When I first saw The Murder Barn play a storming live show in a dingy London basement last year, I was awestruck by their brooding mix of Gothic melodrama, raw rock and roll, sea shanties, Spaghetti Western cool and gypsy chic. They looked like a gang of misfits who’d just rolled into town with the circus, to carry out some dark and deadly deeds and then get the hell out of Dodge. Since that fateful night, The Murder Barn have been busy working on their debut album, but singer Chesca Dolecka found the time to chat to me about making cinematic music in the storytelling tradition and why they feel like an empire, rather than a band…
Sean: I saw you play at The Bowery in London last year and you reminded me of a gang of misfits or a strange family! At the time, I didn’t know some of you were related to one another…
Chesca: Yes, some of us are properly related but I feel like we are all family when we’re playing together. I know it’s a cliché sometimes for bands to play ‘The Last Gang In Town’ card, but we really feel like that. We most definitely see ourselves as misfits and as more than just a band. We do all our own artwork and my sister Becca (guitars and vocals) makes amazing animated films for us. Everything is homegrown and we all get involved. It’s a real buzz to have The Murder Barn full of people who are all working towards the same thing. We want the band to feel like an empire – not just a group. Some days Kev (bass and vocals) and I might be mixing or recording in the studio, while Becca is editing animation in the house, or Ryan (guitars, sax and vocals) and Matt (piano, keyboards, sax and vocals) are helping to build a prop, while Velibor (drums and vocals) is cooking dinner. It’s like Andy Warhol’s Factory!
Sean: The Murder Barn is a great name. Does it come from the notorious Victorian Suffolk murder in the barn, or Tom Waits’ song Murder In The Red Barn?
Chesca: The Murder Barn is a real place. We built our studio out of a barn at the bottom of my garden. I kept calling it The Murder Barn when I moved in, as it was pretty scary and run down. I think it was the guys’ idea that it should be our band name, too. The ‘Murder In The Red Barn’ thing is there too, I guess, and it feels right with what we’re doing and the sort of noises we’re making.
Sean: Some of the more obvious influences I can hear in your music are artists like Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Tom Waits. Are you fans of the darker side of life? Do you like that Gothic/Southern melodrama and dark, country vibe? If so, what’s the appeal?
Chesca: Those influences are definitely there. I guess the appeal of the ‘darker side’ is that music and especially lyrics should tell a story, transport you somewhere else, or share something with you that you thought no one else felt. I don’t really see it as dark, though. Tom Waits and Nick Cave are both extremely funny – their lyrics are both comic and tragic. Their music is part of the storytelling tradition and expansive, like cinema, which is how we are trying to make music, too.
Sean: There are also some Spaghetti Western influences in your music and I’m also reminded of gypsy folklore and sea shanties. Is that a fair assessment?
Chesca: Again, it’s part of the storyteller tradition, I suppose. Those genres are the perfect vehicles with which to tell tales. The Spaghetti Western influence is our desire to produce something which sounds widescreen – you can’t get more epic than a western. Morricone and Copeland and those heart-wrenching chord changes, fused with long lazy shots of endless skies. It’s inspiring stuff.
Sean: Tell me about your debut album. What can we expect?
Chesca: We have had our heads down all year with this record, making sure everything is perfect. It’s our debut so we wanted to wait, not rush and ensure we put our best foot forward. You can expect to hear full string sections, brass, percussion and vocal harmonies on it. We have loved every minute of making it and have been lucky enough to have some of the best musicians in the country contributing to it, including Terry Edwards (Gallon Drunk/ PJ Harvey) playing trumpet, composer Jo Quail playing cello and Bev Lee Harling, who is an amazing violin player.
your songwriting process like? Do you all pitch in?
Chesca: I write the songs’ lyrics and then hand them over, like children, to the band. We then all work together on them with arrangements and so forth, until they’re exactly as we all want. Becca and Matt write the marvellous string arrangements and Kev is king of the mixing desk.
Sean: How long have you all been making music together?
Chesca: The band has been formed for just over a year, but Becca and I have been playing together our whole lives, of course, and with Ryan since we were nippers. Veli had been playing with us for a while, too. Matt was formerly in Ultrasound, who were, and still are, an inspirational band and he plays keys with Beady Eye, too. We had been working on the record with Kev before we got The Murder Barn together and it seemed a natural progression for him to join, as he knew what we were trying to do inside out. Kev also plays for the lovely The Fierce and the Dead.
Sean: What music are you guys currently into?
Chesca: This last year has been great for music. There’s been lots of great stuff – The Black Keys, Anna Calvi, Josh T Pearson, Black Mountain and Iron and Wine. But let’s not forget Scott Walker, Jacques Brel, Stravinsky, Bessie Smith, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Nina Simone, Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Patti Smith, Vaughan Williams. So much stuff from every corner of the spectrum really.
Sean: So what are your ambitions for The Murder Barn?
Chesca: As wide as the sky, as bright and shining as the full moon. There’s no point doing anything if you don’t want to do it properly, is there?
The Murder Barn are:
Chesca Dolecka – vocals, guitar, accordion, piano
Becca Grover Jones – guitars, vocals
Matt Jones – piano, keyboards, saxophone, vocals
Ryan Wilson – guitars, saxophone, vocals
Kevin Feazey – bass, vocals
Velibor Krstic – drums, vocals
For a free download of their song Stone Cold Heart, click below: