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Murder Inc.

Not many musicians have health insurance, but Murder by Death does

Take a mental Polaroid of Murder by Death, and what will you see? Pretty-boy metal-heads with black-painted fingernails? Starving rockers with welts under their eyes? You just may be surprised by what develops; namely, three guys in button-up shirts and a girl 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.

Wack: 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.

Murder by Death
Murder by Death
Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons

I just wanted to be more of a storyteller than someone who was pouring out his soul for you.

Our first record was very pieced together, as we were trying to figure out what kind of band we wanted to be. The second one, we wanted to do something that was more uniform. We wanted to try to lock in a sound and, as an experiment, to do a whole concept piece. I've always said that I never want to do the same thing twice. It grew over time into this pattern of how I wanted to keep this narrative storytelling, but I wanted to present it in a different way each time.

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.

Did you hear that the tour manager just got sentenced to four years in prison?

It sucks, because it was his job to make sure that everything was okay. But there are a lot of people, probably, who are looking right by it.

What about your band? Who's taking care of you?

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 appears Wednesday, June 7, at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-862-2513. Langhorne Slim and Metal Hearts open.

The Abattoir

Truth is, I'm supposed to adore the estimable Gram Parsons.

I've been in a band or two and written a few tunes, and more often than not I've been tossed into the mostly appalling "country-rock" genre, of which Mr. Parsons is the patron saint. But I'd sooner be tossed into a moist and humid pile of horseshit. Parsons should be the patron saint of that, too, come to think of it.

The Parsons myth has grown so large it completely obscures the fact that he was a hack and, except when it came to drug addiction, a poseur. And as it turns out, the not-so-great man was a plagiarist to boot.

Here's the story, as recounted by the herds of baa-ing Parsonites:

Parsons, born Ingram Cecil Connor III, emerged from a wealthy but dysfunctional Florida family to attend one semester at Harvard. While in Massachusetts he discovered country music, and shortly after dropping out of Harvard he formed the International Submarine Band with a group of other Boston folkies. They released an album, Safe at Home, in 1968. The album flopped.

But that same year Parsons got the break of a (very short) lifetime: Chris Hillman, of the by-then-already-legendary Byrds, asked Parsons to join his band. They recorded only one album during Parsons's tenure, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Considered the prototypical "country-rock" album today, the record featured some Parsons originals, including what was to become his "signature" composition, "Hickory Wind." Most of Parsons's vocals on the album, however, were replaced because of "contractual issues." The album was not a commercial success, and Parsons left the Byrds that same year.

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