In the mid-1990s, as alternative rock's death was loudly proclaimed via grunge-lite acts such as Bush, STP, and Creed blaring through Clear Channel affiliates across the land, a subsidiary of grunge patriarchs Sub Pop called Die Young Stay Pretty signed the Murder City Devils — a Seattle garage band filled to the brim with genuine fervor, angst, and noise.
It's been 18 years since the riotous bunch last played Detroit. But this Tuesday, May 23, the Murder City Devils return to play El Club. Leslie Hardy (Pigeon, Hole), a native Detroiter, served as their keyboardist from 1998 to 2001 — until severe carpal tunnel syndrome forced her to quit. This led the group to disband for five years. While Hardy did contribute to their last album, 2014's The White Ghost Has Blood On its Hands Again, she no longer tours with them. The current lineup includes lead singer Spencer Moody, guitarist Dann Gallucci, bassist Derek Fudesco, and drummer Coady Willis.
"Detroit has a special place in our hearts, and it'll be really nice to see Leslie because we live really far apart," Moody says, on the line from Seattle. "We just haven't been playing very much. Basically, since around the time Leslie left the band, we've just slowed down a lot. It was just a matter of time — we're stoked to be coming back." The band has agreed to do three or four shows every few months, Moody says, since it's difficult to get everyone together for a full tour. It's also made recording new music difficult.
"Everyone just gets so busy with other stuff, and we sort of have this agreement that it's okay to prioritize other things in their lives and other bands, and I'm kind of like the only person in the band who doesn't have other music projects going on and stuff like that," Moody says. "So, we just sort of play it by ear, and when there's a time for all of us to get together for a few weeks, then we'll probably get together and record a record. It's always fun for us to get together. It's just more fun to play shows when you have new material."
It would make sense that the band's members are frequently busy. In addition to Murder City Devils, most are involved in a slew of side projects. Willis plays for Big Business and has been drumming for the Melvins (who'll be here in July); Gallucci has been producing music, and played for a time with Cold War Kids; and Fudesco has stayed busy with Deep Creep and the Cave Singers, while also forming a new band that Moody says is still undergoing name changes. The band hardly sees each other all at once.
"It just depends on when there's the time," Moody says. "Cody lives pretty near me, Dann lives pretty near me. Derek is still in Seattle, but I love them. I mean, they're all like really good friends, and when we're not seeing each other, it's just because of practical reasons. But, I just really cherish those people, so it's nice when we work together."
Even though all of their side projects have kept them busy, including Moody's occasional solo work, it doesn't cause any ill-will in the band that sometimes other projects take priority over Murder City Devils. "It's nice that they have all these projects though, because it means that when we all get together we can have it be something that we know we're all just doing it for the right reasons and stuff," Moody says.
In spite of a lack of new material, the band has plenty of past material to choose from. Since their 1997 self-titled debut, the band has recorded four additional — and unique — albums: Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts; In Name and Blood; Thelema; and The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again. While every record sounds unmistakably like Murder City Devils, they each are distinctly different. However, Moody says that any evolution in the band's sound was unintentional.
"I don't know if we've evolved as a band or if we've just all evolved as individuals. And when we get together to write music, there isn't really much discussion about what we want it to sound like," Moody says. "I feel like we sort of used to have an idea of, like, how one album moves into the other album and giving a sense of, like, progressing in a certain way. I think we just sort of abandoned that. I mean, when we get together to make music and to write music if it sounds good to us, then we're stoked, and we don't really worry about how it relates to stuff that came before."
Moody attributes changes in the music with growing up, citing the environment which the band was in at its inception as vastly different from where they are now, as men who are no longer angst-ridden young adults.
"I think we just got older, and sort of just switched from the first few records where we all sort of lived in this world of just being in bars every night, and our priorities changed," he says. "You know, if I'm gonna sit down and write lyrics about the world or about my life, it's just going to be a lot different. The things that are on my mind are a lot different. It just sort of happens organically I guess. If we're going to try to stick with the same theme, then I guess that we're all in different places, and it just sort of comes across differently I guess."
As for the Detroit date, the band's spirits are high. "We're just going to try to have a lot of fun, and we know that in Detroit you have to do a good job."
Murder City Devils plays El Club on Tuesday, May 23; Doors at 8 p.m.; 4114 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; elclubdetroit.com; Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 day of show.