Looking back, 2012 may come to be known in the music world as the year of the Kickstarter. More and more bands have turned a cold shoulder to traditional label-produced albums in favor of fan-generated funding and amplified artistic creativity. Latest in this line of Kickstarter-funded artists are the Indiana whiskey folk-rockers of Murder By Death, who are working to release their new album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon on September 25.
With an initial goal of $100,000, the band launched its fundraising campaign in July mainly to support the release of vinyl; it has partnered with Bloodshot to release the CD and digital versions. As the month of pledging came to a close, the band surpassed its initial goal, generating more than $187,000, making it the third largest funded music project on Kickstarter ever.
Recently, during a New York City stop at Webster Hall on Murder By Death’s latest tour, lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Turla took a few minutes backstage to explain why he and the band chose to use Kickstarter, how they may finally get to tour Australia after nearly 12 years and what went into the writing and recording of Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon.
On the Kickstarter site for your album, you speak a lot about the importance of vinyl and its cost. Is that the main reason you used Kickstarter?
Yeah, that’s a big part of it. And also it’s just the reality of the industry these days where it’s like people don’t want to pay for music. It costs money to make a record, it costs money to manufacture a record; you still have do it, you still have to produce CDs because there’s not that many ways that a band can generate money. And so the idea was that we wanted to do something fun with the presentation of the presale, and so instead of just being like, “Buy our shit,” we wanted to offer valued rewards, things that people will really want. There’s some pretty ridiculous stuff in there. I’m waiting to see if anyone buys the Cedar Point package. [As it says on the site: "MBD WILL FLY YOU AND A FRIEND TO CEDAR POINT AMUSEMENT PARK AND RIDE ROLLER COASTERS ALL DAY WITH YOU."]
That was one of my favorite ones. That and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
They’re expensive. We’ll see. My hope is that there’s someone crazy enough out there—or I guess it’s for two people, so maybe we’ll work it out.
Another one of the incentives I saw was that drummer Dagan Thogerson would get a tattoo…
It sold in 30 minutes.
Did the person respond with what they wanted yet?
That’s been the big mystery. Everyone’s been asking, “What’s it gonna be?” It’s pretty fun. I mean the idea is that half the idea of a Kickstarter is just to get people to go look at it and laugh, and hopefully that laugh will be worth 10 bucks or 100 bucks or whatever.
And I guess the comical part of it goes with the video that you made for it?
Sarah, our cellist, and our merch guy, Nick, were sitting around one morning in our living room, and we were just like, “What’s our video gonna be?” And we came up with that idea. Our friend—we had a perfect guy for the job—who was from our hometown had won a contest for a commercial about animal crackers, and we thought, “This guy would be perfect because he’s very funny.” And he wrote it. He said, “I want the president of the universe to look like the president from Bill And Ted with the shiny outfit.” I would have loved to have been in it, but we were preparing for tour, and he was like, “I got this down. Don’t worry.” And so he took care of it.
What’s the deal with the guy in Australia who wants to buy one of the house parties to possibly encourage the band to tour Australia?
We’re hoping, yeah. This one guy’s being very nice about it. He was bummed our earlier Australian tour got cancelled. I’m hoping he buys that because it really will be like an impetus—it will get us to Australia; he would pay for the flights essentially. We started this band playing house shows and DIY spaces for years. We had such a slow growth that was always moving upward just a little bit at a time. We never had even played New York until 2004, and we’ve been together since 2000. So it took us a long time. But it’s fun to be able to go back to the idea of doing house shows. I mean, putting a big price tag on it obviously changes the tone. I’m not stupid; I see that that’s a ton of money, but that’s also a symbol. The point is that we’re trying to do some interesting stuff. If you wanna help, then by all means.
I know that earlier you guys were excited to get to tour Australia, but it sounds like that didn’t work out.
No, it got cancelled because an investor bamboozled the promoter, and all the funding dropped out, and it was just too late to work through another promoter. It happened twice—that’s the worst part. They pushed the tour back, and then basically the promoter got screwed and then ultimately he screwed us because he wasn’t using his own money. It was really frustrating. I was getting all these emails from people like, “I bought tickets twice from New Zealand to fly to Australia. I bought hotels. I can’t get my money back.” They’re not mad at us. They know. They’re just mad at the whole thing.
So this could be a potential for this guy in Australia to be a savior.
Yeah a big hero. It’d be pretty cool actually.
What was your mindset going into the album?
There’s definitely some songs that are very “Indiana,” and that was a thing that we were intentionally going for, but also we kept noticing how much our home was affecting the record. It’s a record that’s designed to be listened to a lot of times. We’re all the kind of people that are never into something that’s flashy the first time you hear it. We’re people who like to dig, so there’s a lot of stuff going on under the surface on the album that requires you to listen a little bit more. You can kind of compare it to something like Twin Peaks or something where there’s this happy town and then there’s this seedy underbelly going on that’s something dark and brooding underneath. There’s a couple of tracks that are brutal and desolate, but also there’s some upbeat tracks that sort of hide the sadness or darkness in them, like “I Came Around” or “Hard World.” “Hard World” is probably the saddest song we’ve ever written, but you would never know if you just heard the music.
You guys spent a lot less time on the road in the past year when you were writing this album. Was that intentional?
We spent so much more time writing this album. If I had to guess, we probably spent like three times or four times more actual rehearsal and preparation in writing than we did on our most worked-on album in the past. Part of that is because we added Scott Brackett to the band as a multi-instrumentalist, and we wanted to make sure there was a good transition and that we were accomplishing what we wanted, not just tacking him on to the band. And also, we’ve been doing better than we’ve ever done in terms of getting more people to shows, being able to sustain ourselves, so we had the first time in our career of 12 years that we could choose to take a little more time off. We’d never been able to do that because we’ve always been such a fringe band, always like medium popular, so we had to work to make ends meet.
How was it working for the first time with producer John Congleton?
John Congleton was really great to work with because when we first started talking, he was like, “I always loved your band, but I wanna make your album sound weirder and spookier than any of your other stuff.” And I was like, “Yes! Let’s do that.” He said, “I wanna fuck up some of these songs,” and I was like, “Let’s fuck ‘em up!” We brought in Thor Harris from Swans on four songs—he’s really good friends with Scott. I told him to just go in and do some weird shit, like on “Hard World,” he’s doing a dulcimer melody that I absolutely love and gave us a lot of weird sounds that are kind of just like, “What is that?” He just threw some cool sounds over a few sections, so it just added sort of like an unsettling quality.
Where is this record going to stand among the others?
I’ll put it like this. This is the first one Scotty’s been on, and Scotty said to me, which made me very proud, “This is the best record I’ve ever been on.” And Scotty’s been on a lot of records. So I was very pleased when he said that. I’m very proud of it because I think it captures some ideas that are really important to me lyrically, but also because our sound is so weird that it’s like over-the-top understated. I don’t want to be a hokey, Western band—that’s not at all what were trying to do. We’re trying to be much more than writing songs about horses and fuckin’ guns blazing—that’s not what we’re about. But I want to create some of the mood of this other rough world. And I feel like this one really captured some of the feelings that we’ve been trying to get across for years. We started this band when we were 18 years old. That’s another thing that’s interesting, getting older with fans and with each other and having a different perspective. I was thinking about how playing these old songs from our first album is gonna be fun because when I think about what I knew about the music industry when that record came out, it’s just laughable.