Portland is home to several different postpunk/darkwave bands of varying styles, many of which end up getting overshadowed by one another. Murderbait is an underrated yet highly established and deliciously dark outfit featuring Casey and Jason of Shadowlands (who you may remember from this year’s Out From The Shadows II). Their third album, We Hold Nothing In Our Hands, was just released last month, and it’s my favorite release from them so far. I was completely hooked from the opening track! Luckily I was able to catch their record release show after a long work week.
Murderbait’s record release show was held at Portland’s best all ages venue, Black Water Bar, on Friday, November 18th. There are very limited goth events on Fridays out here, so attending this show was a must. Supporting them were the openers Spare Spells and The Prids, local legends in their own rite. The crowd had a friendly, community-driven feeling to it, especially since some of the band members brought their kids. You could tell everyone was stoked to be there.
This was my first time seeing both Spare Spells and The Prids, so I must express how perfect they were leading up to Murderbait. The vocalist for Spare Spells was equipped with a keyboard, but also banged on a tribal drum for a few tracks. It was unusual and astounding to witness. The last two tracks they played were particularly dance-y. There was a noticeably different, yet equally positive energy when The Prids took the stage. Banter between the members and the audience were a given because of the friendly atmosphere, but frontwoman Mistina has a particularly confident sense of humor that translates extremely well onstage. I’ll have to review them separately at some point to give them justice.
By the time Murderbait graced the stage, the air was thick with anticipation and incense, which Casey was lighting as he set up. His gear was placed in front of the stage with the rest of the band behind him. One by one, he applied cool, dark paint with his finger down the foreheads of those of us in the front row. This had a calming, ritualistic affect that made me realize, “Wow, we’re in for a treat.” It was as though we were being transported to another world. Fitting, as live music is always a religious experience.
From beginning to end, they played just as well as they did on the album, keeping everything dark and dreary while maintaining excellent stage presence. I was grateful they played one of my favorite songs on the album and perhaps the most danceable, “It’s A Waste,” second into their set so I could get some dancing in before my feet got too tired. Another highlight from the album, “Alone Together,” was played shortly thereafter, and I overheard someone excitedly whisper, “I love this song!” as it was starting.
Having attended several postpunk and hardcore shows at Black Water over the last year and a half, I’m accustomed to the shows ending at 11pm sharp. However, the band played one more song which began right at 11 and really completed the set nicely. Starting halfway through the song and finishing it out, a cello player performed from the other side of the bar. A beautiful ending to an exciting night. Moments after the final song as the band began breaking down, Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Join Hands album started up and we snapped out of the trance. Needless to say, this show made a huge impression on me.
Naturally, I can’t end this live show review without discussing the best part – MERCH! First of all, Murderbait’s occult logo is badass, so despite the fact that t-shirts are a given, they looked amazing and were a total steal at $15. The highlight, however, was easily the meticulously displayed prayer candles. You could buy the CD (and with the killer artwork, why wouldn’t you?), but Murderbait is the first band to release an album digitally via these prayer candles. About halfway through their set, they placed an almost-gone prayer candle on stage to reveal that the logo lights up as the wax melts down! For only $8, you’d be a fool not to get one of the most unique merch items ever. An absolutely perfect idea, especially for people like me who really need to stop buying t-shirts at every show.
Here is my post-show interview with frontman Casey. Enjoy!
I understand you and (guitarist) Jason know each other from when you two lived in Chicago several years ago. How did you guys meet? Are the other band members from Chicago as well?
That is correct. Jason and I met and were roommates in Chicago in the early 2000’s. We lived in a commune there, of which I’d rather not get into extensive detail about, but we became close friends and have a lot of stories.
How did Murderbait initially form? Did it happen in Chicago or Portland?
After moving from Chicago I drifted for some time, from California, to New Zealand, to Minneapolis before finding a resting place in Portland. During this time, I was a part of forming a few projects, several of which our bass player, Shamus, was a part of (in CA and New Zealand), but nothing stuck. When I found a home here in Portland, I secluded myself for some time to care for my very young children. I began experimenting with recording and learning different instruments, out of necessity really. I needed to create music. I did this for years on my own and eventually would show a select few confidants such as original members Blake and Dylan, who pulled me out of my reclusive state. From this Murderbait formed. We have gone through a lot of change and evolution since its inception. Jason and Shamus weren’t even part of the band when we first started, but are both absolutely pivotal to the band now.
Has Murderbait succeeded in ways that perhaps wouldn’t have been possible had the band remained in Chicago?
I am not the same person I was in Chicago, neither is Jason. We aren’t the same as we were two years ago. It was all necessary to bring us and make us who we are today. Scars, calluses, and all. I don’t think Murderbait could exist without forests nearby, either. Escaping the city and people is something we all need desperately.
You only had four days to record the album, yet it doesn’t feel rushed at all. You attribute this to the band’s experience in-studio. What other projects have you guys been a part of?
We have all spent a good amount of time in the studio. Blake was in a project with Jarboe (of Swans), to name one, and Jason and I have just recently finished recording an album with Shadowlands (the other band we both play in) at the same studio. Victor Nash at Destination:Universe was so great to work with for the Shadowlands record, we knew we needed to get Murderbait in that same studio. Jason and I both have an ear for production and a finished product, too. We knew before we started what we wanted everything to sound like and how to get it there. It also helps exceedingly to have a recording engineer who you can communicate well with and who knows how to accomplish what you need.
Murderbait is the first band to sell digital copies of a release via prayer candle, a wonderful idea! How did you come up with that?
Frankly, we wanted to put this album out on vinyl, but with 6 kids to feed between us (I have 3 and Blake has 3), we just ran out of money. CDs are hardly worth the investment these days and digital seemed the best option. The trouble with digital download is the lack of tangibility. We wanted something to put in people’s hands. Something that could sit on a shelf that you could look at while listening to the album, like many of us do with a new record. What better to set a mood of contemplative somber than a prayer candle? We wanted the room to be transformed for the listener both sonically and visually.
Your record release show was very theatrical. From the initiative beginning to the cello player on the other side of the venue for the last song, it made a huge impression. Are your shows usually like this? What ways would you say the theatrics go hand in hand with the music?
I would say “ritualistic” is more fitting than “theatric.” I’m not a good enough actor to pull off theatrics. I do, however, deeply understand the transportability of music. Every show is a little different, it needs to be, but we put a lot of time working on bringing the crowd along for the experience. My personal goal is for the entire venue to enter into worship. Not worship of anyone or anything, but a melting away of self for a moment to become a collective one. Anything that we can do to bring the audience there with us is what we will strive for.
The album art for We Hold Nothing In Our Hands is particularly striking. Who is the artist?
Our good friend Mark Rogers is who painted this album art for us. We gave him the album to listen to, along with all the lyrics, and asked him to paint what comes to mind. Being a personal fan of his art, I knew whatever he did would be incredible and I was not disappointed in the least.
Was it relatively easy to get The Prids and Spare Spells to accompany you on your record release show? It felt like a very fitting lineup.
Spare Spells are old comrades and the Prids are new friends. I’m honored to be named among them in any fashion.
You guys have played at a variety of venues here in Portland. Is there any particular reason you chose Black Water for the record release?
I love Black Water for a lot of reasons. It reminds me of places I would spend a lot of time in when I was much younger. The staff and those who run the bar are all great. It’s one of those places where there’s always good things happening, so it has its own crowd. I also love that it’s all ages. One of the very few in Portland. I’m always having to tell my kids that they can’t come to any of my shows and it was nice having them there.
The lyrics to your songs feel very personal, especially on this album. Does Casey write all the material? What are the sources of your inspiration?
I write all the lyrics for Murderbait. I write most of the music, at least the structure and melody, but everyone adds essential elements to give flesh to the skeletal framework. I write songs based on personally experiencing the vast spectrum of what it is to be human. What a fucked up thing! To understand so intimately one’s own mortality. To see the effect you have on this lonely, insignificant wet rock, by our own hand and by the hand of our fathers. To see the love and kindness for no other reason than to momentarily comfort another. To breathe in life and breathe out death. These things plague me, honestly. I can’t get them out of my mind and they keep me up at night. All this, and escaping to the woods where everything seems simpler. Peace found in the unkept and cruel chaos of nature. I write to connect; like sending a message to the stars hoping beyond hope that someone or something will return the call and say, “I understand.”
Now that the new album is out, what else do you have planned for Murderbait in the near future?
Always moving forward. Each album we record feels like a release from the fetters of yesterday. We can move on now. It has been adequately documented. We will play more shows, write more music, create more, connect more. Whether anyone listens or not. We’ve done this for a long time, it seems to be fatal.
You can follow Murderbait on Facebook, but you should also check out their gorgeous website.