The band plays a range of music including instrumentals, punk rock and alt-country. While in earlier releases they used keyboard and electric cello to create a southern American, gothic sound, later releases focused more on guitar-driven punk rock and western influences.
Many songs use themes such as zombies, whiskey and the Devil which are unified into concept albums. For example, the band's second album Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? describes a story in which the Devil wages war against a small village in Mexico.
Murder by Death was formed in 2000 in Bloomington, Indiana, by guitarist Adam Turla, cellist Sarah Balliet, percussionist Alexander Schrodt, keyboardist Vincent Edwards, and bassist Matt Armstrong. One of the group's first shows was at the Channing-Murray Foundation's cafe The Red Herring in Urbana, Illinois, with former American Football drummer Steve Lamos' solo project DMS. In attendance was the head of the TEAM AV record label with which Lamos was working, who approached Turla and his bandmates after the show and offered his assistance in securing additional shows. Around the same time the band met Thursday vocalist, Geoff Rickly, when the two bands played on the same bill at a gig in their hometown of Bloomington. Rickly introduced the band, known at the time as Little Joe Gould, to his friend Alex Saavedra (owner of Eyeball Records), who also took an interest in the band.
In 2001 the band self-released the eponymous Little Joe Gould EP and early the next year contributed the song "I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" to the TEAM AV compilation Foreign Nationals. A short time later the group decided on changing their name to Murder By Death, which they felt better represented the "Americana noir and dramatic post-punk" of their sound.
Like The Exorcist... and Who Will Survive...
While still performing under the name Little Joe Gould, the band headed out on an 11-date tour, stretching from California to Louisiana, with the Chicago-based band Volta Do Mar. On this tour the band honed the songs for their debut album, which was recorded in several Chicago studios with Tim Iseler, then a guitarist with the TEAM AV-affiliated band Re:Rec. Both the tour and the recording engineer were arranged by the TEAM AV label, and the resulting Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing was released on Eyeball in August 2002. The album's release was accompanied by extensive touring with bands such as Cursive, Interpol, and The American Analog Set. In July 2003 the band released a split album with Volta Do Mar entitled Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer in honor of the grandfather of the TEAM AV label owner who appears on the cover. Along with the song "Canyon Inn, Room 16" from the Little Joe Gould EP, Murder By Death also contributed "Knife Goes In, Guts Come Out" and the instrumental track "We Watch a Lot of Movies" alongside an alternate version of "A Masters in Reverse Psychology". Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer was recorded with producer D. James Goodwin during sessions that would ultimately bear the release of Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them? in October. In December the band released a tribute 7" single for friend and musician Matt Davis of the band Ten Grand who tragically had died earlier that year, before continuing to tour nationwide with Lucero, The Weakerthans, William Elliott Whitmore, and Rasputina.
"Those Who Left", from Like The Exorcist..., is an eight-minute instrumental, often played live in total darkness. This song is often paired with "Those Who Stayed," a shorter instrumental from the same album. This pairing, played during encores, is seen on setlists as "The Two Evils" or "Medley of Evil."
My Chemical Romance frontman, Gerard Way, provides guest vocals on Who Will Survive... track "The Devil in Mexico." Thursday frontman, Geoff Rickly, provides guest vocals on the Who Will Survive... track "Killbot 2000." William Elliott Whitmore provides guest vocals on the Who Will Survive... track "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue." According to the bands website he sang to them through a telephone while he was on the side of the road in Texas.
In Bocca Al Lupo
When pianist Vincent Edwards left the band in 2004 in order to return to academia; and when Brandon Cooper, Edwards touring replacement, also left, Murder By Death reconsidered their sound. Opting to put more of a focus on straight rock, cellist Sarah Balliet took up keyboard duties as well as her cello playing. More touring was followed by a stint back at school, during which time the band wrote third album In Bocca Al Lupo, which was released in May 2006 on their own label Tent Show Records, an imprint of East West Records. Vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla described the records's inspiration as coming from "a basic idea—sin, in the Dante/Divine Comedy sense—and doing 12 songs that were very unique and about different people." The title is an Italian good luck wish, literally translating as "in the mouth of the wolf" and therefore a likely nod to the language and subject matter of Dante's epic poem, which Turla was reading during the writing of the album. The resultant record also resembles the 1976 murder mystery from which the band takes its name - a pastiche of bad deeds and of good intentions, heroism and forgiveness. Like its predecessor, In Bocca Al Lupo is a concept album, which also builds on the band's previous experimentations with unusual musical styles to include waltzes, jigs and gospel music. The songs are presented in the same spaghetti western theme as previous works, but Turla's vocals are sung in a new baritone range, which has been likened by many to that of country singer Johnny Cash. The album was well received and touring continued through the summer of 2006, including headlining shows supported by Langhorne Slim.
Red of Tooth and Claw
Murder By Death's fourth album, and first with Vagrant Records was released in March 2008, entitled Red of Tooth and Claw. Produced by Trina Shoemaker at Dark Horse Studios in Tennessee, the record features former keyboardist Vincent Edwards on the song "Ball & Chain" and is also the first album to feature new drummer Dagan Thogerson, who replaced founding member Alex Schrodt. It continues with the band's trademark themes: "lust, betrayal, and classical archetypes of good and evil." In Turla's words, the record is an "Homer’s Odyssey of revenge, only without the honorable character at the center." The vocals are again sung in the same low, baritone range as In Bocca Al Lupo causing many critics to speculate that Red Of Tooth And Claw breaks less new ground than previous efforts, although in general the album has been well received. As described by allmusic.com the album "carries over some of the Old West outlaw feel of its predecessor, but it's more aggressive and freewheeling here. [...] [The album] isn't a departure for Murder By Death, but their ability to keep their sound fresh and vibrant speaks well of their musical abilities." To celebrate the album's release, Murder By Death played two shows on the same night in their hometown of Bloomington.
SONGS IAND FILM Recently the Quentin Tarantino film "Inglourious Basterds" used the Murder By Death song "Comin' Home" from their 2008 album "Red of Tooth and Claw" in the trailer for the film. The band are big fans of the director and were very excited to be involved.
PRAISE FOR "RED OF TOOTH AND CLAW"
From Performing Songwriter - (2008-03-16)
"a more personal, impactful, and engaging record than the stellar offerings they've released thus far...MBD kick up a storm of dirty, killer American rock."
From Paste - by David Mead (2008-03-16)
"the album triumphs on the sheer energy of the band's performances- every one of them swirling, unapologetic tours-de-force"
From THE TRIPWIRE - (2008-02-05)
"Label it whatever you want, isn't "great" just great? The record's dark style, moody lyrics and moaning choruses put most metal bands to shame for this is not dark faux anger. This is that kind of drink-yourself-to-sleep wail working at a very primal level.
From THE FLY (UK) - (2008-02-05)
"Equal parts Mark Lanegan, Johnny Cash, and Tom Waits...an album that compels you to listen repeatedly"
- Adam Turla – lead vocals, guitars (2000–present)
- Matt Armstrong – bass (2000–present)
- Sarah Balliet – cello, keyboards (2000–present)
- Dagan Thogerson – drums, percussion (2007–present)
- Vincent Edwards – keyboards (2000–2004)
- Brandon Cooper – keyboards (2004)
- Alex Schrodt – drums, percussion (2000–2007)
- 2002: Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing [released on vinyl 2008 w/ bonus 7"]
- 2003: Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them? [re-released on vinyl 2008 w/ bonus 7"]
- 2006: In Bocca Al Lupo
- 2008: Red of Tooth and Claw
- 2001: Little Joe Gould (EP as Little Joe Gould)
- 2003: Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Zimmer (Split album with Volta Do Mar)
- 2003: Tribute for Matt Davis b/w Five Years (bowie)
- 2008: Fuego! (Online EP)
- 2006: Boy Decide
Boy Decide (Alternate), One More Notch (acoustic)
- 2007: Brother
Moon is Up, Brother (Live), Don't Cry (Guns N' Roses cover, on 7")
- 2007: Sometimes the Line Walks You
Dynamite Mine (Demo), Bang Bang (Sonny Bono cover), American Carny Theme
- Murder By Death's official website
- Murder By Death's label Vagrant Records
- Murder By Death affiliated label TEAM AV
- Murder By Death at Eyeball Records, the band's former label
- Video interview at Beat Lawrence:
- Brother artist commentary atroxwel.com
- SovMag: Murder By Death Concert Review - February 20, 2009
Biography from Wikipedia