Fueled by primal, Dead Boys–style garage-punk fury and a whole lot of booze, Seattle sextet Murder City Devils began its rampage in the summer of 1996. Bespectacled frontman Spencer Moody looked the nerd only until he unleashed the deranged howls and nihilistic laments that exorcised all demons in the room. Around him, the band evoked dank puddles of beer, vomit, and sweat — the soundtrack to bloody-knuckled fights and late-night B-movie horror shows.
If the Devils had a mission statement, it would've been "getting drunk to make music to get drunk to." Live, they were invariably dark, messy, careening, and violent. There was Moody, getting in someone's face in the crowd — or getting clocked, glasses flying off his head. There were bassist Derek Fudesco and guitarist Dann Gallucci, throwing down their instruments and diving into the fray. For five years, the Devils fought the good fight (and some bad ones). And then, after releasing three full-lengths — including the popular In Name and Blood — and an EP, the Murder City Devils imploded in 2001.
"We started out with more of an us-against-them kind of mentality, and that's where any hostility in our stage presence came from," says Moody over the phone from the Anne Bonny, the Seattle antique shop he's owned since 2007. He adds that early on, the members cultivated an image of black-clad alcoholic troublemakers. Toward the end of the Devils' run, that attitude ruined their reality. "It was basically open hostility between band members onstage, and that did not make for good performances."
Adds drummer Coady Willis, who now lives in Los Angeles and drums with both the Melvins and Big Business: "It came down to the ultimate decision — we can quit this band now and still be friends, or we can keep going and hate each other and hate every waking second of our lives. The choice was obvious."
Following the Devils' disintegration, its members went on to a number of different outfits, among them Pretty Girls Make Graves, Modest Mouse, Dead Low Tide, and Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death. In 2006, the opportunity arose for a one-off reunion show in Seattle, and the six Devils — guitarist Nate Manny and keyboardist Leslie Hardy rounding out the group — found themselves in a room together for the first time in years.
"I was glad that no one threw any punches," Moody says with a laugh. "But these are my friends, and I know we have each others' backs."
That subsequent show was raucous and riveting. The Devils have since performed a handful of times, and are on a brief West Coast tour. But as the group gets further from its early go-for-broke rabidity, fans have to wonder how much of that old intensity will still be mustered onstage. Moody admits he's more inclined to go home to his girlfriend and watch a movie than indulge the occasional 20-year-old fan who visits his store with hopes of downing beers together in the alley. He adds, though, that his lifestyle outside the band has nothing to do with the fire he can bring to a live show.
No matter how well the West Coast tour goes, though, Willis cautions that Murder City Devils' run is still officially over, and the reunion tours tentative. "We're not really a band anymore," he says. "It's understood between all of us that if it ever got to be weird again, that would be it. Everybody would just walk away."