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May 4, 2016
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June 22, 2016
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Murder me with Labels

As an artist, I find that one of the most difficult tasks is that of describing my work. Or, even worse, defining it.

AMS Tattoo: Ginger

I’m of the snobby opinion that if a painter, composer or author is worth their salt, then a lot of time is spent striving to develop an original voice, a unique style, one that defies convention… so it’s very difficult for said artist to then turn around and sum up what is essentially an antisocial crusade in terms that are plain and accessible.

But… even if an artist is triumphant at carving out a distinct identity, there usually comes a time during the creative process when distilling said identity becomes a necessity. That distillation is usually in the form of digestible, bite-sized labels, and often happens when it’s time to share a finished project. Particularly if the goal is to get total strangers to pay attention.

Pretty Lavinia

When pitching screenplays, writers have to truncate their ninety-plus-page stories into one or two sentences called log lines. These log lines usually introduce the script’s subject, the subject’s objective, and the conflict standing in the way of said objective. Here’s the one we used when seeking financing for Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival:

Lucifer sets a plot in motion against Heaven and all hell breaks loose.

As you can see, while technically accurate, this plot abbreviation doesn’t fairly sum up the experience of the film, the music, the visuals, or its eclectic cast.

The Hunter

One of my favorite examples of a log line was for The Wizard of Oz. It was an online parody that went viral.

Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girls kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.

Speaking of killing, my latest project is one of those that is difficult to summarize. It’s called American Murder Song. At its core, it’s a collection of original murder ballads by TDC‘s co-composer, Saar Hendelman, and yours truly. But AMS is much bigger than just a set of songs. It’s stories—every ballad tells a standalone tale that also fits into a larger, overarching narrative. It’s visual—every week, we release a new video that expands on the universe that’s presented in the music. It’s historical—the ballads are set in 1816 America and feature the lingo, wardrobe and instrumentation of the era. Like with Repo! The Genetic Opera and TDC, AMS also boasts a cast of rock stars and cult personalities that we’re slowly unveiling. Check out Sara “Chibi” Taylor from The Birthday Massacre and Aurelio Voltaire in their roles as Sweet Rosalie and Unwed Henry below.

Saar and I were recently interviewed by Rue Morgue magazine for a feature in their July issue. The first question asked of us was something along the lines of, What the fuck is AMS? Is it a movie? Is it a touring band? Is it a concept album? As the interviewer scratched his head, Saar and I looked at each other, grinned, and nodded “yes”, and then “no”.

Even though it always causes grief come pitch time, I suppose I enjoy crafting works that refuse to conform to simple explanations… square knifes into round bullet holes and whatnot. Even when conceiving of the filmed portions of AMS, we made it hard on ourselves. We opted to include elements that every sensible indie filmmaker and producer avoids: kids—both in front of the camera and as a choir—and animals—including a pit bull, which is one of the most expensive breeds when it comes to securing set insurance.

The Bride

Considering our difficult-to-define projects, it’s always humbling to find that so many of you are game to journey with us, even when the map is fuzzy, the treasures are mysterious, and the tour guides are surly and enigmatic at best.

We recently performed our first live set of music from American Murder Song at the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey. As might be expected from a debut show, the performance was both good and bad. The setting was a rather uninspiring hotel conference room and we didn’t meet our banjo/guitar player until soundcheck, which was less than four hours before the performance, but somehow we put on a show. More impressively, however, was the fact that there were folks in the audience who travelled from all over the country to be there. Some journeyed from as far away as England.

Majack & Spyke

At the steampunk event, there were both familiar and new faces. We witnessed tattoos of The Mark (AMS‘s very own Mark of Cain) and drank homemade rum with new friends from steel shot glasses (available on our online store). Like AMS, the weekend was an experience that was difficult to label.


We recently released our first EP of music tracks from American Murder Song. When we went to place the album on iTunes, Amazon and the like, we had to select a genre for the tunes. This classification was restricted to a generic list of music categories, none of which seemed to accurately describe the totality of our project. Worse, each platform had a different list of options. CD Baby had the most interesting choices, which included fun sub-genres like Avant-Americana and Drinking Songs, but even these, while charming, feel more clever than accurate… so we need your help. How would you define AMS’s music?

I. Dawn

American Murder Song: EP I. Dawn is available for a free listening on our Official Youtube Channel. Take a listen, and be sure to Subscribe while you’re there (obviously, if you dig the tunes, please also consider showing your support by purchasing a copy of the album). Once you’ve digested, we ask that you share how you would classify the work in the Comments section below. Feel free to be as literal or absurd as you’d like. We’re counting on both.

  • Heather Baker

    This has hands-down, been the most difficult thing to explain to folks unaware of or those who ask me what AMS is. Saying it’s just murder ballads by you and Saar may turn a few heads because- GraveRobber. But it’s not really accurate either. What I watched you guys do can’t be put into a box or described by categories or labels. I don’t have any enlightening suggestions, but I think this ambiguity is EXACTLY what hour fans desire and expect from you guys. Because you’re not everyone else. Never let your work fit the mould!

  • Kellie Stewart

    You are, by nature, an excellent story teller, so we know that whatever you do, there will be solid stories that will stay with the viewer forever. After watching TDC, it made me want to go back and re-explore Aesop’s Fables and well as some of the Grimm Brother’s fairy tales, which have been cleaned up for public consumption because how could we handle it if w found ot that Cinderella’s step family suffered a much worse fate than Disney delivered. I LOVE that you expose us to old stories in new ways. I am patiently awaiting the whole of American Murder Song.

  • MissMaryAnn

    Sounds like folktale maybe some blue grass. Then again AMS is a genre all it’s own!

  • Cain

    its a shame to have to seperate works into neat little easy to describe boxes for something to have a chance at succeeding. it leaves no room for pieces that are without description, and in turn becomes more harmful to the art and the artists that create it.

    much like human beings pre-set categories don’t apply to the majority, and often we are considered less because of it (the people that greedily consume your works are the best example of this)

    however, if we MUST apply labels, why the hell can’t we create our own? isnt creativity what this is about?
    so, how about murderous folk revival? historical-punk? twisted period pieces?

  • Arielle

    From high school to now college, I’ve routinely struggled to conform (read: summarize) my writing pieces to the assigned guidelines, be they short stories, essays, or research papers.
    Being stubborn by nature also makes it difficult to modify what you create into what others desire or demand.
    I personally would describe AMS as a beautifully dynamic collection of 19th century ballads that tell tales set in a slightly hostile environment.

  • Kelley Pegelow

    Gothic Americana, maybe? Because there is definitely a sense of the Romantic-era Gothic to it, especially the play of the beautiful and the sublime (pretty music, stories that awe and frighten the listener… I’ll stop there). I mean, it fits the postmodern definition of Gothic too, but the historical context is important. Whatever it is, I can’t wait to experience it!

  • Stephanie Brown

    The music nerd in me would describe the music of AMS as “an ethnomusicological exposé of the soul’s most pathological desire.” Every song is uniquely crafted to prolifically identify the soul essence of each character involved, branding the listener with a hint of the AMS Mark at every hearing.

    As for labeling its music genre, some things cannot be labeled. AMS is far too intricate for such a small box.

  • April George

    If I had to label it in the broadest terms possible, I’d go with Southern Gothic or bluegrass. But it’s hard to really define. I’d keep it in the “country/bluegrass” genre, I think. It’s closest to those old country, Southern Gothic mystery songs like “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” in sound.

    Honestly, though, I truly think that Murder Ballad needs to be its own genre.

    (Ironic side note: as I finished typing this my iPod began playing “Billie Joe”…)

  • Brooke Violet

    If’n it’s labels yer seachin’ fer, welp, y’all done gone an’ broke ’em. Which, I reckon, means ya hit the jackpot!

  • Nicole Marie

    It is a very dark old school folk. It kind of feels like it is what would happen if you took “A Mighty Wind” and made all the songs about murder. Gothic parrie songs could easily be the label but alas I fear that is a label that has never been.

  • Sydney Clifford

    It’s like folk music/show tunes/baby lullabies and johnny cash got put in a blender

  • Laurie Neufeld

    Morbid Americana or Americana Tenebrae