“In our town, people aren’t interested in treating you differently just because you’re in a national band or whatever,” says Murder by Death frontman Adam Turla of his band’s hometown of Bloomington, Ind. With a population still only measured in the tens of thousands, the indie-folk foursome are used to being, as cellist Sarah Balliet puts it, “that local band,” despite their 11-year history and the critical accolades they’ve earned.

“Here in L.A., everyone’s aloof because they’re overexposed to music, and everyone’s in a band. Maybe Bloomington doesn’t care, so we don’t get big heads,” Turla adds with a laugh.

If ever there was a group of musicians who were low risk for developing pretentious rock star egos, however, it would indeed be Balliet, Turla, bassist Matt Armstrong and drummer Dagan Thogerson. With last year’s Good Morning, Magpie marking the band’s fifth studio album, and arguably their most ambitious one to date, the members of Murder by Death have no problems keeping their feet on the ground and doing things the old-fashioned way.

“I took two weeks by myself in the woods doing some backcountry camping, because when it came time to start rehearsing for the record, I wanted to be ready,” says Turla of the lead-up to writing and recording Good Morning. “I had a lot of ideas for songs, a lot of fragments, and I just wrote and wrote while I was camping. I had nothing else to do because there’s no one else to talk to.”

While extended leaves of absence in the wilderness tend to invoke images of some of the scarier media figures over the last two decades, Turla’s foray into seclusion proved a successful aid in songwriting.

“It was more personal than usual. I was by myself, so a lot of it is more reflective of me than stuff I’ve written before,” he says. “In the past, I’ve done a lot of fictional writing, or fictionalizing true stories and relationships.”

From the haunting and evocative poetic introspection of the album’s title track to the more literal firsthand accounts like “You Don’t Miss Twice,” the record is a significant departure from older material on a sonic level as well as a lyrical one.

“We felt like Red of Tooth and Claw was more of a straightforward rock album, and I think we wanted to go in a more melodic direction, with more of a sultry feel to it for the next one,” says Balliet.

“We don’t think of it as a big change for us, we’re just trying to make a record that’s a little different from the last one,” adds Turla.

“One of the missions of this band is to get people to listen to whole records, not just one song on their iPod,” he says. “We made a whole project here, we write albums. I want people to enjoy the whole thing. I’m serious about quality control.”

It’s that attention to quality that has given the band longevity that has lasted over a decade now and earned them the respect of fans, peers and critics alike along the way. Though the members are still young by all accounts, their DIY mentality has conferred a status as elder statesmen (and stateswoman) of sorts in their scene.

“A lot of younger bands we tour with like to ask me questions because I’m so hands on with everything, from managing the band to publicity, every part of Murder by Death,” he says.

His response to them: “Stay medium sized as long as you can. You’ll be much happier, and your career will last longer. Don’t jump up to touring on a bus because you played for 1,000 people in New York once. We could play larger venues, but I’d rather sell out small intimate ones because I know the shows will be better.”

Though the band members are perennially jovial and easygoing, Turla’s advice comes from some hard-learned lessons of his own. As he says, “When we first started to get attention, we had no idea what success was. I think it’s important to be hands-on and not let everybody else decide what’s best for you. Nobody knows your band like you do.”

And therein lies the secret behind the band’s humbleness and their work ethic. So what’s the next big issue Turla plans to tackle? With a laugh, he yells, “We need time off. I need my beauty rest!”

Nah, no rock stars here…



Murder By Death perform Feb. 10 at Detroit Bar and Feb. 11 at the Echoplex. For more information, visit murderbydeath.com.