The gothic-Americana band Murder by Death has made Colorado its second home in recent years, with annual winter residencies at the Stanley Hotel juxtaposed with more traditional powder-keg rock shows at venues like the Ogden, the Fox Theatre and even Red Rocks. Murder by Death returns to Colorado on Saturday, August 3 at Mishawaka Amphitheatre near Fort Collins, and also the next evening in Denver at Green Russell — a surprise, ridiculously small gig that sold out before many fans even knew about it.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Adam Turla and cellist Sarah Balliet, who are married, have relocated from Indiana to Louisville, Kentucky, where they own and operate an Italian restaurant when Murder by Death isn’t touring. The very busy band recently released a new installment of As You Wish, a collection of fan-chosen cover songs. Just before leaving for the road, Turla spoke with Westword by phone while working on the group’s van, which doubles as a mobile pizza shop.
Westword: What songs from the new As You Wish are you excited to play on the road?
Adam Turla: We actually aren’t doing any other than the Iron Maiden cover, and we’re not doing it every night or anything, the reason being that there’s just so many of them. We might pull out some more later, like next tour. We have been doing the Iron Maiden one, however; it’s pretty fun because it’s Iron Maiden. That series is so cool, or refreshing, because it just makes us really work on learning so many different styles. You have to think about what makes a song a Murder by Death song, or what makes a song the style of the original performer. It gets you thinking about song construction, nuance; it’s cool. It’s definitely making us much better players. You’re basically learning and reconstructing thirteen songs, and we’re doing two a day. It’s a lot.
What’s it like being in a band with your partner, particularly during the random crises that happen on the road?
Working with your spouse can be really challenging. It can build a pretty deep relationship, too, because you can see each other at your worst. You always see each other, so you work with each other to try to meet challenges better or work together, but it can be hard. Unless you’re a group that has people who take care of everything for you — which we are certainly not — you’re constantly met with challenges, and just about always addressing those challenges while scrambling to make the show.
Our last tour, we were pulling up to a venue and our transmission went out, in Providence. We had to tour the next five days in mini-vans and coordinate the trailer. I mean, you’re constantly in a state of panic, so you have to work on not lashing out, not overreacting or creating a state of extra disarray through your anxiety. You have to basically learn how to calmly solve problems with others. And not just your spouse — everybody you’re working with. I think the people who have a long career in music — especially as, like, a small- or middle-level band who is handling their own shit — are gonna be people who, whatever they do after music, are gonna be capable. They’re gonna be, like, managers or people who are comfortable with conflict. I think it’s kind of a cool life experience.
Your songs are always so cinematic, and offer people an escape with fantastical storytelling. Especially in these really scary times, do you ever want to comment directly on what’s happening in the world?
Well, I do. It’s just that I do it through the vehicle of fantasy. The whole new record [2018’s The Other Shore] is that; it’s an album about a corrupt Earth that’s fucked over by people who are not acknowledging the damage they’re doing, and then a couple fleeing Earth, having differing opinions of how it’s going. I feel like our new album, even though it’s a fantasy, is the most related to current events of anything we’ve written. It’s very much told to reflect on our current situation. I just couldn’t help but write about it, because every day you see crazy shit that’s happening, that’s like the total neglect of humanity. It can be a lot to take in, and it’s impossible as a songwriter to not acknowledge what’s happening around you, unless you’re just truly oblivious.
It’s amazing at the Stanley Hotel shows how every person there knows every word to literally every song. But it’s more of a party atmosphere, whereas at Washington’s in Fort Collins last fall, there was a mosh pit.
At the Stanley, it’s more about the tone. Everybody’s dressed up. People are wearing nice dresses, or maybe somebody just bought their first suit for that show. I hear that every year. As we get older, our fans get older, although some of them are bringing in younger people that are new to the band, but I think it’s cool to see the vibe translate to the show itself. My favorite thing that we see in Colorado is that whenever we play these super chill, spacey songs, you always see these puffs of smoke go up in a cloud. It makes me laugh so much, because it’s so Colorado.
Are you aware of how beautiful a setting the Mishawaka is?
I did a Facebook post about it, because I was looking up pictures of it. Our bass player, Tyler, is from Denver, and literally the same day that we brought up the idea of playing there, between me and our manager — the day of that Fort Collins show, actually — Tyler was, like, “Hey, man, I think it’d be great if we played the Mishawaka. It’s one of the most beautiful places to see a show.” I was, like, “Oh, we’re working on that today.” So, I do have some idea, but you never really do until you see it.
What’s it like to have this home-away-from-home in Colorado, where the Murder by Death following keeps growing?
Honestly, if you had asked me even ten years ago what city would get me to move out of the Midwest, it’s been Denver the whole time, or at least the Denver area. It’s funny, because my first thought is, “Boy, I would really love to live out there.” But I’m so entrenched with family and friends here. The fact that we go up there for two weeks every January, and then we do these other events…we do consider it a home away from home. There are places we go to every time I’m in Denver. We go into various places, and the managers know us – like, the managers at Steuben’s know us and have hooked us up multiple times. It’s also just little things where it’s like, “Oh, this is the guy who fixes my amp.” Honestly, it’s our big-city kinda second home. It’s incredible for us. Being from a small town like Bloomington, Indiana, where the band started, there are just sorta limitations to being in a small town, because there’s just less of everything. It’s great to have connections and just the opportunity to have this other city that acts as another base for us.
Murder by Death, with Wovenhand and Porlolo, 8 p.m. Saturday, August 3, Mishawaka Amphitheatre, 13714 Poudre Canyon Road, Bellvue, 970-482-4420, $22.50 and up.
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