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Rumors that the Murder City Devils—the Seattle seven-piece long associated with the revival of bombastic, dirgy, hellfire garage rock—are breaking up appear to be true.
"It seems like it's time, it's time to move on," says vocalist Spencer Moody, known for his economy of speech in interviews.
Fans will get one last chance to see the band when they tour the U.S. in October. The band evinced some concern the shows would be seen as a farewell tour; they say they're touring simply to honor commitments. But when all's said and done, a farewell tour seems to be exactly what it is.
The decision to break up follows the recent departure of keyboardist Leslie Hardy, who left because of wrist problems, and the subsequent cancellation of a European tour. Bassist Derek Fudesco has been playing in both MCD and Pretty Girls Make Graves and would like more time to focus on the latter.
These are the official reasons for the breakup. And the unofficial reasons?
"It's kind of like, 'Let's break up while we're all still friends,'" says Moody. "I like everyone in the band and have a lot of respect for everyone. I think there were just too many conflicts—not personal conflicts, but people had different ideas about how much they wanted to tour and being able to commit to a full-time band."
When they return from the October tour, Moody, guitarists Nate Manny and Dann Gallucci, drummer Coady Willis, and roadie Gabe will form a new band. "You'll be able to hear that it's us, but it'll be different," he says.
If Moody sounds emotionless—which, in a sense, he does—it could be that he is and for a couple of reasons. For one, by the time a band announce their breakup, they've no doubt talked it into the ground. For two, the World Trade Center Towers collapsed six days before our conversation and, in truth, most things, including the collapse of a great band, seem pretty small right now.
"I think I might be more bothered by [the terrorist attacks] now than when it first happened," says Moody, acknowledging that maybe the shock is wearing off. "At the time, it seemed so incredible and unbelievable and awful, and given a little more time . . ." His voice trails off. How does he feel about the world right now? "Not very good," he says quietly. "I don't know. Not good."
A bit of life comes back into Moody's voice when he talks about his happiest moments in the band. "It was a really good feeling the first time we got flown somewhere," he recalls. "We got flown to England. That was awesome. And it felt good the first time I ever got wasted in a foreign country."
You laugh because it seems odd that this would be a great memory, but there's actually something quite sweet about the story: Moody and the rest of the band are in a bar in London. He gets drunk and decides he needs to go back to the hotel. He gets lost on his way back, so he wanders around, drunk and lost in a foreign country, feeling incredibly lucky and special and aware that he's doing exactly what he wants to be doing at that point in his life.
"Those are the times when you feel like you're doing what you want to do, and it's everything you thought it could be," he says.
The unhappiest moments are more recent. "When we had to cancel the European tour, and we all had to go home. I just wanted to be in Europe so bad, and I was just sitting around at home with nothing to do, not knowing what was going on with the band, not knowing what was going to happen."
The Murder City Devils started five years ago with a pretty grand program. "We had this idea of taking on the world, you know, and fuck everyone, we're just going to do what we want to do." Moody talks of the idea of a "gusto train," which was "moving and gaining momentum and powered by gusto, and nothing can stop it, and then the gusto train ran out of coal, or you could feel it running out of coal. It didn't seem like it was ever going to be what it was."
It's funny to think a band that sings noirish songs filled with regret, lament, drinking and self-sabotage envisioned themselves aboard something as peppy as a "gusto train."
"I don't know. It just felt like it was really hard to get anything done, and things were moving slowly," says Moody. The irony, for Moody, is that he was never happier with the band's music than he was at the end. "We were enjoying the songs more than ever before. Everyone was really happy with the music we were writing," he says.
Fans are left with the recently released Thelema, an EP Moody says is the best record they've put out. More similar to last year's full-length In Name and Blood than to the band's earlier, more bombastic records Empty Bottles Broken Hearts (1998) and The Murder City Devils (1997), Thelema is rich, ominous and keyboard-driven. Lyrically, it concerns itself with the themes that seem to haunt Moody: self-sabotage, leaving, doomed lives, history. The third song, "Midnight Service at the Mutter Museum," is particularly outstanding.