Murder City Devils' Spencer Moody
Murder City Devils have always had bad timing. Signed to Sub Pop during the label's lean years in the late '90s, the Seattle sextet broke up in 2001, mere months before their brand of down and dirty garage rock exploded into the mainstream. But this month as the band embark on their first tour since splitting, lead singer Spencer Moody is finally seeing the planets align. "Kids in rad new punk bands, it seems like they would think we're square and antiquated," he says. "That there's people that don't feel that way is cool. It means that maybe we were doing something that is valuable."
You're reissuing the Murder City Devils back catalogue this month on Sub Pop. Why now?
I think some of the vinyl had gone out of print so it was one way to get it back into print. And I think there's some stuff in the packaging like actual photographs and stuff like that.
And in honour of these reissues you're going on tour down the West coast as well.
The tour came first. The idea was "what can we do that's special?"
You've played some one-off gigs together since the band broke up in 2001, but this will be your first proper tour. Does it feel good to be going back on the road with the band?
Yeah. It will be nice to get out of town. I've been working a lot so it's nice to be able to leave and hang out with friends.
Why did the group decide to finally book a full tour?
We would have done it earlier, it's just really difficult to get everyone's schedules together. What we had been doing was waiting for a big offer for a single show and then build a tour around that. There was one thing we were supposed to do and it fell through and we decided that we maybe needed to take control of our own destiny a little bit and just book a tour and play in clubs and stuff. I personally would rather see a band at night in a club than during the day at a big festival anyway. In order for us to play a show we need to get together for a few days and practice and people have to fly out. Once you're doing all of that we might as well do a fucking tour. It's kind of silly to spend four or five days preparing to play one show and then play one show and everyone just goes home. It seems to make more sense to put a little tour together. And more fun.
Stresses from touring were part of what led to the split. Are you worried old tensions might erupt again?
Oh I'm sure they could, but I don't think they will. I think we're all a little bit more mature, whatever that means. And the last few times we've all been together everyone's gotten along great. I doubt that would be a problem. There's six of us and everyone has their own distinct personality, that's for sure. It certainly will be a lot more fun than the last time. I don't think people would do it if they thought it would be a trial.
You've said that you always wanted to be the kind of band that breaks up only to see their stature grow once they're gone. Why is that?
It means people still care, which is nice. If we stopped touring and making records and just never sold another record... before, when we were putting out records on Sub Pop we had a publicity machine that was working for us. We were trying to sell records - we had an advertising budget, we had publicists - and as soon as the band broke up, all of that went away completely. If people continue to buy the records it's not because it's on the end of the rack at the record store and there was a big poster up or something. You get into the zone where it's more older brothers telling younger siblings "you should listen to this." I think it's a nicer way for the word to spread about any artistic thing.
What about Murder City Devils do those younger siblings identify with?
I don't know. From the beginning there was no attempt to fit in with any certain contemporary thing. And we weren't paying very much attention to what was going on in the world of music at that time. The bands we were listening to tended to be older bands.
Have you come across younger bands influenced by Murder City Devils?
I don't really leave the same few blocks in Seattle very much to be honest with you. My current band Triumph of Lethargy have done some touring but mostly just down the West coast and stuff.
Since this tour was announced, it always surprises me the people that are excited about it, or say that they like [Murder City Devils]. I was hanging out with a guy the other night who makes his living as a music writer and I really respect his taste and I like him a lot. He mentioned that we were going to be playing these shows and I was like really? Because people don't have to worry about hurting my feelings, like you really like [Murder City Devils]? And he said "yeah."
It's weird. Because we were becoming fairly successful, or we could play pretty big venues and people would show up it sort of always made me just assume that we weren't very good. Do you know what I mean?
Uh... kind of.
But there are people whose taste in music I trust who continue to show an interest. And I can't listen to those records and I was in the band. I have friends that are in incredible bands who make amazing music and I have a hard time listening to those records because it's too close. The only reason I would ever listen to a Murder City Devils song is 'cause I have to learn them for this tour. I feel relatively detached from the whole thing until we go on stage and there's a bunch of kids there. Then I don't feel detached. But until then I don't know. I don't exist in that world. But it does give me a very good feeling to know there's kids sitting around in their apartments or bedrooms at their mom's house playing records for each other and our records are amongst the records that they're playing. And it always surprises me that kids in rad new punk bands, it seems like they would think we're square and antiquated. That there's people that don't feel that way is cool. It means that maybe we were doing something that is valuable.
Your current band Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death is still on the go. Do you enjoy having your fingers in a lot of different pots?
It's nice to be able to make music with people that get along and nobody tells anybody else what to do. What I was doing immediately after the break up of Murder City Devils was just trying to distance myself from all of that, which I did. Now I feel I can go back and sort of have a foot in different worlds and feel good about all of it.
It's just the way it is, it's not the way I would choose to have things but it's totally fine, but I think me and Corey started doing Triumph of Lethargy while Murder City Devils were still playing shows. We've put out a bunch of records, we've toured, we play shows around town all the time and as soon as it comes up that there's going to be Murder City Devils shows people say "oh, I heard you're playing some shows" and they're not referring to the band that I go to band practice every week for. So it's sort of this weird thing. I'm not particularly sensitive about it but it kind of is a little annoying.
So I take it Murder City Devils won't be in the studio anytime soon.
Every individual person in Murder City Devils I would love to make music with. I mean the Cave Singers are a fucking great band and Big Business is an incredible band and Dan has done amazing stuff musically. It's hard for me to even fathom making music that at some point Dan Gallucci wouldn't be involved in - playing or producing or whatever. I see him as someone who forever will be somehow connected to the music that I'm making. And Nate, I totally respect his music making ability and playing. And Leslie is fucking incredible and has such good taste and isn't afraid to speak up and is a great person to make music with. Any of those people, if they called up and said "let's make a record," I'd do it in a second. It's just the logistics of a Murder City Devils record don't make sense really. If we did that, whatever we came up with wouldn't sound like stuff we'd done before.
When you say logistics, do you mean that the band members all live in different places?
Yeah, and people are doing other things. It's a lot of work to get songs together and it's expensive to go into a recording studio and there's not a lot of people that want to pay for that stuff anymore. That we're not going to want to go out on the road and support it, that also decreases the number of people that want to give you money. As long as people are expressing themselves one way or another it's not really necessary for us to do that.
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