Murder by Death Embraces Subtlety on ‘Big Dark Love’

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Given that Murder by Death singer-guitarist Adam Turla has such a big, rumbling voice, you’d think he looked to someone like Johnny Cash for inspiration. That’s actually not the case.

“The truth is that it took me a long time to learn how to sing in my own voice,” he says in a phone interview. “In 2004, I took voice lessons and they told me to sing lower than my speaking voice. It made me a lot more comfortable as a vocalist. If I had to pick a favorite vocalist, it would have been Eric Burdon from the Animals. That’s the person I stylistically emulate the most. He does this low thing and I do that style. It’s all about range. That’s what I enjoy the most as a singer.”

On Big Dark Love, the band’s seventh full-length album and first since its 2012 Bloodshot debut Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, the group mixes electronic and psychedelic rock with the moody alt-country for which it’s known. It’s a potent combination and the album, which was recorded at La La Land in Louisville, is ultimately the band’s most fully realized album to date.

“It’s a natural, later album for us,” says Turla. “We think a lot about context and how the new songs will fit into the show and what will the fans think. The record has been well-received. Every show is sold out on this tour. We’ve been playing really old songs. We’ve gone back to old songs and one person noticed that it’s the feeling we were going for off our first record. It’s cool to hear that people are listing to the back catalog.”

With a title as ominous as “big dark love,” it would be easy to think the album has a concept at its core. But Turla says it’s not so simple.

“I try not to write concept records and sometimes there’s a thread,” he says. “I call it links or a thread. With this one, the easiest way to decide how I feel about it is that there are untraditional love songs. ‘Natural Pearl’ is about someone trying to protect their child to a fault. It’s about the overbearing love. ‘Big Dark Love’ is about a love that’s too intense and it’s trying to get away from you. They’re love songs but about a weirder kind of love. It’s our most subtle album. I was consciously attempting to do something subtle rather than telling a story which I like to do. I wanted to make it more moody.”

The group tried to “strip as much stuff away as possible” in the studio.

“We wanted to make he songs interesting and subtle,” Turla says. “I think it worked. The studio was incredible. We sent it to be mixed by John Congleton who mixed our last record. We love the way he mixes our records. I’m really happy with the production.”

The band’s been together for 15 years now, which is an eternity in the indie rock world. So what’s been the key to keeping it together?

“I get asked that all the time,” Turla says. “For one, the group of people we have are very appreciative of our opportunity to do what we do. We try to keep it together. It’s harder when you have egos clashing. A lot of bands think they’re going to be artists and the whole big thing. The most successful bands or at least the blue collar bands that are on the road all the time, make it a point to learn the business to side to make sure they’re not out there burning yourself out for no reason. We just want to get to know the job we’re doing. So many people go through the experience and no one takes anything home from it that they could apply. I learned so much from the experience.”

Murder by Death, O’Death, 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: $20, grogshop.gs.


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