Murder by Death's Matt Armstrong on The Cure, SXSW and John Congleton
Murder by Death started in Bloomington, Indiana, but bassist Matt Armstrong is a local who grew up in University Park. He took some time out and shared his first show experiences with us, told us why MBD is not playing SXSW and revealed a little about their forthcoming John Congleton-produced album.
What was the first show you remember seeing? Were you with your parents?
The first big show I ever saw was ZZ Top with Jackyl. It was kinda fuckin' awesome, at least to 13-year-old me or whatever it was at the time. But the second big show I saw was The Rolling Stones and it was with my parents. It was a whole family outing.
Which Stones tour and what was the venue?
Voodoo Lounge. Maybe it was the Cotton Bowl? I remember Bryan Adams was the opening act and so my brother said we were going to look at shirts, so we could get away and smoke cigarettes and not listen to Bryan Adams.
Were The Stones good?
The Stones were awesome! It was an incredible show.
What was the first show you paid to see?
I was searching the memory banks, and I don't know which one was first, but I definitely had the pleasure of going to The Bomb Factory back in the day. Once was to see The Nixons when Foma had just come out. They tore that place apart. The other time was to see Filter for Short Bus. The opening act was Everclear and Sparkle and Fade had just come out. I was definitely a teenager of the '90s. I remember with both shows my ears rang for a week. When they checked the bass drum, my ears went out and they were gone for the rest of the night. I didn't care, I was so happy.
What was the first show that made a major impact on you?
I don't know when the switch flipped when I thought I could do this, but seeing The Cure on the Wild Mood Swings tour was a huge deal. I think I was 16. I think it was at Reunion Arena. No opening act; they played for, like, three hours. I was like, "These guys are machines."
You have tattoos referencing Jawbox songs and even recorded with Jawbox frontman J. Robbins. Have you ever seen J. play live?
I've never seen J. Robbins play live. It's one of the great ironies of my life.
How were you introduced to Jawbox?
I remember seeing "Savory" on Beavis and Butt-head.
I didn't know what to make of it at the same. As I got older and into college, it was a name that kept popping up. I finally sat down and listened and I thought, "Holy shit, how much time have I wasted not being super into this band?"
What do you remember about your first show with Murder By Death?
The first proper show we did was in the coffee shop of the dorm most of us lived in, which was where all the weird kids lived. The power went out in the middle of it, close to the end of the last song, a crazy instrumental we used to do. We found out earlier in the day there was a thing called Lesbo-palooza going on -- a very college thing to do, jam bands and all that kind of stuff. It was the kind of deal where they were running power from extension cords to power strips to extension cords from inside the dorms. The stuff was already compromised and we were the straw that broke the camel's back. The power ended up being out for three days. The problem was buried in the field across the street so it took a while to get to it and fix it.
You guys are not playing South by Southwest this year, is there a reason why?
The same reason why somebody wouldn't play South by Southwest. We've already got other stuff to do at that time, and it doesn't make sense to fly everybody out and try and route down there like everyone else is doing. There really hasn't been a point to do South by Southwest from the band's standpoint.
I remember when I first heard about South by Southwest, and it seemed like it was for bands just starting out. But in the past ten years, it's something that young bands and veteran bands routinely hit it up.
It's definitely not the same thing that it started out to be. It's like spring break for people who are in the biz but not really in the biz. The bands being there seem pretty incidental at this point.
Frankly, I use it as a way to run into people who would never come to Texas.
Yeah! For that, it's good. But it used to be about getting new, hungry bands in front of people that could maybe help them out. It's definitely not that anymore.
Good or bad, that's the reality of it.
Exactly. I don't have any problems with managers and record label people who want to get together and party. That's fine. It's a vacation. It's just like what everybody else does.
What do you remember about the first time Murder by Death played South by Southwest?
We played at The Jackalope for a thing. We did a Take Action thing, hosted by Andrew WK. That was pretty fun.
Tell us about your recent recording experience in Dallas with John Congleton.
John's studio, Elmwood, used to be a funeral home and then it was an insurance office and now it's a studio.
Why does that not surprise me, knowing John? And as much as I hate asking this question, how would you compare this new album to your previous work?
I think it's going to take some people by surprise. The main reason why we worked with John was because he said, "Hey, I'm a fan of the band, but I think you're recorded just like you're a rock band and I think there's a lot more going on, like more moody and creepy atmospheric stuff going on. I'd really like to amp that stuff up." We went, "Yeah, let's do that." So we've never sounded like this on record before. It's interesting: I played some of it for someone who's recorded us in the past and he was like, "This is you guys?"