Murder by Death are a terrific band from Indiana, USA, who specialise in a species of alt-country with some cinematic undertones. All their albums are dense, dripping with atmosphere and most them have an unifying narrative (The Devil in Mexico, Weird Western, etc). We got out resident freak/spammer Sam to send them an email filled with questions, as he became a fan since he reviewed their recent album, Good Morning Magpie and worked his way through the band’s back catalogue…
1) Interesting name, Murder by death. What’s the story behind it?
It’s from a 1976 murder mystery comedy. Very silly movie.
2) Your sound is like country with an otherworldy, supernatural extra thing to it. Are you fans of Weird West stuff, like Wild wild west, Jonah Hex, Blueberry, Stephen King’s Dark Tower or Firefly?
Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve seen any of those things, tho I have heard of the Dark Tower series.
3) What’s the story behind “You don’t miss twice (when you’re shaving with a knife)”? Love that track.
I spent two weeks camping alone in the backcountry of the Smokey mountains and got really lonely- I wrote that song to cheer myself up- I would hike around singing it to keep myself company.
4) Three part question, apology in advance. All your albums have a unifying theme, giving it some sort of a radio drama/musical to it. What would be your literary influences? How about theatre? Film?
I love Gabriel García Márquez, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jorge Amado. I love big stories. For Theater, I like Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard. Films, I love terrible B movies.
5) You’re signed up with Vagrant. Which other labelmates would you like to recommend?
J Roddy Walston and the Business is an awesome rock band we took on tour a couple years ago- they are just a classic killer rock and rock band. A little bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, a little Queen, and a dash of The Faces.
6) How did the Finch collaboration came upon with Jeff Vandermeer? Would you repeat this experiment of making a soundtrack for a book?
Jeff was a fan and emailed us- it was really his idea. He had been listening to almost exclusively Murder By Death while writing the book and thought it might be cool if we wrote a song or two- we ended up writing a bunch of tracks for scenes from the book that we thought were important and cinematic. It was a really fun project to experiment with some sounds we have never been able to use before.
7) What feelings (or experiences) exactly fuelled the track ‘Pillars of Salt’? There’s some really thick atmosphere in that song and frankly, I find it frightening (and love it because of this) but quite a stunning piece of music.
I like that song a lot too- its a song about losing hope- it’s one of our songs that I feel really captures a mood of desolation and desperation. I honestly don’t know where that came from.
8) Who came up with the funny names for songs (‘Flamenco’s fucking easy’, ‘Sometimes the line walks you’, ‘That crown don’t make you a prince’, etc)?
We always have trouble naming our songs. At first we just picked silly names- but sometimes we try to create some funny references.
9) One of your tracks (‘Comin’ home’) ended up in Tarantino’s remake of Inglorious Basterds. Is he a fan of the band?
I don’t know if he’s a fan, I hope he is. We love his movies. They specifically asked for that song to be used in the trailer. I hope that’s true
10) Any plans in your 2011 tour to visit either Europe or Latin America?
We would absolutely LOVE to play Latin America. If you know any promoters who would be interested in booking us there, please send them this way. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time down in Tulum and Puerto Vallarta, but would love the opportunity to perform down there and see some new places.
11) How did the idea for the boxed set come about? Any more info on the contents of this juggernaut?
It’s 105 recorded songs on 11 records in a wooden box. Crazy. I just realized I had all this extra content that had never been released and thought it would be fun to put out. I am/run the label that releases all our vinyl so it was just a matter of collecting it all and designing the packaging. I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate 10 years of being a band.
12) Who did the artwork for your DVD?
My childhood friend Ryan Browne, who is a comic book artist. He’s really great and has a comic called God Hates Astronauts. You can read it online.
13) Back into the subject of Supernatural Westerns: High Plains Drifter or Pale Rider?
Wow- somehow never seen either of those. Looks like I’ll be busy with Netflix on this next tour. Thanks for the interview- hope to come your way soon!
No, thank you for answering us! See you soon!
All images from Murder by Death’s website.