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Murder City Devils Hot For Garage Rock

Seattle band cites Stooges, New York Dolls as influences rather than punk or grunge groups.

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,

music/Murder_City_Devils,_The/Johnny_Thunders.ram">"Johnny Thunders"

(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

Dolls.

"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

said.

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,"

Manny said.

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

Hardy.

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

in

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."