January 29th, 2010
Semi-reunited Seattle garage-punk sextet Murder City Devils — known for their infamously raucous, alcohol-fueled shows (and intraband squabbles, if not outright onstage fistfights) during their initial run from 1996 or so until 2001 — return to Philly for the first time in nearly a decade in a couple weeks, playing two shows (an early and a late one) on February 12th at the TLA. We spoke over the phone with good-natured, exceptionally candid MCD frontman Spencer Moody:
So you guys are all getting along now?
Oh yeah, it’s going great. Everybody gets along. The reason the band was what it was is because of six people who are different. Everyone has a personality, and everyone’s personality is represented, and that can at times create a volatile environment. But generally speaking it’s positive.
When you broke up in 2001, was it the fighting between you all that caused it, or did you just feel like the band had run its course?
It had more to do with the fact that we didn’t get along. It was good to not push it too much. The last EP that we did [2001's Thelema] is really my favorite stuff overall. It’s so far from the first record, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the progress we made and I’m proud we were able to call it quits when we weren’t…if you’re gonna be in a band with people you should also be able to deal with them [laughs].
What was it that caused the acrimony between you all?
I’m not sure. I don’t really know. It’s hard for me to know now. Definitely toward the end there was a tension between us that had previously not existed. I mean, sure, you can go see the Kinks or whatever and the brothers get in a fight and it is what it is, but when you’re fucking up the songs and people are angry, it’s hard to … you want the energy to move away from the stage as opposed to there being hostility on the stage.
Do you think the press made too much out of the fights between you and things like that at the time?
What I’ve noticed is, anything that’s made too big a deal of in the press or whatever, usually that’s because in interviews, people in the band bring it up. At least from my experience, it seems like usually in interviews, reporters will take something you say and latch onto it, which is not unfair. I think that if people were making too big a deal of it, it’s probably because we were making too big a deal of it.
So you don’t think that your reputation as these rowdy, dangerous, angry people, that it was blown out of proportion or exaggerated?
It’s all true [laughs]. We toured a lot and we drank a lot, but that stuff is made a big deal out of because of…that’s our own fault. We created that as much as anyone did. And it’s also like, that’s the kind of stuff people in the music press tend not to question because partly that’s what they want a rock band to be. And also, it’s a lot easier to go with the template the band itself is giving you.
Do you in any way regret putting all that stuff out there to the press?
Not really. But what you don’t realize when you’re young or when you start doing that stuff, once people latch on to that, you’re kinda stuck with it. So now it’s like, if some 20-year-old kid is like, “Heyyyyy, Spencer, let’s get a case of beer and hang out in the alley!” I hafta realize that I have to take a certain amount of responsibility for that [laughs]. But what I would rather do is go home to my girlfriend and have a glass of really good tequila or something and watch a movie and then go to bed.
So what’s it like for you now when you’re onstage? Do you in any way connect to the person or musician you were 10, 15 years ago?
I’m trying to get into more of a space where it can just be fun. Sometimes I’ll get onstage and I’ll just get kinda hostile and stuff and I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why. I dunno. I know that 95% of the people in the audience are just there to have fun, which is good, it’s a positive thing. But you know, I don’t even know what it is. There’s things I know about myself that I only know through observation. It’s not through introspection. It’s like, “Oh, clearly this is how I behave and I continue to behave this way.” But the me onstage is generally very different than the me in the kitchen at home. But it’s not any kind of dishonesty.
Do you think that with time going by and you mellowing in at least some way, at least from the sound of things, a Murder City Devils show now might be less intense and dangerous than it was back in the day?
Umm, I don’t think that…you know, I don’t think that someone in the audience watching is gonna…there would be differences but I don’t know if…I think it’s a little bit better now, but who knows? I don’t really know. One thing is, though, even by the fact of doing this interview and people will read it, which I’m happy to do and I’m happy anyone cares enough, but by doing this and I say this kinda stuff, other music journalists will be like, “Well they’re not feeling it like they used to, they used to be young and angry and blah blah blah…” But it will totally be a product of what they’ve read somewhere, it won’t have anything to do with the actual show. And maybe it’s true, you know what I mean? If it’s true, then it’s true because it’s true. It’s not true when I was being wishy-washy and talking about it to someone [laughs].
Do you wonder if there will be people in the crowd at this show who know the band’s history, you know, comparing it to a show they saw a decade ago?
Probably. That’s fine. The only people going into it without any baggage are the kids that are just excited that they’re not sitting next to their mom on the couch watching TV. They’re excited to be out and in the city and at a show and being around other people who are excited. Those are the only people who can enjoy it free of the other shit. But basically, if you go and you think it’s going to be fun, then it’s probably going to be fun.
In some ways I think what we’re doing now is a more pure thing. Now there’s nothing to sell, you know what I mean? If I don’t want to, I don’t have to talk to a reporter. I do it if I want to. Toward the end of the Murder City Devils I was kinda thinking, like, “Fuck this, doing interviews is stupid and it doesn’t have anything to do with music.” I mean, I’m really enjoying talking to you right now and if you walked up to me on the street I would talk to you about this shit. I have nothing to hide and I’m proud of what we did. I appreciate that we did something, and people recognize it as something that they like. And I appreciate that people still buy those records even though no one is trying to sell them those records. It’s a sign that there’s kids who held on to it, because there’s 17-year-olds that just started listening to the Murder City Devils and really like it. That’s how everyone…that’s always how I, I always felt like I’d rather be in a band that sold a lot of records over a long amount of time. I’d rather sell a million records over 25 years then sell a million records in a week and never sell another.
So generally speaking, you’re having fun doing Murder City Devils again?
Totally, it’s great, it’s awesome. I wish we had one record that we all loved every song and it was our favorite record, so we could do a tour where we just played that record, and then we wouldn’t have to come up with a set list [laughs]. That’s the root of a lot of friction. But yeah, it comes down to, would I get in the van with these people and do this for nothing, like we always used to do, like when it cost us money? Right now the answer is yes. But yeah…you know that movie The Wrestler?
I kind of identified with it in a way that I was a little freaked out and taken aback a bit by. In his world it’s perpetually 1987, and for some people, they have this moment of glory and then time passes them by. I feel like I have a certain insight into the trauma of a lot of people of having these moments of success. That’s the one thing you realize when you have success at something, for most of the people who are excited about that, it’s success for the sake of success, which is empty and meaningless. I feel like we had our moment, but yeah, we’re still relevant and it’s still meaningful today. Murder City Devils is an unapologetically straightforward rock group but it’s unique, it doesn’t sound like Social Distortion or something [laughs]. The only reason I make that comparison is because at the very beginning, it seemed like that was kinda like the image that we were cultivating. But it’s totally not accurate. Anyway, I think we’re pretty rad [laughs].
[Spencer Moody photo by Michael Alan Goldberg; Murder City Devils photo by Peter Ellenby]