The Murder City Devils Biography
Last updated: 08/28/2007
Members include Derek Fudesco, bass; Dann Gallucci, guitar; Leslie Hardy (joined group, c. 1999), keyboards, organ; Nate Manny, guitar; Spencer Moody, vocals; Cody Willis, drums. Addresses: Record company--Sub Pop Records, 2514 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98121
Called "Seattle's most raucous rock band" by Tom Scanlon of the Seattle Times, the Murder City Devils first played together in 1997. Their sound was fringe rock leaning toward punk, including loud guitars from Dann Gallucci and Nate Manny, haunting keyboards from Leslie Hardy, formerly of Hole, and screaming vocals from Spencer Moody. After putting out three albums with Sub Pop Records, and a United States and Canadian tour that lasted the better part of a year, the band broke up in 2001.
The group formed in Seattle, Washington, where several of its members played in other bands, such as Area 51, the Deathwish Kids, the Unabombers, and Love as Laughter. The group's initial lineup included everyone except Hardy, and all were in their early 20s at the time. They played at clubs around the Seattle area, honing a post-grunge style, wearing black, showing off their tattoos, and refining a stage presence they considered just as important as the music itself. To distinguish themselves from other bands whose stage acts they considered uninspired, their goal was to energize their audiences into dancing. "There's nothing worse than playing to a crowd that's not dancing," said Moody to Joe Heim and Patrick MacDonald in the Seattle Times soon after the Murder City Devils made a splash on the Seattle music scene.
After cutting a couple of demo tracks--"Three Natural Sixes" and "Dance Hall Music"--the group caught the attention of scouts at Die Young Stay Pretty, an offshoot of Sub Pop Records, which signed them to record albums. The Murder City Devils' debut recording was released in 1997, less than a year after getting together. The self-titled album combined a raw, edgy punk sound with horror movie-style organs. In fact, the album cover itself was styled like a horror film movie poster with film sprockets on the edges. The album lacks the more polished production values of the group's later releases, but it showcases the sound that made the band popular on the club scene. It also sold well, and Sub Pop moved the band to front of their list, giving it priority in advertising and promotions.
After their second album, Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts, was released in 1998, the band brought in Hardy to play keyboards, then launched a concert tour of the United States and parts of Canada. Highlights of the tour included opening for the band Pearl Jam. The group quickly became a favorite on the road, known for its loyalty to its fans. At one memorable concert, 25 minutes into the first set, the security staff at the 9:30 club in Washington, D.C., ejected a concert-goer, saying later that the man had thrown a bottle. The Murder City Devils stopped the concert and refused to play again "until our friend is let back in," according to Joe Heim of the Washington Post. Management refused, and so, after apologizing to the rest of the 300-plus crowd, the band packed up their instruments and left. Moody explained to Heim afterwards, "the guy was mellow. He wasn't doing anything and they should have let him stay."
After nearly a year on the road promoting Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts, the Murder City Devils went back to the studio to record their third album, In Name and Blood. Released in 2000, this album was the first to feature Hardy. Critics welcomed her addition to the band, saying that her crisp organ lines provided a pleasingly elegant counterpoint to Moody's howling vocals.
Tom Scanlon, writing in the Seattle Times, called the first track of the new album, "Press Gang," the best piece the group had ever recorded, noting that Hardy's keyboards worked in perfect counterpoint to Gallucci and Manny's guitars, Cody Willis's drums, and most of all to Moody's chilling vocals. This piece, said Scanlon, firmly established Moody as "one of Seattle's most powerful vocalists"; Scanlon also praised the song's double meaning, which could be interpreted as either about a gang that literally butchers its victims, or about being figuratively butchered by the media. True to form, the album's liner notes features photos of all the band members made up to look as though they had been murdered.
Unfortunately this third and most polished effort was the Murder City Devils' last. The band members agreed to go their separate ways in 2001, after just four years together. Gallucci told Nina Garin in the San Diego Union-Tribune that a couple of factors contributed to the group's breakup. He said that Hardy had developed a repetitive motion injury in her wrists that interfered with her playing, and Derek Fudesco had begun playing with another band--a commitment that made rehearsing with the Murder City Devils difficult. "So rather than remain stagnant for a while," said Gallucci, "we decided to separate and commit ourselves to other projects." Manny told Synthesis online about the split: "We weren't going to keep playing as the Murder City Devils without Derek and Leslie. We were gonna not replace Leslie and write all new songs and stay together, but then Derek didn't want to commit too much to being in this band when he was starting his other one."
It was a bittersweet parting; the members of the band still got along well and Gallucci, for one, hated to see all the hard work put into developing the band simply evaporate. He acknowledged, however, that the rigors of touring had taken their toll, and he looked forward to playing music without the pressure of having to make tour dates and recording commitments. The group continued to play on tour through the end of 2001 to honor agreements made before the band broke up. They also released the EP Thelma in 2001, called "much more orchestrated and dramatic than their previous efforts" by a Synthesis reviewer, and R.I.P.: 1997-2001, a recording of the group's final show, in 2003.
Meanwhile Gallucci, Willis, Moody, and Manny made plans to start a new band. Although Gallucci acknowledged that the new band would inevitably retain elements of the Murder City Devils' music, the new group's intention is to create an entirely new sound.
by Michael Belfiore