Take a mental Polaroid of Murder by Death and what will you see? Pretty-boy metalheads with black-painted fingernails? Starving rockers with welts under their eyes? You just may be surprised by what develops; namely, three guys in buttoned-up shirts and a woman armed with a cello. The Bloomington, Indiana, quartet composes emotionally heavy art rock gleaned from country-folk roots. Lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Turla talks songwriting technique, band health care, and oh, yeah Great White.
Outtakes: Your songs tend to be very thematic. What's the inspiration?
Adam Turla: I don't usually like to write very personal stuff because whenever I tried to be more personal, I always found that it seemed trite. I had trouble creating something that I thought was unique and powerful; instead, it was just incredibly common. It's funny because sometimes the best songs are the simplest, with the most universal message. But for whatever reason, to me, being personal just wasn't the best way to do it. I just wanted to be more of a storyteller than someone who was pouring out his soul for you.
I remember seeing you guys light the cymbals on fire one time. Do you still do that?
No, ever since Great White had that tragedy, where everyone died and all that, the clubs won't allow it anymore.
What about your band? Who's taking care of your band?
For this tour, we will have a tour manager, a merch guy, and a sound guy. We have a permanent tour manager, but he got another job for the summer. So we got some friends from home to come with us.
Is it nice to be able to afford to take your friends on the road?
Absolutely. And not just that, we have a lot of friends who are photographers or artists, who have done posters and shirts for us. It's really cool, because you're paying your friends for their skills. You're not dealing with strangers; you're dealing with people you know.
So it's like an extended Murder by Death family?
Yeah, it's like we have health care, even. We just got it. It's for the band and our permanent tour manager and merch guy the two who are always with us because we consider them equal members.
Who pays for the insurance?
The band pays for it. We sell CDs on the road, and we allot a certain amount to make sure that we're covered. Most of us couldn't afford health care, and we were just thinking, like, this stinks, you know? We just kind of went out on a limb and did it. We've only had it for about two months now, so we'll see if we can actually continue to do it. Tuyet Nguyen
Murder by Death performs with the Hush Sound, This Providence, and This Is Me Smiling on Friday, November 24, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $9.99. Call 954-564-1074, or visit www.cultureroom.net.
Minger, an insult defined in one online dictionary as "a physically undesirable, smelly or ugly person," is only one of many English slang terms on Public Warning, Lady Sovereign's Def Jam debut, that will be unfamiliar to most U.S. hip-hop heads. The native Londoner (birth name: Louise Harman) insists she wasn't pressured to remove colloquialisms like these from her rhymes but she concedes that her handlers suggested she rethink one example of American street jargon she'd inadvertently misused.
"In one of my songs, I said, 'Where's my chicken at?'" she recalls, her accent thicker than Benny Hill's midsection. "And they said, 'You do know chicken means whore, don't you?' And I'm like, 'As far as I'm concerned, a chicken is a little bird that pecks around, and you cook it and eat it. '"
These nuances were apparently lost in translation a problem that Lady Sovereign hopes won't afflict her stateside career. Lately, she's been getting boosts from some major players. Def Jam chieftain Jay-Z has thrown his considerable weight behind the new project, which helps explain why MTV bit on "Love Me or Hate Me," a single whose accompanying clip briefly topped the Total Request Live roster in mid-October.
In the interim, Lady Sovereign is spreading her words to Yanks via live appearances, including a Boulder, Colorado, gig with the Streets this past June that went comically awry. "I had a couple of drinks before I went on, and because of the altitude, they really fucked me up," she notes. "I was forgetting the lyrics onstage and going, 'Fuck this song I don't want to do it' and I stopped it. And then my nose started bleeding when I was onstage, and when I came off, that's when it really started pouring. I was like, 'Oh, my God! I've never had a nosebleed in my life!'"
Fortunately, the blood's all gone. As for the chicken, it's gone too. After learning about the bird's double meaning, she says, "I took out that whole bit. It wasn't really my favorite lyric anyway and I didn't want people thinking I was into prostitutes."
Otherwise, they might take her for a bleedin' minger. Michael Roberts
Lady Sovereign performs with ¡Mayday! and Young Love on Tuesday, November 28, at Studio A, 60 NE 11th St., Miami. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $13. Call 305-358-ROCK, or visit www.studioamiami.com.
Having toured earlier this year for her solo debut, Mind How You Go, former Morcheeba frontwoman Skye returns to the States sporting nothing this time but her acoustic guitar, voice, and, for two songs, her bass-playing husband, Steve Gordon. Relegated to a supportive role in Morcheeba, Skye spoke to Outtakes about the newfound creative freedom that resulted in Mind How You Go's folk-tinged electronic pop.
Outtakes: All of the songs on the new album were produced by Patrick Leonard, but when you started, you worked with Daniel Lanois. What happened to that material?
Skye: We initially did two songs. He had the backing tracks for one of them for seven years. I was like, "Can we just do one more?" He had this tune that he played on guitar which turned into "Jamaica Days." It was later suggested that I record it a cappella [for the album version]. The first two tracks are still in demo form, but hopefully they'll make it onto the next record.
The Godfrey brothers exerted full creative control in Morcheeba. What types of production ideas did you have for your material?
I knew that I wanted there to be strings, more like a quartet sound. I had to speak in colors, like "orange and yellow with a little splotch of black in it." And I wanted it to feel "shiny but with a few scratches." Pat understood what I meant, thank God.
When you joined Morcheeba, you had songs and ideas how much did you wish you could contribute more?
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It was kind of clear from the get-go Ross [Godfrey] played guitar, Paul [Godfrey] wrote the lyrics, and I joined it together with the melody. I was really quite shy and nervous to suggest anything, and then the occasional times when I did think "Wow, I could write lyrics to this," they'd say "Yeah, that's cool" and nothing would come of it. So I just didn't offer. I continued to play a bit of guitar at home and write little poems and little songs.
How conscious were you of the whole trip-hop movement that Morcheeba is associated with?
I'd had the Portishead CD and Tricky's first album, but we spent a lot of time touring. The trip-hop scene was happening in the U.K., and I felt like we weren't really there. We were part of it, but I didn't really notice it happening. Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Skye opens for Ziggy Marley on Friday, November 24, at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. The show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $26. Call 954-727-0950, or visit www.jointherevolution.net.