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Seattle's Murder City Devils play unbelievably dark, swaggering, dirgey trash rock. Lead singer and lyricist Spencer Moody, with his thick glasses, unruly hair and conventional clothing, looks out of place among the other gritty, greasy, black-clad, maximum rock & roll members of his band. On a Saturday morning, with the sound of sleep still thick in his already gravelly voice, he rattles off a list of dorks he's been compared to: "Truman Capote, Mr. Peabody, an astrophysics nerd, a chemistry student, a computer geek." Some think he bears an uncanny resemblance to the singer of Harvey Danger, Sean Nelson.
"I'm not trying to look any certain way, and I'm definitely not trying to look like a computer nerd or Mr. Peabody or Truman Capote, but I suppose I would rather . . ." Moody stops. "I mean, it's not correct because I'm not . . ."—Moody stops again and laughs uncomfortably—". . . very educated," he finishes. And then quickly, as a distraction, or a mood lightener: "But it's better than just looking like another rock & roll asshole, I guess."
Yeah, whatever. You're stuck on the fact that this guy who writes these amazing songs that could be novels, who keeps themes running throughout entire albums, who uses words like paint, who spins noir-ish yarns of gritty nighttime characters and busted relationships and lonely souls and the anguish that bubbles beneath the surface of rough exteriors and the kind of mournful agony that lives in regrets and laments, considers himself uneducated.
"I didn't finish high school," says Moody. He does read a lot, though, and he admits that he "makes references to things in books pretty consistently."
"I don't feel insecure about the amount of knowledge I have—I'm just not very educated in a formal way," he says.
In "Press Gang" from Murder City Devils' latest album, In Name and Blood, Moody tells the story of a guy who, in the late 1800s in a port town, falls asleep by the docks and gets picked up by a press gang, "who were these people in England who would go and shanghai people and force them to join the Royal Navy and you'd wake up the next day and be at sea and have to stay in the Navy for, like, seven years or something or until they didn't need you or you died." The ship gets attacked by pirates, and the guy decides to become a pirate because "at least then he'll be getting something out of it." After a while, the guy returns to his hometown, but somehow people find out that he's a pirate and he gets hanged. "It's told from the perspective of this person that was with him the whole time who's living where he can see the body hanging. Back then, they'd hang people by the water and just leave them so other people would see what could happen to them if they did the same thing," Moody says. The refrain that sounds most urgent in the song is this one: "He was a good man/He was a young man/He was like you/He was like me/It could have been me."
For whatever reasons, while you listen to Moody talk about the song, you begin to wonder how much the whole thing is a big exaggerated metaphor for touring in a rock band.
"Well, I identify with being gone all the time," he says. The band (rounded out by guitarist Dann Gallucci, bass player Derek Fudesco, guitarist Nate Manny, drummer Coady Willis and keyboard player Leslie Hardy) are almost constantly on the road, first in support of their self-titled release, then Empty Bottles Broken Hearts, and now In Name and Blood. Having just returned from a European tour with hardcore band Zeke, they're already getting ready to leave again for a six-week U.S. tour.
"It's starting to feel really normal to be gone," he says. "I don't get as lonely or stir-crazy as I used to. I used to feel like I did this because it was the only thing I could do, but now I feel like there are a lot of things that I could do and I'm doing this because it's what I want to do."
Still, Moody constantly writes about people whose lifestyles take them away from home. In "Bunkhouse," he sings, in his guttural, raspy voice, "A cowboy is to the prairie/As a sailor is to the sea . . . As a trucker is to the highway." And fittingly, a fair number of the songs deal with those relationships that either can or can't survive the constant separation. From "I Drink the Wine": "We made a deal in the car/You stay angry. I'll feel nothing at all/And you gave me your heart/And I buried my heart. . . . I got one foot in the van."
You mention that it must be hard to sustain relationships when one person's constantly in a state of leaving. "And also when you're young and do stupid things and don't know what you have and stuff like that," he adds, the sound of his words deceptively casual.
"Some day," he admits, "I would like to be able to write a really beautiful, sincere-sounding love song that's not 'I used to love you and now my life is totally fucked-up.'"
THE MURDER CITY DEVILS PLAY THE GLASS HOUSE, 200 W. second st., pomona, (909) 629-0377. Wed., 7 p.m. $8.