Interview: The Murder City Devils

THE MURDER CITY DEVILS
interview by mike bushman


Rock.

The word has evolved to represent as many forms as the nameless groups who’ve embraced it’s reckless spirit. Many like to put adjectives preceeding the word like ‘punk’ or ‘classic’ or ‘indie’. But its all for the sake of rock. For the passion of turning up a guitar stack until it hums with anticipation of a dirty bar chord struck repeatedly until the dissonance shakes the foundation of belief. The Murder City Devils are one of the rare breed that can just take the word, stamp it on their foreheads, and dare you to fuck with this. The Murder City Devils are rock. You can taste it in the attitude in which they hold themselves on stage and can feel it in the music they live. Touring relentlessly and chasing it down with a steady supply of alcohol, the band breathes new life into the sounds that have defined rock for a couple of generations. With their second full length, “In Name and Blood” and a supporting tour behind them, we find the Devils on some much deserved down time in their hometown of Seattle. They are gearing up and writing the soundtrack to their next adventure on the road and took some time to open the doors into what it takes to be a Murder City Devil.

Bushman: How’s the current mental state of Murder City Devils?
Spencer: We’re just about to take a long break from touring and write and record, so everyone feels really good about that.
Nate: I’d say tired in general. But we are getting ready to be home for a while and everyone is excited to start writing again.

B: Your group really does seem like that, “a group” sharing a like-mindedness that translates well into the music. What kind of person does it take to be a Murder City Devil?
Spencer: I don’t know. We’re all friends and everything and we’ve been together for so long now that we’re all…I don’t know.
Nate: You have to be willing to be gone for a long time. Willing to put up with everybody else and be uncomfortable a lot.

B: “In Name and Blood” has a lot of tie-ins both musically and visually with brutality. Is this a common theme in the lives of MCD?
Spencer: No, I think it comes more from us. It probably comes a lot from the books that I read and the aesthetics that Nate’s into, because he does all of the artwork and stuff.
Nate: I wouldn’t say literally, no. We don’t go around beating people up or getting beat up or doing anything like that.

B: How did the ultra-violent concept of the bands members being displayed through their Homicide scene police photos? As well as the press kits going out looking like a filed police report?
Spencer: I think it was sort of inspired by a…there’s a New York photographer from the 30’s and 40’s called Wegee that was kind of like an ambulance chaser, that took a lot of death photos and I think that was of influence, and also the Norwegian Black Metal was also an influence for that stuff aesthetically.
Nate: I did all the design for the album. I’ve always been interested in crime and crime scenes. Like the photographs and stuff like that. I like the aesthetic of it. Yeah, this guy Wegee went around taking photos of crime scenes and he had a book out called, “New York Crime” or something like that. But its all from the 30’s and 40’s gangsters and stuff like that. We were doing a photo shoot, it was kind of going bad, and there was a big dumpster and I thought the idea of what we were doing was stupid, and I wished the photo was of us all piled up dead in this dumpster. So I started thinking about it more and had that kind of elaborate into the final project.

B: And I noticed the press kits went out also, playing on the police file report.
Spencer: Yeah, we were just trying to think of something fun, different.

B: I heard someone was selling one of those on Ebay for like $50.
Spencer: I’ve heard crazy stuff about Ebay and our promo stuff.
Nate: Really?

B: How does that make you feel to find out that people are putting such high value on some photocopies and a bio?
Spencer: I guess it’s sort of a compliment in a way, but I can’t really relate to it.
Nate: I think its cool. I wanted them to be something would want to have. So if people were willing to pay that much money for them, I guess it makes it seem like it works. I’ve seen old Blondie press packs and its just a picture and some photocopies, its really boring. We wanted to make it interesting for anyone to see.

B: Did you each choose how you got “done”?
Spencer: We just got the fake blood and stuff and then everyone just came up with an idea, then we went out and took the pictures.
Nate: Yeah.

B: Who was responsible for the photos and special effects?
Spencer: We have a friend who used to do special effects stuff in Hollywood, he gave us some tips on making fake blood and he also gave me the intestines that are in my picture. Jen Patrick, the girl who actually took the pictures, did a real good job with the colors and everything. She’s really talented.
Nate: We did all the make up and stuff ourselves. We were working with Jen Patrick and she took all the photos for the album. I worked with her for the whole thing.

B: When do you guys have some new material coming out?
Spencer: We’re working on it now. Hopefully we’ll record the next record this spring, early summer.

B: Is that another SubPop release?
Spencer: Yeah.

B: How has working with SubPop affected the band?
Spencer: It’s been great working with them.
Nate: Its hard to say because they are the label we’ve been on the whole time. I think if maybe we had just signed to them for that last album, and there was a noticeable…our relationship with them has grown just like the band has.

B: Murder City Devils are one of the hardest working and touring bands out there. Do you attribute much of your success to this “hit the road hard” ideal?
Spencer: Yeah, I think so. We’ve been touring since before we put out records or anything. I guess that’s just sort of what we think of as a band-that’s what being a band is, touring and putting out records. That’s what we do.
Nate: A lot of it comes from being around a lot and trying to put on a good live show. I think a lot of what has happened to us is from word of mouth. And just from being able to see is as often as we can make it available.

B: “In Name and Blood” has been out for a little while, how was it received compared to your last full length, “Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts?”
Spencer: They both were received pretty well, we really couldn’t expect much better. The new one I think people see it as sort of a progression from the first two records. I feel like each record has been better than the one before so far. I think most people feel that way.
Nate: I think it went over a lot better. I think it was a stronger album. There are songs I really like off of “Empty Bottles”, but I think as a whole this record was more of a finished product and I think people noticed that.

B: Like your previous, there is a lot of drug and alcohol imagery painted into the vision of the MCD. Are these fairly accurate reflections of the bands own habits?
Spencer: We do tend to drink pretty heavily; it’s sort of a middle ground between storytelling and where our influences come from and then our actual lives.
Nate: We do have a tendency to drink a lot. But a lot of the other stuff…I wouldn’t take it very serious. I wouldn’t say we were trying to create an image for ourselves but we kind of put ourselves into…I don’t know…It’s made up. Its like there’s this rock’n roll lifestyle or stereotype and there’s things about that have fallen through with that with the touring and the drinking and stuff like that.

B: You guys just got off touring with At The Drive In. Where’s the best show you played on that tour?
Spencer: We played a show in Belfast and that was really, really awesome. It was a really good feeling, because not a lot of bands go there so people really appreciated music being played there.
Nate: Ireland. When we played in Dublin. It was really awesome. We had never been there before and neither had At The Drive In, and it was a totally sold out show. I guess a lot of bands don’t really go over there, so everyone was just really enthusiastic. And it wasn’t like we were there having to try to prove anything or that we were just opening for At The Drive In. It was more like everyone there was more excited just to see a show.

B: Was there a stop that wasn’t so cool?
Nate: Montreal. Because Canada…just…I don’t know. It just felt really bad. The crowd and…everything. It just wasn’t great.
Spencer: I’m sure we had some shows that weren’t as fun as others, or that maybe we weren’t as happy with, but really this last tour was really great. I don’t really feel like we had any bad shows, I mean we had shows that we feel we could have played better and shows where we were more tired than we should have been and stuff like that, but it was a pretty good tour.

B: I’ve noticed critically, there is no middle ground with the ‘Devils. Usually you are praised as a second coming of rock, or the reviewer just doesn’t get it all. To what to you attribute this, “Love it or Hate it” view on your band.
Spencer: I think it would be easy to look at our band, or listen to our band and not take it seriously, or think it’s kind of ridiculous. I don’t like a lot of the bands that I see and hear and stuff and it’s not necessarily because they’re bad, it’s just because it’s not my thing. I think lots of times when we get bad reviews it’s because it’s just not the reviewers thing. That’s fine. I think it’s possible to criticize the band without being critical of the people in the band or suggesting that it’s insincere or things like that, or if someone doesn’t like the way that we sound they don’t have to pretend that they do.
Nate: What we are doing isn’t necessarily new, so people are either going to be excited about it as a rebirth of something that they like, or they are going to see it as a rehash of stuff that they don’t care about.

B: What’s the most un-informed thing you’ve ever read about yourselves?
Spencer: I think it’s been suggested in the past that we’re insincere, that really bothers me, or that it can be entertaining but there’s no real content below that, that bothers me because I think that’s not fair because we’ve all been involved in music since we were pretty young and love it and would always do this.

B: Do you pay much attention to what is written about the band?
Spencer: No, not at all.
Nate: I used to. I don’t anymore. Like when we go on tour and get to a club, everyone would pick up the local paper and see if there was anything. Occasionally, I’ll kind of look, but I don’t even read the local papers anymore because it was like every week there would be something. At first it was good, then it was bad, then it was a joke so I don’t care about it anymore.

B: Do you give much merit to the press you read about other bands?
Spencer: I don’t really read any music press, period, and I’ve never bought a record because of something I’ve read in a magazine. Sometimes I’ll read interviews of people I think are interesting. But as far as reviews and things like that I don’t really pay very much attention to them.
Nate: Sometimes. It depends. Being on tour with At The Drive In was really amazing because the press is being really enthusiastic about them. It seemed as if it wasn’t just a job that someone had to write something about this band. It seemed like people actually cared about what the band was doing. That was kind of cool.

B: If there was something you could change about the music industry, what would that be?
Spencer: I don’t like the fact that to a lot of people involved in the music industry, or that people who play music, that it’s just a job for them. Like people who work at labels and people who are music press, and people who are promoters and booking agents and managers who don’t really care about music, and it’s just a business, its just a job. That bothers me because they are obligated to just be totally fucking phony all the time and pretend to care about things and know about things they don’t know anything about.
Nate: The way that bands get made up. The way that commercial radio works and the way that makes bands that aren’t good sell millions of records when there are bands working really that deserve more credit than they get.

B: There has been much focus on the pure rock-n-roll vibe that’s gaining a lot of popularity, (MCD, Supersuckers, Fu Manchu, Hellacopters, etc) that specialize in the untainted, little amps on 10, whiskey drinking, truck drivin’ rock-n-roll. Do you feel this newfound love of the old school rock affecting the Murder City Devils?
Spencer: We’ve kind of got lumped into that from some press we got early on, and because of some of the bands we toured with, but at this point I think the future of that stuff…I think the big labels tried to find bands that capitalize on that stuff and it didn’t work. There’s always going to be big rock bands and stuff, but I think AC/DC can pretty much fill that slot on their own. I think bands like ours are more destined to stay on a lower level or whatever, and that’s fine.
Nate: Not so much now, I feel like there was a time we were more closely associated with bands that were doing that. I think half of our last album was like that, and half wasn’t and that half is more in the direction we are going in.

B: So has your success seen you guys buying the big houses and fast cars yet?

Spencer: No. It definitely hasn’t been a financial success. It’s more of a personal success.
Nate: Oh god no way. People have misconceptions. To make that much money, you really have to be doing something…we are a long ways from doing that.

B: Gabe (roadie/manager) appears in all the press photos and such. This is not a common thing for bands to due with their crew. Explain.
Spencer: We just think of him as being part of the band. Short of coming to band practice, he’s pretty much always with us and takes care of everything. We consider him a member of the band. We decided he was going to be in the pictures and it took some people (like the record label) awhile to get used to the fact that he was going to be part of the band. Period. Because we are the ones who decides who is close to us and who is part of what we do and its not the person taking the pictures decision really.
Nate: Gabe and I went to highschool together. I’ve known him for over ten years now. He’s been with the band since the beginning. We just consider him to be another member of the band and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without him. He’s kind of behind the scenes, but he’s very much a part of the band. We’ve always paid him equally. He makes the same amount of money that the rest of us do.

B: You guys are from Seattle right? Is there a defining Seattle sound nowadays?
Spencer: It’s probably more of a Built to Spill influence kind of thing. The bands I go see in Seattle are not rock bands really. There’s no new Mudhoney. I wish there was. There’s a lot of diversity in Seattle. A lot of bands play together that don’t really sound a lot like. There are some really great pop bands. The Briefs are amazing. They are like an 80’s style pop, like a Wire kind of thing. Modest Mouse is from here and they are pretty big these days.
Nate: It’s really broad. Modest Mouse grew up here. 764Hero and Botch. There’s definitely no one sound. Its unified in the sense that we are friends with all those bands, but our music is totally different, but we’ll all hang out together.

B: Which band made you decide you were going to pursue music for your career?
Nate: Minor Threat
Spencer: I didn’t have many options. I dropped out of high school and hate getting up to go to work in the morning. It was like there was no reason not to go out on tour forever. There was nothing else that I wanted to pursue that would get in the way of doing this.

B: What was your first rock concert experience like?
Spencer: I saw David Bowie on the Sound Vision Tour. I was maybe like 14. When I was like 15 I started going to like local punk shows and stuff. But I guess Bowie is what I always really loved and that’s what turned me on to Lou Reed and from there it was a short jump to punk.
Nate: Agnostic Front. It was pretty crazy.

B: What was your favorite toy as a kid?
Spencer: I had a GI Joe jet that I liked a lot. Zephyr the monkey from the Babaar books. I had a stuffed animal of him that I really liked.
Nate: Legos.

B: If you only could have one channel of television to watch, what would it be?
Nate: That’s a tough one. I love Comedy Central, but I like the History Channel too.
Spencer: That’s tough. It would be a toss up between VH1 and the Trinity Broadcasting network. That Christian channel. It’s been a pretty big influence on some of the lyrics I write.

B: From what standpoint?
Spencer: I think it’s amazing that in the year 2001 you can turn on the television and see like faith healing and stuff.

B: Do you embrace the computer culture much?
Spencer: No. I think Derek might have a computer. Gabe’s does a lot of computer stuff. I personally don’t know anything about that stuff. My mom has a computer she’s getting rid of that I might take.

B: Most influential rock band, ever?
Spencer: ahhh, fuck. Um…it would have to be Chuck Berry. But for me, Iggy Pop was definitely a big influence but I don’t listen to that much these days. Maybe like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop would be the three for me personally. Because I never thought of them being able to sing too much. And I know that I can’t sing, so those people made me believe I could be in a band.
Nate: Rolling Stones.

B: Napster/MP3 thoughts?

Spencer: I don’t care about it at all. I don’t think it hurts us. I think its kind of fun to go on the Internet and find a live show that someone recorded. I’m very unconcerned.
Nate: Having music be more accessible to people in different ways and to be able to put videos and stuff onto CDs is really cool. I’m curious to see how the Napster thing pans out. I do think you should have the option of controlling the music you put out there for free. I don’t feel like it threatens record buying at this point, but I do think it needs to be regulated.

B: Is Motley Crue cool?
Nate: Not anymore. Tommy Lee quit, gimme a break.
Spencer: Well, Tommy Lee is not cool, but he’s the coolest drummer. Sure. Of course they are cool. I don’t know. Ah. Yeah. They are cool.

B: What’s most unreal moment you’ve experienced while being in the Murder City Devils?
Spencer: When we played with Pearl Jam. That was pretty crazy. And being backstage at a festival in Europe with black metal bands. And Tommy Lee. And opening for Motorhead.
Nate: Drinking Jagermeister with Dennis Rodman at a Pearl Jam show.

B: Future plans for the Devils?
Spencer: Doing the same stuff.
Nate: More records and more touring.

B: What is the coolest?
Spencer: The first non 7”.
Nate: DVD Video

B: What is the lamest?
Spencer: In Seattle, they’ve recently replaced the big Ranier neon ‘R’ with a Toley’s ‘T’
Nate: Casssettes.

B: Who is a Sinner?
Spencer: Bill Clinton
Nate: I am.

B: Who is a Saint?
Spencer: Kenneth Anger
Nate: I don’t know any.

B: Messages to the masses?
Spencer: No.
Nate: No.