Rockers Murder by Death Defy Genre

Murder by Death singer Adam Turla croons to punks and hipsters at the FIllmore. Photo by Heather Spellacy/Foghorn

It is a rare occurrence when I find myself unable to classify a band by a certain genre or two. While I am a musical connoisseur by no means, I wouldn’t shun any title granting myself an above average knowledge of music. Thus, my inability to explain to a friend the type of music played by Murder by Death, a band out of Indiana, baffled me. Alternative? Maybe a little. Country? Eh, maybe more Folk? Adjectives are all I was left with: dark, eerie, haunting at times. Yet, it’s that indistinct, lack of genre that leaves listeners so tremendously intrigued.

I was first introduced to the band more than half a year ago when they opened for Gaslight Anthem at the Fillmore. The deep, chilling vocals of the band’s lead singer, Adam Turla, startled me and left me wanting more. His voice was unusual, immediately reminding me of a modern-day Johnny Cash; the muttonchops didn’t hurt either.

Having been together since 2000, the group has done its fair share of experimentation. “The members of the band all have different tastes in music,” said Turla, “I’m a big David Bowie fan, it’s a lot of drama and show.” The distinct tastes throughout the group add greatly to their overall sound. While most bands keep to the same sound throughout their entire musical career, possibly branching out once or twice, Murder by Death has traveled many different musical roads.

The band’s first album, “Like the Exorcist, but More Breakdancing” (can we give a nod to that title, please) proved the musical genius of the group. The exquisite instrumentals, especially from the band’s cellist, Sarah Balliet, laid the foundation for what would become the band’s distinct sound: pure and unadulterated musical mastery, with a whole lot of spine-chilling bits thrown in.

With the most recent release of their new album “Good Morning, Magpie” the band has pulled back the reigns on their familiar creepy sound (don’t fret, it’ll never be completely gone), but has created for themselves something new. “I decided to go camping alone in the woods for two weeks to focus on writing the new album,” explained Turla. The new album has an extreme range of songs, from their classic eerie to some more comical and upbeat.  My personal favorite “You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shavin’ with a Knife)” makes one feel like they’re in the middle of a set from “Gangs on the New York” (which wouldn’t be so bad… Daniel Day Lewis and Leo, yes please).

Currently, the band is on a month-long, cross-country tour. Talking with Turla within the first few days of their trip he expressed the excitement of the band for the trek ahead. “Oh, my band mates told me to tell you about this!” Turla says. “So were driving down some rural country and it’s so picturesque. The hills are green, rolling, serene. There’s this calf, looks like it was just born, just staring and not moving a bit. I think to myself how beautiful, and then it just barfs. A lot.” Sounds like it’s going to be a good trip.

Fortunately, I was able to see them on their recent stop in San Francisco, and they did not disappoint. The crowd only further supports my inability to find an appropriate genre for the band. With a varied mix from punks to hipsters, and a man who looked an awful lot like my father, the packed show proved a diverse following.

Playing a mix of songs from both their new and older albums, the set list nicely highlighted the bands talent. While there were a few quips to the audience thrown in, the band stuck mostly to what they did best, playing a great show.

While they have a European tour planned for this summer, it won’t be long before the band is back in our lovely little city of San Francisco. Until then, make sure to check them out, download some music and if you’re able to figure out a genre they fall under I’ll buy you tickets to their next show.

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