The Bowery Presents
Murder By Death

Murder By Death

Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, Ha Ha Tonka

Tue, July 17, 2012

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Webster Hall

New York, NY

This event is 18 and over

Murder By Death
Murder By Death
On the surface, Murder By Death is a Bloomington, IN quintet with a wry, ominous name. But behind the geography and moniker is a band of meticulous and literary songwriters matched by a specific brand of brooding, anthem-riding balladry and orchestral indie rock.

Murder By Death's path began in the early 2000s as most Midwestern college-town groups do, by playing to small crowds at ratty venues and frenzied house parties. While many of their formative-year scene-mates failed to make it much further than campustown's borders, Murder By Death translated their anonymous beginnings into a 10+ year career founded on a bedrock of five full-length albums, tireless D.I.Y. touring and performing ethics, and, most importantly, a dedicated, cult-like fanbase.

Since the band began in 2001, their audience has blossomed due in part to extended tours alongside similarly hardworking musical kin such as Against Me!, Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, William Elliott Whitmore, Ha Ha Tonka, and others. Throughout relentless touring across the United States, Canada and Europe, Murder By Death has gained word-of-mouth devotees and support from the likes of media outlets like SPIN Magazine, who said of the band:

'They brawl like Johnny Cash's cellmates or dreamily swoon like Nick [Cave], stomping saloon floorboards in 4/4 time as grand strings fade into high noon.'

What resonates most with supporters is the band's energetic, unique, and altogether consistent sound and conceptualized vision. The personnel and ingredients of the group consist of Sarah Balliet's throaty cello melodies, singer/guitarist Adam Turla's booming baritone vocals and brawny guitar strumming, drummer Dagan Thogerson and bassist Matt Armstrong's locked-down, post-punk rhythm section interplay, and David Fountain's multi-instrumentalist bag of tricks (including piano, trumpet, accordion, mandolin, vocals, percussion). The overriding sound is an amalgamation of textures ranging from dark and desolate to upbeat and brightly melodic, all of it landing somewhere under the orchestrated indie rock umbrella.

The other mainstay signature element of Murder By Death's identity has been built by the overriding concepts behind each individual album. Every successive effort conjures up fresh imaginative and tactile worlds - whether it's the battle between the Devil and a small Western town (Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?, 2003), an arid land of death and redemption (In Bocca al Lupo, 2006), or just songs inspired by a retreat into the Tennessee mountains (Good Morning, Magpie, 2010).
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons
Like many artists before him, Cory Chisel first connected with the power of song – and the spellbinding possibilities of live performance – through the music he heard in church. The gospel's rich vernacular of loss and redemption also informed his innate poetic sense and lyrical range. "For most of my life," he says, "my dad was a Baptist minister, so I learned a lot about being a showman, and I learned a lot about music. Many of the hymns from church still are the most beautiful songs I know. I'm thankful for growing up where stories and the pursuit of happiness were on everybody's mind. I think I'm still trying to achieve the same euphoria I felt at a very young age, when I would be completely taken over by these rhythms and these sounds and these stories."
Ha Ha Tonka
Ha Ha Tonka
"Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered." —Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone

There's a certain wisdom that exists in the hills of the Ozarks. It's a wisdom that spits out of the mouths of Woodrell's characters; it's a wisdom that is found in the lyrics by Woodrell's fellow West Plains, Missouri natives, Ha Ha Tonka; and it's a wisdom that's found on the band's new full-length LP, Death of a Decade.

"They say that if you don't change where you're going / you're gonna end up right where you're headed." —Ha Ha Tonka, "Made Example Of"

Recorded in a 200 year old barn in scenic New Paltz, NY with producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, The Felice Brothers, The Walkmen), Death of a Decade began as a stripped down record, rich with warm tones that could only be captured under a 30 foot roof of a barn. "We wanted to make sure we left in all the imperfections of the barn such as the chairs squeaking and the boards creaking", explains lead singer Brian Roberts. After tracking the songs in this rough hewn setting, the files were shipped to hAUs Studio in Kansas City, MO where The Ryantist mixed and manipulated synthetic sonic threads into this organic tapestry. Death of a Decade is where authentic meets synthetic, acoustic meets electronic, and tradition meets innovation.

Thematically, Death of a Decade is less "story-based" than Ha Ha Tonka's previous work (which pulled heavily from Missouri history and folklore for its lyrics), with the band now focusing on the transition into manhood—something that doesn't automatically come once you pass a certain age: "I realize that youth is wasted on the young," Roberts sings on "Westward Bound," "Oh, I know that now my wasting days are done."

However, Roberts says, Death of a Decade is not meant to be a requiem for lost youth, but rather an embrace of the notion that the passage of time is better than the alternative. There you have it again: the wisdom of the Ozarks.

Even if the album's songs aren't specifically of the Ozarks, the sound is—still present is the traditional instrumentation (just listen to guitarist Brett Anderson's arpeggio mandolin lines on "Usual Suspects" and "Made Example Of"), with bassist Lucas Long and drummer Lennon Bone rounding out the rhythm section to stampeding affect. Still present are the spine-tingling four-part gospel harmonies, a signature sound that sets Ha Ha Tonka apart from every other indie band-cum-Southern rock group that seems to be shambling out of the suburban woods these days.

Ultimately, what makes the Ha Ha Tonka brand of Southern rock so special is that it's authentic, it's effortless, and it never comes across as forced. They are masters at bringing together the traditional and the modern. They sit at the crossroads of Americana and indie, where Alabama meets Arcade Fire – shakes their hand and takes them out for a drink.

So, back to Woodrell's Ozarkian wisdom from "Winter's Bone," being considered one of the best bands you'll discover (or rediscover) in 2011 isn't something Ha Ha Tonka ought need to ask for—it will be offered.

More about HHT: Named after Ha Ha Tonka State Park in their native Missouri, the group's relentless touring has seen them become one of the most buzzed about young bands in America, appearing at Lollapalooza, Sundance Film Fest, SXSW, CMJ while touring nationally as a headlining act, as well as supporting many great bands such as Old 97s, Murder By Death, Langhorne Slim, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, Ludo, Meat Puppets and more.
Venue Information:
Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY, 10003