Though they’re now solidly part of the Athens rock scene, the music of Dead Confederate doesn’t necessarily fit into any category. They aren't exactly southern rock, and while you can hear some echoes of R.E. M., they're far from clones of that band either.
In fact several of the songs from their previous LP Wrecking Ball (Razor & Tie) had a lot more much grunge and Seattle influence than anything from a jam band or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lead singer Hardy Morris says the mix of styles reflects the fact the various band members love multiple genres, and naturally incorporate those into their sound.
“If you’re ever around us on the road, there’s no telling what you might hear,” Morris said. “One person might be playing Dylan, another Nirvana, and someone else some blues or jazz. We really don’t think there’s any limits to what we can inject into our songs, as long as it works and make sense. But I think it’s also safe to say rock is very much our foundation, our base, and that’s what we build everything else on.”
Dead Confederate returns to Nashville Thursday night at the Exit/In as part of a big show with The Meat Puppets (whom Morris says is a band favorite), along with Kindergarten Circus and Gift Horse.
Lead guitarist Walker Howle provides much of the sonic edge and adventurous elements to the Dead Confederate sound, while bassist Brantley Senn, keyboardist John Watkins and drummer Jason Scarboro are other major contributors, both instrumentally and conceptually.
Dead Confederate began playing as a unit while college students. All five members honed their talents playing in Augusta (Ga.) clubs, but they were known at that time as the Redbelly Band. They were also more into the prototype Southern rock style, doing lengthy songs with extensive guitar and keyboard solos, riffing off blues tunes and operating in a looser musical fashion.
However, once they became Dead Confederate in 2005, following a move to Atlanta, Morris says the band shifted its writing and playing style to a less frenzied, tighter approach, though they didn’t sacrifice any intensity or attitude in the process. They subsequently moved to Athens, a decision Morris feels helped their artistic growth, even though he also says there were and still are lots of good groups in Atlanta.
“But there’s something special about Athens, especially the sense of camaraderie and sharing that you find here,” he added. “A band like R.E. M. for example doesn’t have any type of attitude that they are stars or above it all. You’ll see them out at shows cheering other groups on and encouraging them. We’ve only played on show with them, but that was a wonderful experience, and they’re definitely part of what makes the Athens scene so special.”
“The songwriting process for us is always very collaborative,” Morris added. “We’ve been doing a lot of writing the past year, and really expanding on the songs that were on both Wrecking Ball and our EP (a self-titled project that was issued in January of 2008). I think people who only know us either from that or the single (“The Rat”) will be really surprised by how much evolution has occurred in the playing and writing since those tunes came out.”
Ironically, it was “The Rat,” a song Morris calls “something we weren’t even sure we were going to put out,” that provided them a mild hit. It cracked the Modern Rock chart’s Top 40, and even had some critics favorably comparing them to bands like My Morning Jacket, who’ve made the move from regional favorites to national stars.
Of course, Morris is well aware Dead Confederate hasn’t reached that point yet. Despite good notices and exposure for “The Rat,” and fairly positive response to another single titled “Start Me Laughing,” the group is pinning its hopes on the next release, one Morris describes as “being extremely representative of our maturity and growth as a band.”
“We’re going to finish up these final dates and take a little time off at the end of the year, then we’ll get together and do so more writing before we go in the studio sometime in the winter," Morris concluded. "None of us are that concerned about trying to write another hit or get something on the radio, although that would certainly be great if it happened. Instead, our concern is that this next disc reflects what we’re doing now, and that the songs are high quality and the production strong. If all that happens, then we’ll be satisfied to just see what comes from there.”
What: Athens rockers Dead Confederate along with The Meat Puppets, Kindergarten Circus & Gift Horse
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: The Exit/In, 2208 Elliston Place
Cost: $12 (advance), $15 (at door)