Dead Confederate: The South Rises

Music Features Dead Confederate
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Maybe it’s my age talking, but from the first few licks of Dead Confederate’s new album, I can’t help but be transported back to a time of baggy pants and Doc Martens, flannel shirts and bleached hair—a time when skateboarding isn’t cool, and MTV’s The Real World is a novelty, not the cultural norm. With a few stylistic updates, In The Marrow may be the soundtrack to my early ‘90s high school career. Or at least to my high school nostalgia, which runs thick at times, romanticizing the past into more perfect moments, making In The Marrow the perfected version of those fuzzy, grungy alternative bands of yore.

Well-served by the legacy of groups like Nirvana and Jawbox, Dead Confederate take heavy alternative rock sensibility and mix with it post-hardcore and a dash of psychedelic Southern charm. With In The Marrow, they’ve gone one step further, embracing a DIY ethos and self-releasing on their own label with a deal from indie music distribution superstars Redeye.

“The whole thing came about organically,” explains bassist Brantley Senn. “The band had the money to make the album we wanted to make, then one of my friends landed a job at Redeye Distribution, and the pieces just fell into place.”

Senn and singer/guitarist Hardy Morris are both quick to note that Spiderbomb—which takes its name from one of the band’s original logos—is “just a vehicle for Dead Confederate at the moment” with no plans of signing any other artists.

Citing that the split from previous label TAO was “completely amicable,” Senn explains that “we had the option of doing a third record with them, but it just didn’t feel right… We didn’t really know anyone there anymore, so we moved on.” Adding that the band still had good relationships with many of those original people and still worked with some of them in other capacities, he says, “I think it’s far more important to work with the right people than any particular company.”

In the days of Internet marketing and iTunes, owning your own label—even a one-band label—is no easy task. How this added responsibility will take its toll on the band is likely yet to be seen, though Senn admits the workload was exhausting.

“I know it’s changed me in ways,” he says. “...I don’t get to flip the off switch. The balancing act of being an artist and handling the business can really consume you.”

Morris is a bit more nonchalant, pointing out the band self-released their first EP years ago.

“We’ve got a little bit of experience. I know what all goes on. We’re not flying blind.” Though he continues, “We did a lot of legwork on this release.”

Not having to worry about a label and, as Morris puts it, “that little cloud over your head,” while recording was a boon to the band, whose new album is looser, and who managed to record far more songs than usual.

“We knocked all the recording out quick but we did a lot more songs than we usually do,” Morris explains. “With both the other albums we had a certain 10 we were going in with, this time we had way more.”

The band has a “loose plan” for those extra tracks and narrowed the initial release to eight tracks. According to Morris, “we were happy with all of it, but went with the stuff that felt the best, instead of forcing them all on there.”

A man of many side projects—whom lifelong friend Senn describes as “insanely prolific”—Morris has most recently recorded alongside Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Black Lips’ Ian Saint Pé among others as the Diamond Rugs and also has a solo album releasing on Dangerbird Records. That said, he claims his focus is always primarily on Dead Confederate.

“I think prolific is one of those words that sounds really good,” the seemingly laid-back Morris laughs. “Just because I write a lot of songs doesn’t mean they’re all good!”

Joking aside, he feels as though “every studio experience kind of… Makes you tackle the next one differently.” He credits the the fact that there was “no pressure surrounding the Diamond Rugs” based on the fact that it “wasn’t even a band to begin with, and we were just kinda having fun.”

He says the band embraced the lack of label, letting things happen in a no-pressure situation. While the pair share songwriting responsibilities, they work very differently.

Morris will focus on writing riffs and getting the feel of the song before bringing it to the band, only finishing it when everyone has weighed in.

“We’re always getting in the studio and having to change the key of the song or the pace,” he says. “When you start playing it with the band it doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t feel right to anybody, so we’ll feel where it needs to go.”

He cites In The Marrow’s first track, “Slow Poison,” as an example, explaining that “it was an older song of Brantley’s… It turned into a completely different song. It was pretty cool, one of those moments where it just kind of all happened it the room.”

Meanwhile, Senn doesn’t work at quite the same speed, saying he enjoys the recording process as much as anything.

“Once the core parts of a song are figured out, my favorite part is layering on ideas with different instruments and seeing where it can go,” he says. “I don’t really have to work within the framework of Dead Confederate; they’re going to make it their own anyway. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it really doesn’t work. That’s fun.”

It’s been something of a tumultuous time for the band, who lost longtime drummer Jason Scarboro last year so that he could start a family. This is reflected in Morris’ songwriting on In The Marrow.

“That was a pretty tough jump… Those are hard shoes to fill,” he says thoughtfully from his home in Georgia. “A lot of my songs are about the band, kind of where we’re at, each as individual artists.”

Scarboro’s leaving also brought the band down to an even number, which made some decision-making hard.

“We were always a very democratic group of dudes,” he elaborates. “You lose that one voice, and it’s like ‘uh oh, we need that other opinion.’”

JJ Bower of the band Battle Tapes filled in on drums for In The Marrow, and Nick Sterchi of the Bohannons played on last winter’s Peyote People EP and has taken the reins as a permanent replacement, though he’s new enough that there seems to still be a breaking-in period.

“He hasn’t been super included in decisions yet,” Morris says, his voice almost cautious. “On the road we’re all in the same van so we’re all getting along, but… As far as deciding on what the first single is going to be or whatever, that fell back to the original guys.”

Despite the upheaval, Morris channeled it into his writing rather than let it bring him down, and he is ultimately happy with the new album, even saying it was a bit lighter than their last.

“We were being pretty dark and mid-tempo and a lot of that carries on in the new album. There was this guy who wrote about it the other day saying that he liked the album, but it made him feel world weary and exhausted.” He laughs, watching his flock of backyard chickens through a window. “That’s upbeat for us! But that’s the nature of the band.”