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Why is it that all great bands break up, while horrible ones tend to stay around forever? Add the Murder City Devils to the list of bands that broke up before they really broke out. The Devils were truly a unique band that defied all labels and stereotypes, but at the same time defined what Rock N’ Roll is all about. Their sound attracted people from a variety of scenes who were drawn by a thirst for honest heartfelt music.

The story of the Murder City Devils started back in 1996. A band called the Hookers were an early hybrid of the Devils. They consisted of Spencer Moody (vocals), Derek Fudesco (bass), Dann Gallucci (guitar), and Andrea Zollo (drums). The Hookers had a real basic garage rock sound and a few of their songs would later become MCD songs. Sometime in late 1996 Andrea left the band and was replaced by Nate Manny (2nd guitar) and Coady Willis (drums), and thus the Murder City Devils were born.

Coming from the sheltered punk and hardcore scenes of Seattle, WA., the Devils had no idea that there was already a rock revival scene in existence. They naively thought that they were doing something new and different by bringing back the rock of The Stooges and the Dead Boys. This ignorance gave the band a clean musical canvas to draw from and in 1997 the Devils refined their sound and released 2 seven inches, “Three Natural Sixes” on Hopscotch Records and “Dance Hall Music” on Empty Records. These releases garnered the attention of Jonathan Poneman and his notorious label, Sub Pop.

Jonathan was starting an imprint label called Die Young, Stay Pretty and he wanted the Devils to be the first band on the roster. The band soon recorded their first self titled record for the label and began an extensive West Coast Tour. The record incorporated keyboards on a few songs which added an additional creepy vibe and solidified the band’s skull and crossbones image.

In 1998 the band recruited “Gabe the Roadie” to manage them while on tour. Gabe grew up with Nate and they both were in The Cleavers and the Unabombers. Gabe was a formidable character who looked like he just came back from a five year drinking and bar fighting binge with Motörhead, Nashville Pussy, and The Hell’s Angels. His leather vest, long hair, southern mustache, and trucker hats quickly became a trademark, but underneath all that was a caring and loyal person.

The band was slowly gaining a larger audience and in July 1998 they played 3 stadium concerts opening for Pearl Jam. Also around this time the band released another seven inch, “Dancin’ Shoes b/w Tokyo Gold”, for Die Young, Stay Pretty. This would be the band’s last release for the label. Due to their success they were moved to Sub Pop’s main roster and went into the studio with producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Zeke) to record “Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts”. The record was released in September 1998 and was followed by a huge national tour with bands like Modest Mouse and At the Drive-In.

It was also after the release of “Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts”, that the band decided to recruit Leslie Hardy to play the keyboards full-time. Leslie was a Seattle fixture who previously played bass with Hole, Juned, and Love As Laughter. Switching from bass to farfisa organ was a nice change of pace for Leslie and added a much more haunting effect to the band’s already ghastly sound. She took to the Devil’s dark image quickly by incorporating lit candles on her organ during live shows. Leslie’s first recorded appearance came in December 1998 for the “Christmas Bonus Single” 7” for Jeff and Amy’s Paper Bag Series. This unique release included “364 Days” and a Hanoi Rocks cover of “Dead By Christmas”.

Most of 1999 saw the band touring the West Coast and Canada. They also released 2 split seven inches, one with Glucifer on Sub Pop and the other with Botch on Excursion. The latter was 7” given out to cast and crew who worked on “The Edge of Quarrel”, a film made by Excursion owner David Larson. The film featured Dann and had appearances by Derek, Spencer, and a who’s who of the Seattle punk and hardcore scenes. Another film during this period was “For the Cash” that featured Coady and once again had Dann and Spencer trying their hands at acting.

In early December 1999, the Devils went back in the studio with producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Jawbox, The Breeders) to record their masterpiece, “In Name and Blood”. With Leslie on keyboards, the Devil’s sound was never more complete. The all out rock of previous recordings was still intact, but the music was now fuller and heavier. The Devils played every show like it was their last night on earth and Agnello was able to capture that raw intensity in the studio and the end result was an incredibly urgent massive rock record. The band also painted an even darker image of themselves thanks to Nate Manny’s artwork design conceptions. The album was riddled with graphic crime scene photos of each band members’ brutal death, faux police reports, and just an overall feeling of…well, murder. “In Name and Blood” was the band at their peak, both musically and creatively.

In April 2000 the band got a chance to tour Europe with Zeke to support “In Name and Blood”. Everything was going good until a May 3rd show in Glasgow, Scotland. During the show, Derek (who’s rather tall) jumped in the air, hit his head on a rafter, knocked himself unconscious and broke his leg as he fell to the ground. He was rushed to a local hospital and had emergency surgery resulting in a metal plate and screws being inserted into his leg. Gabe decided to stay behind with the fallen Devil as the rest of the band continued on. Jeff from Zeke filled in on bass for a few shows, then Nate took over for the remainder of the tour. The rest of 2000 saw the band finishing up the year doing a massive U.S. tour with At the Drive-in.

The Devils started 2001 with even more touring, but they rested long enough to record the E.P. “Thelema” in Spring with producer Matt Bayles (Botch, Isis, The Blood Brothers). “Thelema” took the musical accomplishments of “In Name and Blood” to the next level. Present was still the blistering rock that the Devils were known for, but the band also experimented with more somber dramatic tones. “Thelema” was to be the group’s final studio record and it stands as a testament to their musical evolution.

Even before they entered the studio for “Thelema”, trouble was already brewing for the Seattle rockers. Months of constant touring proved to be much too much for the band. In-fighting was becoming more frequent resulting in band members not talking to each other for days while on tour. This slow simmering turmoil spilled the gasoline on the floor and laid the foundation for their ultimate demise. What sparked the fire was in the form of a 1-2 punch that started with Leslie.

In June 2001 Leslie underwent carpal-tunnel surgery on both wrists due to years of wear and tear playing bass and then keyboards. Leslie never fully recovered from the first and repeated operations, and by mid-August she realized she couldn’t play with the band anymore opting to move home to Detroit. The final blow came with Derek’s departure. A few months earlier he formed Pretty Girls Make Graves (PGMG), a side project with former bandmate Andrea Zollo and others. By the time Leslie left, PGMG was getting more serious and they were planning their first tour. In addition to that, Derek felt there would be a gapping hole in the songwriting without Leslie, so he decided to leave the Devils as well. That became the final nail in the coffin.

The Murder City Devils decided to do one final farewell tour with Derek and Nick DeWitt from PGMG filling in on keyboards. From October 1st to the 31st they toured the entire country ending in that Northwest town were they started 5 years earlier. After the tour Derek went on with PGMG, Spencer, Nate, Coady, and Gabe formed the short-lived Dead Low Tide, and Dann started playing with Modest Mouse again.
The Murder City Devils definitely made their mark. There have been few bands that have gained so many fans and grown so much musically in such a short period of time. The Devils brought back the rock in an increasingly artsy “post-this & that” indie rock scene. They made going to shows exciting again and proved that being a fan can still be a rewarding experience.