NEW YORK -- Since the music of Seattle-based garage-rockers the Murder City
Devils features a revved-up rhythm section, a sludgy guitar attack and shouted vocals,
it's not surprising that the band's often been tagged with the label "punk."
But that's a label the tattoo-laden Devils would be glad to peel off and discard.
"Punk is more of a social thing to me than [about] music, and we're not trying to be
anything beyond a good rock 'n' roll band," the group's lead singer, Spencer Moody,
said as he sat crammed onto a couch with his bandmates in a midtown Manhattan hotel
room. "That's why we try to stay away from that word."
The singer, whose baby face, glasses and soft-spoken offstage manner contrast starkly
with his howling, near-maniacal vocal style, wore a plaid shirt emblazoned with a pin
featuring a photo of proto-punker Iggy Pop. The portrait was taken from the cover of
Raw Power, Pop's classic album with avant-garage pioneers the Stooges.
Not coincidentally, "Broken Glass," a song on the Murder City Devils' self-titled debut
album, pays tribute to Pop. Similarly,
(RealAudio excerpt), on the Devils' latest album, Empty Bottles Broken Hearts,
salutes Thunders -- the late guitarist of another pioneering pre-punk band, the New York
"I think it ties in with defining the difference between rock or punk," Nate Manny, one of
the band's two guitar players, said. "Having songs about [Pop and Thunders] ... we're
talking about people who lived a rock 'n' roll life."
The Murder City Devils, who are all in their early 20s, came together, though, after the
band's musicians spent time in groups that were of the screeching punk variety. The
band's formation "was kind-of a reaction to being tired of what we were doing before,
which was really noisy hardcore stuff that was really violent, when we were listening to
stuff like [pop-metal act] Guns n' Roses and [glam-rock icons] T. Rex," Manny said. "We
decided we should just start playing some rock 'n' roll."
After releasing their first album on a subsidiary of the Sub Pop label in 1997, the Devils
officially signed to that Seattle-based indie record company, which is best-known for
launching the careers of grunge-rock innovators Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney.
But the Devils' choice of Sub Pop apparently didn't involve any feeling of kinship with the
early '90s grunge scene. "It's just like, they're in Seattle, and we're in Seattle," Manny
Still, the Devils recorded Empty Bottles Broken Hearts with producer Jack Endino,
best known for his work with Nirvana and other Seattle legends. The album was
released in the fall.
Even though the Murder City Devils' brand of rock 'n' roll is, like grunge, dominated by
loud, distorted guitars, the sound of Empty Bottles Broken Hearts is closer to
late-'60s garage rock than anything that might have been played on alternative-rock
radio in the early '90s.
On song after song, drummer Coady Willis plays pounding, retro-sounding thrash-rock
beats, which are matched with primitive, mostly minor-key guitar riffs from Manny and
co-guitarist Dann Galucci. As Moody shouts out emblematic lines, such as "I've got a
rock 'n' roll heart," with unabashed passion, prominent organ parts contribute
atmosphere and depth to the band's sound.
"The keyboard adds a little element to the whole thing. It makes everything a little dirtier,"
On Empty Bottles Broken Hearts, Manny and Galucci share keyboard duties with
bassist Derek Fudesco, but the band has since added a full-time keyboardist, Leslie
They put their expanded lineup to the test in the fall during their fourth U.S. tour. They're
slated to hit the road again in March.
The Murder City Devils' fiery, no-hold-barred live shows were what originally drew
attention to them. The fruit of their intensive roadwork is evident in their tight sound, as
well as in some of Moody's lyrics. "When you're sleeping in a truck stop/ When you're
living in a parking lot/ It's hard to pull yourself when you're down this low," Moody moans
music/Murder_City_Devils,_The/Cradle_To_The_Grave.ram">"Cradle to the
Grave" (RealAudio excerpt).
But as taxing as the singer seems to find touring, the band's other members seem to
relish life on the road. "Every time I get home, like a week later, I just want to go back out
again," Manny said.
"The most important thing is that we have as much fun as we possibly can, all of the
time," drummer Willis said, as his bandmates nodded in agreement. "We try to be the
kind of band that we'd want to go see."