NoiseTrade One-on-One

Interview with Murder By Death and William Elliott Whitmore

With Bloodshot Records label mates Murder By Death and William Elliott Whitmore hitting the road together in early September, we chatted with MBD frontman Adam Turla and Whitmore for a joint NoiseTrade One-on-One (or is this one a One-on-Two)? Read on to find out about their new albums (The Other Shore and Kilonova, respectively), the glam rock opera and cover song roots of each release, what aspects of the tour they are looking forward to, and more!

NoiseTrade: Your new album The Other Shore has been described as “A space-western about a ravaged Earth, its fleeing populace, and a relationship in jeopardy.” Can you unpack that cinematically rich description for us and let us know what first inspired that enthralling narrative?

Adam Turla: Basically I started writing a glam rock opera (really just for fun) when I was 15, and I have continued pushing songs out that may fit it. The song “I Have Arrived” popped into my brain and I revised it over the last couple years, eventually realizing that I could tell a much more interesting version of the story through MBD. As I wrote more and more, songs started to fit together and tell a bigger story, and I kept searching for the right words and links in the story. I presented a few of the songs to the band and their eyes lit up, so I kept pushing and they helped me sort through the many songs and the chaos of the story to come up with (what we think is) a really good record.

NT: Your first single “True Dark” is a triplet-rhythmed gallop that explodes from the opening note and refuses to let up throughout the entire three-minute romp. With each instrument playing such an integral role to the overall palette, can you tell us the evolution of the song from its beginning sketches to the full version on the album?

Turla: I wrote this one on an acoustic guitar. I wanted to suggest Iggy Pop but without just lifting his style, ’cause nobody can be Iggy. I wanted this song to be the moment in the story that the shit hits the fan, and when I fell on the lyric “True Dark” that really opened it up for me. I chose to play acoustic guitar on this really aggressive song because I wanted it to be driven by the bass and cello. I really like how the recording this one came out- Kevin Ratterman and Anne Gauthier did a great job on this one.

NT: William, your new album Kilonova features 10 cover songs of artists that have influenced you like Johnny Cash, Bad Religion, Bill Withers, and Captain Beefheart. What made you decide to record a covers album and what was the first song that kicked off the whole process?

William Elliott Whitmore: I’ve had this project in mind for a long time. Some of these tunes I’ve been doing live for years and I wanted to put them all together and give them a little home. I admit that it felt a little off as a songwriter to be doing other people’s material, but I wanted to put my interpretations out there. The song that first gave me the idea was “Don’t Pray on Me” by Bad Religion.

NT: The first track released from Kilonova is “Fear of Trains,” a synth-pop track from 1994 that was originally written by Magnetic Fields. Tell us about your connection to that song and why you chose to rework it as the album’s first single.

Whitmore: Stephen Merritt has always been one of my favorite songwriters. I grew up listening to country music but discovering Magnetic Fields helped me see the craft in a new light. This song in particular – off the album The Charm of the Highway Strip” – makes me emotional in a certain way. The thought of a young native girl, her life challenged every step of the way by the encroachment of “civilization,” her being thought of as less than but overcoming anyway despite all odds, just seems poignant right now.

NT: To you both, which songs from your new album are you most excited to play in a live setting and are there any new songs that will appear in a slightly different variant from their album versions?

Whitmore: I’m excited to play “Fear of Trains,” “Busted,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Some of the songs will have stripped down arrangements compared to the album since I won’t have a band with me.

Turla: There are only a few that we’ve played live so far, so we’re still learning them. “Last Night on Earth” really came together as a powerful live song, I didn’t expect that. Maybe my favorite song on the record is “Only Time” because it’s so understated and melancholically beautiful. Reminds me of Serge Gainsbourg or Leonard Cohen a little bit.

NT: Finally, being that you all have shared sides of a 7” single, toured together, and are now even label mates on Bloodshot, what can fans expect from this joint tour and are there any special cover songs or surprises in store?

Turla: We haven’t really talked about that yet. Mostly I’m just excited to hear Will Whitmore every night. I imagine we’ll come up with something. It’s been a minute since we’ve been on the road for this long and taking a break has really got me excited to be back. Our production on this tour will be the best we’ve ever had, so we are really excited and proud to be bringing this tour around the country.

Whitmore: I can’t wait to see my old friends again. I’ve done a lot of shows with MBD, but it’s been a little while. We’re going to be having a great time and I hope the audience does too. As far as surprises, there might be something in store, so people should come out and see!