Talk Thursday to Me – Adam Turla

Photo by Michael Ford

Today we catch up with old friend of the blog Adam Turla from Murder by Death about their new Patreon and upcoming Holiday album.

(Our interview started a few minutes late due to an unexpected delivery, which is what’s happening at the beginning of this – PE)

Adam Turla: Hey! That went fast! and was about a month early.

Postcard Editor: See, the pandemic isn’t ALL bad.

AT: There’s so little business happening that MY vinyl got made fast! HURRAY!

PE: Other’s misfortune working to your benefit! The American way!

AT: Now let’s tax those poor people.

PE: Ok, this is already off the rails. Was this the Christmas vinyl?

AT: No still need the test pressing approval for that, this is the repress of the Finch EP (soundtrack to Jeff Vandermeer’s book of the same name).

PE: Ah nice. Before we jump into talking about the Christmas album and the new Patreon, how’s things in general?

AT: We are doing well here. Sarah is enrolled in ceramics classes (audited from Harvard) and is basically full time in ceramics school, using a cute little studio I made in our cellar. I’m running the Patreon we just launched and doing mail-order and rock climbing a lot.

PE: Right on. How intense was building a ceramics studio? Did you put in a kiln and everything?

AT: She has been hand-building and doing a ton of reading and practice and lessons to start. About three weeks ago we were hanging with Nick Cross and he mentioned his mom had a wheel and kiln they were selling, so we snatched those up. Got the wheel about 3 weeks ago and supposed to get the kiln this weekend. Kiln is gonna live outside, ’cause safety! 

PE: Bah, safety! People get into ceramics for the danger Adam. Everyone knows that. No but really that’s cool and yes I would love a mug thanks for asking.

AT: Oh you’ll get your mug.

PE: Let’s talk Patreon. What made you decide to take that step? As a platform it’s been around for a while now. Curious what made you want to make the leap (beyond the obvious no shows during Covid-19 thing).

AT: No you had it right!

PE: Well I assumed as much, but wondering what all went into making that decision, how you settled on the different levels and rewards, etc…

AT: I have been pitched Patreon many times, but it never appealed to me in the past because it seems like so much work. And guess what, it is! But the fact that we have the time now to do that work makes this project feasible, and I’ll say that I’m seeing the appeal. Obviously the financial support is incredible, but there’s also these little benefits sneaking in. 

PE: What are some of the little benefits?

AT: We’ve just started it, but suddenly I’m writing all the time. And that’s always good for the person who is supposed to be writing lyrics. In the past I have been so busy with touring, booking and logistics, business management, etc that I have almost no free time. But suddenly I can dedicate a couple hours a day to basically writing a multimedia memoir, which is what I’m doing with this Patreon.

I’d made lots of recordings before, from high school bands to jam sessions, but I only started to tap into the sound that would become MBD around my senior year of high school. I made a tape I called “Traveling” on an old Fostex tape recorder that I had set up in a little cave area of my parent’s basement- it’s a mix of incidental sounds and guitar and singing, kind of just the barebones approximation of what would become this band. I was seventeen and I recently unearthed a recording of it, pictured here. I am working on getting the tape digitalized so I can share it, unless when I listen to it for the first time in 22 years I die of embarrassment. – excerpt from the first Patreon memoir post.

AT: I feel very grateful for the support and I want to make sure that I do a great job with this project so that people get something special out of it. I don’t think I ever would have shared some of these memories, stories, photos, etc… unless we had the time like this. And it sits nicely with it being our 20th anniversary year of the band.

PE: That is a unique angle to your Patreon that I haven’t seen on others before, and as you said fits well with the 20th anniversary. What has that process been like for you, going back to those early days and having to reflect and to a certain extent relive them now with as much experience as you have under your belt?

AT: I’ve told Sarah how emotionally draining it is. To go through old photos and remember those times fills me with an existential dread. But it also feels really good to write it out, as if there’s some finality and purpose to it, which makes the emotional weight of having to constantly reflect on the past worth it.

Basically my process is that I have boxes of old photos that I sifted out into time periods, using clues like hair, musical equipment, guesses at ages to sort them into what I consider broad time periods. Then I went through boxes of CDs and tapes of old recordings from concerts, demos, unreleased stuff, and I sorted them accordingly. Then, I found old journals, photographed them, transcribed them, and decided what to use. And then I grabbed the complete tour history and started making notes and breaking them up into sections so I could form a narrative and basically tell the story of the band, in some fashion.

October 2003 – photo by Jenn Iversen

PE: Hair is the ultimate timeline giveaway for sure. I know you’re just getting started on it, getting back into those places mentally, but if you could give young you some advice what would it be?

AT: I honestly don’t know how to answer that because we have been so fortunate in everything we have done. Even though there were many hard years and periods and we have really scrapped for this band, I still think we ended up in a pretty great situation. It’s such a hard industry and I’m just glad the work turned into something people care about.

The only thing I think I would do differently is maybe just be more positive and less sure of my opinions when I was younger. But even that helped me form an identity early on so that’s not so bad either.

PE: So maybe just that sort of encouragement then. Letting young you know that it’ll all work out. I think that’s a kind of clarity and reward unto itself.

AT: I think the biggest shocker in my brain is that indie music went mainstream. I never dreamed that would happen, I always thought it was just a community of artists and I never knew that the style would get co-opted and softened for mass appeal, though I suppose I should have known better. I don’t think many younger musicians understand how much more DIY the shows were back then and how small the opportunity was.

PE: There were no instagram influencers or viral tiktoks to help you break, that’s true. Thankfully. The other big news item for MBD is the upcoming Christmas album. Is it true that like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz that this holiday album will sync up perfectly with the film Jingle All The Way?

AT: We considered that and then we remembered our duty to society to not endorse that movie, as it is BAD despite starring both Arnold and Sinbad.

PE: Can’t believe you’d diss Turbo Man like that.

AT: But if you play both the movie Scrooged AND Houseguest while listening to our new xmas album, Santa will grant you extra presents.

album artwork by Mara Battiste

PE: No but really, why a holiday album? Obviously the band is known for having a darker sound and themes. Was that contrast the thing that attracted you to doing it?

AT: We have a big Christmas playlist we listen to every December, and there are so many good Christmas songs out there. I think there’s a ton of dark Christmas songs, and there are themes like winter, loneliness, suffering, that go along with the holidays. It’s kind of a natural fit. 

We tried to pick songs that fit well together, and we wanted each song to have a value to the album, whether it be a goofy song, like the one from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or an obscure cover like James Brown’s “It’s Christmastime part 1.”

PE: Did you write any songs for it or is it all covers?

AT: We wrote two songs. One I had demoed about six years ago and is about making do with being snowed in. The other is a song I started over ten years ago when I first had the idea of doing a Christmas album. I finally finished it!

I had built a little cabin/shed in my backyard which I’m sure you remember. I had a thought of finding a person out in the shed, sleeping and trying to stay warm, and I wrote a song about kindness and hospitality, which I feel is in the Christmas spirit. It’s called the Woodshed and has a bit of a Leon Redbone vibe.

PE: I think I was that person in your shed a couple of times. 10 years! “Christmas Time (in a Chinese Democracy).” 

AT: Yeah sometimes there are songs that you love and just can’t finish and then one day the opportunity presents itself.

PE: Which of the covers turned out to be your favorite once you got in the studio and started putting your spin on them?

AT: I really like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and I was pleased with how well “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” came out. Some of these covers we did have truly great singers doing the originals so there’s always pressure to do a good job and also to make it our own and worth redoing.

PE: Was there one that you wanted to do but just felt like you couldn’t do it justice?

AT: We cut about 20 songs, and I was surprised at some we cut. Originally I wanted to do The Pogues “Fairytale of New York” but honestly, it’s just so them and so Irish, it just didn’t feel like it needed any new take. We felt the same about “Father Christmas” by The Kinks. We were definitely gonna do it, and then we thought, this is already so good. But who knows, maybe we will do another volume some day. 

PE: Right on, well I know you have to process that Finch vinyl that showed up right before we started this, as well as plumb the emotional depths of your memories and probably also grab lunch. Appreciate you taking time to catch up. Let me know when I can come down and pick up my Sarah crafted mug.

AT: Haha no problem. Will do, take care bud.

PE: You too.

Murder by Death’s holiday album Lonesome Holiday is available for pre-order here, and their Patreon is live here. For all other things Murder by Death related, check out their website here.

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