The Murder City Devils have always smeared blood and guts across their music like a dirty backroom butcher who carves flesh with vinyl knives. The Seattle band's brand of gore is more metaphorical than serial killer, though, so they're not gonna spray you with fake body fluids like Gwar, grovel for Satan like a Scandinavian death-metal cult, or sulk in shades of black like some cheap goth act. They operate more like a punk noir flick, where high drama meets high energy, where Leslie Hardy's Farfisa organ drops the funeral march on frontman Spencer Moody and he lurches forward with hands wringing and neck veins protruding.
In the five years the Devils have been making noise, Moody has pleaded guilty (at least lyrically) to massacring relationships and trust while also killing the pain, as guitarists Dann Gallucci and Nate Manny, bassist Derek Fudesco, drummer Coady Willis, and Hardy paved over the evidence with a melodious mix of dark indie rock (think the Misfits meets the old Cure) and bone-tenderizing old-school punk (think Fugazi meets the Dead Boys). And then there are Moody's trademark wails -- a Glenn Danzig kind of gurgling, wake-the-dead racket (that is, if Danzig were a helpless drunk who cheated on, lied to, backstabbed, shattered, and endlessly lusted after his one and only love, begging for her forgiveness at top volume until his voice collapses). You get the picture.
After making four albums with themes of death, deceit, and drinking -- and parodying their own gruesome ending with posed "crime scene photos" of the band on 2000's In Name and Blood -- the sad truth is that the Murder City Devils are headed to an early grave. The demise officially began late this summer, when Hardy unexpectedly left both the band and Seattle (the official word from Sub Pop was that she "suffered from a wrist injury"), but her departure was only the first wound of many. "Leslie not playing with us was definitely a low point," says Moody, via cell from the Devil's tour stop in Louisville. "There was some question as to whether it was right to keep the band going without her because she was such an important part of it -- on the last couple of records she had a big effect on the songwriting. We always felt like if anyone wasn't in the band anymore then we would just break it up." Fudesco deepened the wounds when he started spending more time playing with Seattle's indie buzz band Pretty Girls Make Graves. "Derek has another band," adds Moody, "and he wants to devote more time to that than the rest of us are comfortable with, so [breaking up] just sort of seemed like the best thing to do. It's bittersweet, though. I'm glad that we're breaking up and everyone came to the decision together, but it'll be hard because we're having a great time [on this final tour], and the new songs that we've written recently are some of our favorite music that we've made."
Moody admits that although the band's newest album, Thelma, is one of its best, the older songs contributed to his sticking a fork in the act. "I'm sick of playing some of our older songs," he says. "I've written lyrics that I kind of regret, but I still have to play the songs. I try and make them true when I sing them -- but then when I reflect on it later I realize it's a load of shit."
"Idle Hands," one of the highlights of In Name and Blood, is an example of one of Moody's self-proclaimed deadweights. "Hands" is a letter to a Texas girl from a boy with a guilty conscience. As the lust-struck narrator sets up his demands to the object of his erection, Moody sings, "I bet you've got a boy/ back in Austin, baby/ but I'm not askin,'/ I'm not askin.'"
"I wish I hadn't written those lyrics," admits Moody. "but I also think it's a good song. I have to try and make it [all the way] through when I sing it. When you write a song and hear it over and over, it forces you to think about things that maybe you would rather not think about anymore."
If there are songs off In Name that have gone through their life cycles, the recently released Thelma has barely had time to take its first breath. The six-song EP is an excellent progression for the band, one that shows what a great thing the Devils had going. "Midnight Service at the Mütter Museum" is a gothic tale of a freakish medical museum in Philadelphia, but it's also a metaphor for Moody's leanings toward finding beauty in the uglier side of life. "I think aesthetically I'm always drawn to things that are kind of darker," he says. "I couldn't watch a real horror movie until I was well into my teens; it's sort of ironic that a lot of our stuff has run so dark. I've been drawn to the nastier stuff in all areas -- I really love Flannery O'Connor."
"365 Days" is an unusually beautiful ballad in which a mournful string section mixes with Moody's bemoaning that jolly old St. Nick is crying alone. "That's What You Get" is an apology for the jagged ending of a relationship caused by falling in love too soon and the narrator realizing he "never heard a sad song that I didn't like/ and that's why I'm leaving you/ but maybe not tonight."
Thelma's darkness swings to extremes, covering both odd physical abnormalities -- "Bride of the Elephant Man" -- and common emotional pitfalls, as on "Bear Away," with its chilling warning that "you better outlive your mother!"
"I feel like a lot of people are careless with the way they treat themselves," Moody explains. "And that line is about how that's a selfish attitude. People sometimes act like life is a race to see who can die first and who can do the most fucked-up shit. I think that's a bad way to think about things." An odd sentiment from a band that's championed last-call rampages like "I Drink the Wine" and "Rum to Whiskey."
"Well, yeah," laughs Moody. "Alcohol has definitely played a significant role in this band."
With or without the trademark firewater in their bellies, though, the Murder City Devils are coming to the Bay Area to wrap up a final tour that fulfills the group's outstanding contractual obligations (with Nick DeWitt, drummer for Pretty Girls Make Graves, filling in for Hardy on keyboards). The band has played with such acts as Pearl Jam, Modest Mouse, and At the Drive-In (which the Devils obliterate as an opening act), but will utter its last breath back in its hometown on -- when else? -- Halloween.
Don't pull out your hankies for the Devils just yet, though. With one band's corpse barely cold, Moody's already itching for a musical reincarnation. Remaining members Moody, Willis, Gallucci, Manny, and Gabe the roadie will re-form to be "louder, more fucked-up, and musically more crazy and chaotic" than the Devils, Moody speculates. "I think it'll be good to start from scratch with a new vision. It'll be fun to build [a new band]. We're gonna figure out a name, and when we get home we'll start practicing and writing songs. We'll be on tour again as soon as we possibly can.
"I'm definitely excited about what's to come," Moody concludes. "Even though I'm, um, not sure exactly what it's gonna be," he adds with a laugh.
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