Indiana’s Murder By Death has been coming to Lawrence for years — so often, in fact, it sometimes seems like they’re a local artist here in this college town. The group’s been in the news a lot this year, as the Kickstarter for their most recent album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, came in as the third-highest music project ever (right behind Five Iron Frenzy and Amanda Palmer). That album is out now via Chicago’s Bloodshot Records.
On Monday, December 31, the majestic country-tinged indie quintet plays the Granada with Cowboy.Indian.Bear and Y(our) Fri(end). Bassist Matt Armstrong answered some questions about the Kickstarter, as well as playing on New Year’s Eve.
This is the second New Year’s bash you’ve played in Lawrence. How did your connection with the town get so tight?
We’ve been coming to Lawrence for a long time. The first time we played in Lawrence was at a house show. Jacki and Drew from what is now Up To Eleven were there and we all hit it off. I guess we made the right friends early on and just kept coming back. If you know Jacki and Drew and Will Pepple you’re pretty set in Lawrence! hahaha
What do you do for a New Year’s show that’s different from your regular performances?
I wouldn’t say there’s an enormous difference. We usually wear something fancier than we normally would on stage. There are sometimes some special surprise songs that can happen, but my lips are sealed. Oh, and we drink champagne.
For a band with such a large membership, your line-up has remained remarkably stable. To what do you attribute that?
I think that there’s something to be said about the bond that forms when you’ve been working with someone for a long time. You know the things that have and haven’t worked well in the past and hopefully you apply that knowledge and get even better at working together. Half of the fun is knowing what will probably happen, and the other half of the fun is the ability to be surprised and learn new things.
When did Scott Brackett join the band?
Scott started playing shows with us about two years ago. It didn’t take long for us to ask him to join full-time.
What has his joining added to Murder By Death in the studio?
Scott brings a lot to the studio because he can play so many different instruments. Having a larger sonic pallette allows us to do bigger arrangements when we want to do that. Sometimes we want to do the opposite of that and go really sparse, and having a guy who can play multiple instruments lets us make more interesting choices in situations like that.
No, they just happened around the same time.
How do you make the transition from the likes of Vagrant Records to Bloodshot?
You sign a contract with Bloodshot instead of Vagrant? haha. Honestly, for me it wasn’t a big difference in how I operated. I mean, we were and are excited to be working with Bloodshot, but in terms of day-to-day stuff it was like, “Okay, get in there and write that record.” We’ve done that before, you know?
Is it just a sign of where music is these days — that a label doesn’t need to define a band’s sound?
I think it’s more that certain labels tend to have certain kinds of bands. If you see that band is on Neurot or Hydra Head, for example, you can probably guess that it’s a heavy band. I think labels are more about grouping.
However, it’s not like you’ve ever been bound by one particular venue for releasing music. How are you so prolific?
We just plugging away, I guess. Haha. We just try to keep busy. Sometimes we have a hard time saying no to projects.
Going back to your Kickstarter campaign: now that it’s been four months since it finished, what have you learned regarding incentives and the positives and negatives of them?
It’s been a cool, positive experience, but it has also been a lot of work. Just the sheer amount of Sharpies we’ve gone through signing stuff … yeesh. We wanted to be hands-on and give the fans something cool and personal, but that can take serious time and energy. We’re really lucky to have supporters that care about that and understand that it takes a while to get it all done. I’m not sure what we would change if we did it again. We’re still getting things put in the mail, you know?
To round things up, since this New Year’s show is coming up, do you have any resolutions either as individuals or as a band?
You know, this is the first time I’ve thought about it. Ummm … I think I can safely say that we as a band would like to get much better at archery and needlepoint in the coming year. The merch possibilities are pretty intense.
Speaking of merch possibilities, Eleven Productions’ Drew James did that amazing poster you see at the start of this post, and it’s available as a “Super Limited Edition Screen-printed Poster.” It’s 18×24, and will be available at the show.