With song titles like "As Long As There Is Whiskey in the World" and "Rum Brave," Murder by Death -- whose best album is 2012's ambitious Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon -- is a little bit like Jack Nicholson's legendary character in The Shining, who famously said, "I'd give my goddamn soul for just a glass of beer." The Indiana-bred American Gothic indie-rock group is led by baritone-voiced singer/guitarist Adam Turla, who makes MBD sound not unlike Arcade Fire fronted by Johnny Cash.
Speaking by phone recently from his new home base of Kentucky, Turla says he's just hosted a yearly "whiskey party" and is about to rehearse for MBD's much-anticipated return to Estes Park's infamous Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for the setting of that same classic 1980 horror flick.
"It's our way of having the band throw a whiskey party," he says. "Everybody dresses up if they want to, and we just play and hang out with people until they shut us down. It's a rock-and-roll ball."
Last year, Murder by Death announced two Shining-inspired shows -- according to Turla, the first-ever concerts at the Stanley -- and sold out in one day, quickly adding another. Nine months ago, when MBD announced another run (January 2, 3 and 4) at the haunted hotel, the shows sold out "instantly."
"It was just an idea I had about five years ago," Turla explains. "I've played every club before, but sometimes it's nice to do something that's an experience outside of just a concert. The band has always had such a great cult following, but it never felt like the right time, and we'd never tried anything like it before. I'd always wanted to do concept shows. I just went out on a limb and talked to Scott Campbell at AEG and said, 'Hey, this is something I want to do. Am I crazy? Do you think this will work?' -- and he helped connect us with the Stanley people, and we figured out how to make it work."
The fire marshal okayed a larger capacity than last year, and Turla hopes this time around will be even more special.
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"[The hotel] has multiple haunted rooms. There are all these different figures who have died there or are claimed to haunt the place and revisit it. We were reading up on these people last time, and I stayed in one of the haunted rooms, [but] I didn't have any ghostly experiences. None of us did. If ghosts are more likely to appear at night, with the amount of whiskey we were drinking, there could've been an earthquake every night and we wouldn't have known."
Murder by Death will releaseBig Dark Love
, its seventh album, in February, and will debut most of the new material at the Stanley shows. The beautifully written and recordedBitter Drink, Bitter Moon
's mood and subject matter were about as haunting as the Stanley Hotel claims to be, and Turla says the soon-to-be-unveiled new songs will fit right in.
"The thing we realized made us stand out when we first started playing is that most of our songs are [in a minor key]. Not that many bands do that, so it's just natural for a band that has that to have a connection with an old haunted hotel. It makes sense to me, and based on the response, I would argue that it made sense to a lot of people."
Tickets for the threes sold-out Stanley shows were originally $50, so expect to pay at least several times that if you're a latecomer hoping to make one of these intimate gigs part of your holiday season. Turla, who says the quintet will come "flexible and prepared," with plans for a different set list each night, laughed when asked if his band "shines."
"I wish I had the shining, but I don't. I actually went around wandering the halls last time at like three in the morning, trying to get into some ghost trouble. I will say I hope somebody has an awesome ghost experience this time around, because it's a fun element."
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