Murder by Death's Adam Turla on staying indie
An interview and photos from my new zine, MAJOR LABEL DEBUT.
Hello and welcome to REPLY ALT, the only email newsletter about music which is also slowly morphing into a shameless hype machine for my new book SELLOUT which comes out in just 11 DAYS and is very good! Have you pre-ordered it yet? Imagine the thrill of knowing it’ll be shipped right to your door the moment it’s released. Don’t be the last one on your block to be talking about this year’s Hottest Book like some kinda fuckin’ loser! Buy one (or several copies) today!
I’ve spent the last few days doing press interviews about the book. Something like ten of them this week. I’ve been trying to sound smarter with each one but so far it’s not working. The first interview has already run. Check out me and my newsletter brethren Luke O’Neil chatting it up on Hell World about whether or not selling out still exists, why At the Drive-In was likely the greatest live band of all time, and whether Dookie or The Blue Album is better. (It is Dookie and I have proven that conclusively with science and data!)
Andrew Sacher over at BrooklynVegan also interviewed me and I say “like” a whole lot in it. Incidentally, the site is also selling copies of the book, too, along with some other great titles (they carry Larry Livermore’s How to Ru(i)n a Record Label which I highly recommend!). And David Anthony wrote some very nice words about the book too if you trust his opinion (I don’t).
Aaaaaanyway, I announced a new zine called MAJOR LABEL DEBUT recently and some of you have been asking what the hell its deal is so I thought I’d use today’s newsletter to explain what the hell its deal is and also give you a sample from it…
MAJOR LABEL DEBUT’S DEAL, EXPLAINED
Being the grandson of Italian immigrants who lived through the Great Depression, I was raised to never waste anything. Especially food. I was taught it was “a sin” to waste food. Needless to say, one of Arrested Development’s most relatable jokes to me was Carl Weathers’ “Baby, you got a stew going!” bit.
When working on SELLOUT, there was a TON of material that unfortunately went to waste. Often times I’d interview someone for over an hour, but all that made it into the final draft was a single quote. Maybe even just two sentences. The way it goes, I guess, but I didn’t want to throw the rest of it in the trash. There was still plenty of meat on that bone!
So now I have all of this amazing excess stuff that I didn’t get to use, and I’d like to release it into the world. A lot of it made it into my new photo zine, MAJOR LABEL DEBUT, which also includes more than 70 original photos I took while working on the book since photography is one of the many things I enjoy doing despite not being very good at it.
“Enough explaining the damn thing, Dan Ozzi! Just gimme a freakin’ sample!” you yell at me very angrily. OK OK fine, jeez. Here’s an interview with fellow descendent of Italian immigrants, Adam Turla, frontman of Murder by Death. He makes an appearance in SELLOUT’s chapter on the band Thursday since the two bands toured together very early on and shared a label home (Eyeball Records). The following interview and photos appear in the zine. Pick up a copy for more like this! Plus, shirts, hats, tote bags. Don’t let it go to waste!
TL;DR: It’s a supplementary photo zine.
MURDER BY DEATH’S ADAM TURLA ON STAYING INDIE
Murder by Death. I love ’em. They’ve long been one of my favorite bands. In a just world, their wholly unique style of gothic folk rock would’ve landed them a record deal that made them rich and famous. They were certainly in the prime position on Eyeball Records, sandwiched between Thursday and My Chemical Romance, who both made the major label jump. Murder by Death have done well for themselves over the last 20 years, building up a dedicated cult following despite having never seen breakout success. It’s hard to even pull out a clear fan-favorite among their albums. But were they ever given the chance to go major? And did they consider it? Here’s frontman Adam Turla.
I get how My Chem and Thursday got hooked up with Eyeball Records, being from Jersey, but how did your band, from Indiana, get connected to them?
Adam Turla: It’s kind of wild. Our seventh show we ever played was at this anarchist bookstore. Thursday was supposed to play a show in Indianapolis. It might’ve been their first tour. The show fell through, like everything did in 2001. We said they could jump on our bill and we’d give them our money, because it was only like 60 bucks or something. Geoff really liked our band and we thought they were great. He gave me a burned copy of Full Collapse that they’d just finished recording. We owe a lot to Thursday in the sense of them pushing us to take our band seriously. It was our seventh show and they were saying, “You should make a record, and you should put it out on this label.” That gave us a lot of confidence.
That was a very fertile time for bands getting poached by major labels. Eyeball became a bit of a hotspot after Thursday and My Chem went major. Did you ever get sucked into that world?
There was a little bit of it. We had the fortune of becoming friends with those guys when we were really young and playing those formative shows with them. We got to watch as they made bigger and bigger moves, both My Chem and Thursday, and we’d open those gigs. And we’d see the shows be well attended or see industry people around suddenly. We were coming from such an indie and punk world that we rolled our eyes at a lot of industry stuff, because we never dreamed anything would ever happen for us. We’re this weird band that’s not part of any scene. Eyeball and other people would say, “You guys are going places.” And we’d always be like “Ehhh, are we?”
But we certainly had some courting and people sending us cases of whiskey. But we never found the label we thought would let us do what we want and take us seriously as outsider artists that we saw ourselves as. At least Thursday and My Chem could be put under the broader banner of the emo or punk worlds. They had a sound other people were already emulating. They just defined their sound in a clear way. But for us, it was like, “Hm, I don’t think there are a lot of people starting gothic cello indie bands.” So I think we didn’t take it seriously when there was big talk around us. All we wanted was to be able to do it and not be broke.
Do you think the offers were genuine?
We got it all. We did get some legal offers, but for us, the labels we imagined that would know what to do with us, those never seemed to work out. What ended up happening was, probably through My Chemical Romance who I’m sure said nice things because they're good dudes, we ended up in 2005 signing with ADA Distribution which was through Warner Bros. That’s how we put out In Bocca Al Lupo. It was the same thing Lucero did. It was the Triple-A baseball of major label deals. They weren’t gonna put their best guys on it. They just gave you a budget and let you market how you wanted to. They financed your creative ambition.
Our best bet was always gonna be: Are we gonna be a cult band that gets popular or not? We understood that. We knew our limitations, we knew our strengths. It happened, not in the way I thought it would, but it definitely happened. We’ve been way more successful and had way more longevity than I ever dreamed of.
Do you think doing a big major label signing the way My Chem or Thursday did would’ve impeded that progress?
I think I would’ve been a pain in the butt. At the time, I was so adamant about making this weird record that didn’t sound like what anyone was doing at the time. In 2005, there was no Americana scene. Heavier music like screamo was big. The indie stuff was just starting to creep out, like Death Cab for Cutie and what not. That stuff was so much more… what’s that word? Like, kinda cute…
Twee, yeah! Exactly. All the indie that was getting big in 2005 was kind of twee, and we weren’t that. We’d come up playing with punk bands. And with the name Murder by Death, we couldn’t be twee people. So who would even know what to do with this record? It was a pure creativity explosion, for better or worse. Our progression was so gradual because we’ve never had “a moment.”
Time seems to have proven that to be the better path, no?
It’s hard to say. You can’t really know for sure.
All photos are by me. Don’t use them without permission or frankly I’ll kick your little ass.
Hey speaking of Murder by Death, drummer Dagan Thogerson released an album this week under the name Go to Space Die which you can check out here.
Oh, and if you’re in the mood for more waxing nostalgic about Murder by Death’s unique path, here’s a longform interview Adam and I did a while back where he ranked the MBD albums.
OK last thing: I will take any chance I can get to plug this video we recorded out in the desert where I straight up tricked him and David into covering the “Bones Are Their Money” song from I Think You Should Leave. (Backstory here.) Pitch perfect rendition, if you ask me! Now, how can I get Adam to dress like Karl Havoc?