Q&A: Barry Miles of Murder Murder

Story by Adrian Lysenko, Photo by Amanda Thirkill Photography

It has been a good year for Murder Murder. The Sudbury bloodgrass band (bluegrass + outlaw country + exclusively murder ballads) won the CBC Searchlight Northern Ontario Competition and were recently signed by Indiecan records. The Walleye spoke to Barry Miles, who provides banjo/dobro/vocals for the band and is one of the primary songwriters.

The Walleye: You guys are embarking on a cross-country tour that includes two shows in Thunder Bay as well as one in Sioux Lookout. As a band from northern Ontario, do you think it’s important to play in communities that would not normally attract as many touring acts?

Barry Miles: I suppose you can say, because we’re not playing arenas or great big halls every night, we have the luxury of booking tours that go out of the norm and visit these smaller places. When we tour in the Maritimes, similarly, we make an effort to play in smaller communities as well. It’s not that, as a band from a smaller city, we feel more at home in those often overlooked towns; it’s been our experience that the folks in these places are generally more interested in our events—perhaps because fewer acts make the stops—and they’re often more willing to engage with us both in our art and and on a personal level. Some of the coolest and most interesting people we’ve met on the road are from often overlooked markets. On the other hand, because we like to write songs that often take place in small northern towns, it is fun for us to get the opportunity to perform for people in those types of places.

TW: You claim that northern Ontario has the same wealth of stories and characters as the wild west or even further north during the gold rush era, but is not mythologized as much. How do you go about creating this mythology and incorporating it into your music?

BM: It’s difficult to claim there isn’t a mythology in northern Ontario, especially with its rich Aboriginal heritage, but for those of us who weren’t raised with those traditions and stories, we tend to fall short in comparison. It isn’t so much that we claim that northern Ontario has the same wealth of frontier stories as the Deep South or the western plains of the Manifest Destiny era, but that its people (both historical and contemporary) and landscapes seem to demand by their very natures the same romantic treatment as these places. In many ways, the North is still as wild and untamed as pop-culture likes to imagine the Wild West was. We write songs inspired by people we meet, stories we’ve heard, places we’ve been, and the spirit of the land to which we were born. The narratives themselves are fictional, but their power is drawn from a well of experience and observation, the depths of which we’ve yet to fully chart. We use our stories to elaborate on the histories of northern communities, generally keeping the locations of the narratives within the confines of the North (with a few exceptions).

TW: Your latest album From the Stillhouse features moonshine and train songs, gunfights and gospel tunes, with stories ranging from a treacherous romance outside a dance hall in Cold Lake, Alberta to a gay love triangle on a naval ship off the coast of Saint John, N.B. How do you find these stories?

BM: From the horrible imaginations of our songwriters. The realm of writing songs is so vast that by constraining it just a little by making sure it’s a murder ballad in any way, as in being the focal point of the song or a secondary one, it can make it that much more enjoyable to create that story. Having three songwriters in the band, we all take our inspiration from here and there.

Murder Murder will be playing at The Foundry on November 13 and at The Apollo on November 29.