The Death in the West podcast team are not co-hosts by accident or whim. As two sets of siblings growing up in Missoula, Montana, we spent hours together making art in a place that was influenced by the Seattle and Portland music scenes but still had the kind of “charming” mountain town qualities that pushed bored teenagers to create new things.
We all attended Hellgate High School together (yes, that’s its real name) and all of us worked on the high school newspaper, the Hellgate Lance, where we very much imagined ourselves the Woodwards and Bernsteins among our peers. Even then, we loved weird stories, subcultures and unsolved mysteries.
During high school we started a Twin Peaks fan group and met each week to drink coffee and eat cherry pie as we watched David Lynch’s strange tale of a small town murder unfold. (David Lynch was born in Missoula, btw). We’ve been a tight-knit crew since then. All four of us have played in punk rock bands together in various permutations. (Zach and Chad’s band, The Sputniks, for whom Leif was the roadie, was covered in a 1999 New Yorker story written by Bill Finnegan and photographed by Mary Ellen Mark, wherein Finnegan traveled cross-country with the band to profile the everyday life of an everyday punk band on the road.)
Throughout high school and college, we wrote our own weird stories and commentaries about what we saw around us in zines like Mumblage and, later, for the Missoula Independent, for which all of us have written. Our interests have taken us down various roads over the years–fiction, creative non-fiction, journalism and historical research–and our long friendship has kept us in touch and always in collaboration.
Butte, the setting for our first season, has had a certain mystique for us since we were young. Leif and Erika’s dad grew up in the mining town and he still tells them stories about his stint below ground. Chad and Zach’s family also has roots there. Chad spent time in Butte as part of writing residency, and Zach’s research into Dashiell Hammet’s Butte-inspired hardboiled crime novel Red Harvest is what led us to create Death in the West, and focus specifically on the captivating tale of Frank Little.