The Death Ballad Love Tellers Tour
Where: Merlin’s Sun Theatre, 1983 Fairfield Rd.
When: Saturday, doors 7:30 p.m., show 8 p.m.
A Victoria singer-songwriter says his new murder ballad about the notorious Richardson family killings is raising eyebrows on tour.
David P. Smith will perform Ballad of Souleater and Runaway Devil at Merlin’s Sun Theatre on Saturday. The concert — a stop on the Death Ballad Love Teller’s Tour — will include performances by Ben Sures and Troy (Bubbo Uno) Cook.
Ballad of Souleater and Runaway Devil is based on the murders of Medicine Hat, Alta., residents Marc, Debra and Jacob Richardson in 2006. The killings, which made national headlines, were committed by the family’s 12-year-old daughter and her then-boyfriend, 23-year-old Jeremy Steinke.
In his song, Smith explicitly chronicles the real-life story of the murderers, who called themselves “Souleater” and “Runaway Devil” in online correspondence. In the 10-minute ballad, the girl is described as a “little goth princess, manipulator and seductress,” while Steinke is a “goth Svengali” and a “damaged product of a trailer-park family.”
Smith said he, Sures and Cook all composed so-called “death ballads” for their tour, which began Feb. 13 in Edmonton and concludes Saturday in Victoria. He said audience members in Calgary and Canmore, Alta., approached him after he played Ballad of Souleater and Runaway Devil, wanting to discuss both the song and the real-life story.
Reactions have varied. In Calgary, an elderly man praised Smith’s song, saying it’s important for such stories to be told. In Fernie, the audience seemed somewhat uneasy.
“It wasn’t a crazy, negative reaction. I just think I freaked some people out a bit,” Smith said.
“Playing through Alberta, people want to talk about it. But no one really comprehends [the murders].
“It’s really hard to fathom what happened.”
Murder ballads have a long history in folk and country music. Many originate in England and Scotland, some dating to the 18th century. In 2008, an American band, the Wilders, released Someone’s Got to Pay — a modern murder-ballad album inspired by a 2005 murder trial.
Smith said in writing Ballad of Souleater and Runaway Devil, he was influenced by the famous Appalachian murder ballad Knoxville Girl, which has 19th-century roots. Like Ballad of Souleater and Runaway Devil, some versions of Knoxville Girl describe a killing in explicit detail.
Smith was drawn to the Richardson family murders partly because of the modernity of the story. Steinke and his girlfriend reportedly did much of their corresponding online. There is a multitude of information on the murders on the Web — although Smith is unsure how much is accurate.
“It’s the Internet, right?” he said with a laugh.
“I got lured down the rabbit hole. I got pretty obsessed with researching the whole thing.”
Smith has long been familiar with murder ballads as a song form, partly because he hosted a country music show for seven years at CFUV, the University of Victoria’s radio station.
“I think it has a fascination for all people. It’s like [the TV series] CSI, right? People are interested in that dark side of life and death.”
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