I love the idea of the devil just being a character walking around who can live and die. I’ve never brought, like, the God in contrast into the world. I kind of, for some reason, like the idea that God is more thought of as a mystery, whereas the devil is seen as a sort of scapegoat character. If something is wrong, it’s the devil’s fault; it’s never God’s fault. The devil’s a sort of device, more explainable and more of an interesting character for the world I’m creating. Occasionally, there’s one song called “”Three Men Hanging,”” where there’s a character who asks if God will have mercy for all the things he’s done, because he’s just so pathetic and broken, but it’s just a question and more like the mystery of God than the clear-cut devil character.

Is the devil of your songs inspired by a specific literary or cinematic devil?

I’m never thinking of a specific reference, but I love the iconography of devil images and I love the different ways that different people portray the devil, sometimes just the man in the black outfit, or sometimes the horns are there, sometimes little horns or big ram’s horns, or sometimes he’s got goat legs, and the imagery of the devil is just so awesome. Artists seem to love Murder by Death, and we get these incredible pieces of art. Last night we got an etching of a fox with feathers and a blade in his mouth, and the kid who gave it to us said it was inspired by our new album. We get a lot of devil images. My friend Drew from Kanasas drew the devil we’ve used on our hoodie for years, and that’s way different than this picture of the devil someone gave us in Tijuana. It’s cool to see the perception of that character.

How do you feel when you see people interacting with your music in that way?

I love it. It’s really fun to have people involved and invested in the story. I saw this kid last night who gave us the picture. I took so many art classes as a kid, and always wanted to draw or paint, and I’m terrible, just the worst — I can’t even picture the information in my head to draw a dog. But I’m amazed by all these great artists who listen to our music and want to make some art about it. There’s nothing more rewarding than being a force to help make people more creative. If you can inspire a different kind of art with your art, that’s the greatest feeling.


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