Artist Preview: Murder by Death is ringing in the new year

Photo by Greg Whitaker

Photo by Greg Whitaker by Chance Dibben

“This didn't happen out of nowhere — This isn't a runaway success by any means,” says Murder by Death guitarist and vocalist Adam Turla of the band's use of Kickstarter to raise funds for the vinyl production of their album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. “We've been cultivating a loyal fan base by just being good to our fans for 10 years.” While many artists have utilized the fundraising website to finance their creative endeavors, Murder by Death's success on Kickstarter — runaway or not — is certainly eye-catching: $87,000 over their goal, the third-most-funded music project in Kickstarter history.

“It's interesting because I've had so many people write to me for advice,” Turla says. He's fielded interviews from business magazines and has been contacted by other bands looking for the recipe for success.

“Everyone seems so surprised by the answers, but it's so simple.”

Their keys to success? Trust and honesty. For 10 years now, the Indiana folk-rock band has been out in the indie-rock trenches, going on bruising tours, maintaining strong fan connections, and handling their own merchandising (when I called him, he's prepping Christmas orders for shipment, including long johns with a pocket for a flask). While Murder by Death may be a mid-level band as Turla points out, they have a die-hard fan base because of the openness of its members and its constant activity.

Which is why in some sense the Kickstarter success is not surprising or unexpected. And while the relatively spare and stripped down Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon would have been released without the Kickstarter (it had been recorded in January), it was a way of financing the vinyl production of their albums for a couple of years. And maybe more importantly, it was another creative way of engaging with fans. This included a variety of packages and incentives that included a Murder by Death book club, house shows, studio versions of cover songs, and even a trip to Cedar Point, Ohio's famed amusement park, with the band.

As Turla says, “the Kickstarter highlighted something that has been there for our band the whole time we've been together and it made it much more public to people who didn't know so much about the band. It was definitely a bigger view of something that has existed the whole time.” His emphasis in trying out this experiment seems to hold true to what the band has been about all along: honesty, value, creativity and fun.

Photo by Greg Whitaker

Photo by Greg Whitaker by Chance Dibben

Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, which goes to dark and brawling places, is vintage Murder by Death and possibly their most bracing record yet, with a solemn focus that holds across its desolate 13 tracks. This downshift was a conscious decision, Turla says, because of the addition of multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett (of Okkervil River and Shearwater).

“We had to basically figure out how to lay off while also having a million more sonic options. That was a big part of the writing process — cutting away,” Turla says. The other thing contributing to the album's stripped-down quality was new producer John Congleton, whose hand has guided many of the best independent releases of the last half-decade.

“He just has the quickest ear of anybody I've ever heard. He just has a way of — he'll hear a song once and then he'll be like, 'OK, I like this part but you should just not play guitar through this whole section.'... He hears something once and then he has an opinion about it, which I think is so refreshing.”

With songs that heavily draw on the band's Indiana roots, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon develops stirring images and poignant rustic profundity.

“The song 'Ghost Fields' is about how many of the people who live here, their parents are farmers, but none of our friends are farmers,” Turla says. Which seems cute enough, but then you hear the magic of the song with its vital images and you realize the full power of this band.

With an awesome new record and a semi-tradition for rollicking New Year's bashes (their performance this year at The Granada is the second time playing such a show in Lawrence), Murder by Death is set to send us off into the new year right.

Murder by Death with supporting acts Cowboy Indian Bear and Y(our) Fri (end) 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31, The Granada, 1020 Masachusetts St. $12 advance/ $15 day of

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