Modern bands summon varied musical and pop-culture touchstones, and so it's silly to make declarations that a certain band is helping to foster the revival of a specific decade's sound. But in terms of aesthetic — and in terms of willingness to experiment with its own sound — Athens, Georgia, gloom rockers Dead Confederate are definitely pulling a few tricks from early- '90s experimental rock.
It's not so much that the band sounds like some regurgitated grunge act; its music is just hard to categorize. Dead Confederate's debut, Wrecking Ball, contained dynamic, down-tempo psychedelic-influenced rock; spine-tingling dirges and vocalist Hardy Morris' cold croon dominated its 52 minutes. But the band's new album, Sugar, is much less linear. While it's anchored by the things the band does best, it unexpectedly branches off into shoegaze-inspired, swirly pop ("In the Dark"), ultra-metallic, industrial-influenced noise rock ("Quiet Kid") and morose, down-tempo folk ("Run From the Gun").
B-Sides caught up with Morris for a conversation about the new album while he and his bandmates were, as he put it, "....driving in our van through the bowels of Florida."
B-Sides: Could you give me a sense of how the process of making Sugar was different from your last album, Wrecking Ball?
Hardy Morris: With this one, we waited and learned everything right before we went into the studio, and some songs we even wrote in the studio. On Wrecking Ball we had been playing those songs forever, and all we had to do was just record it.
So you guys didn't tour on any of this new material? I seem to remember a couple new songs when I saw you guys last year.
No. Not really at all. We were playing a couple of the songs we recorded prior to going into the studio, but I don't think either of them even made the album.
How was the writing process different this time?
It was similar to last time. Brantley [Senn] and I brought in demos and acoustic songs, and we learned them together. I guess the only difference for me was that this time I was writing on the road a little bit, and I've never really done that in the past.
Did the experience of constant touring play into the subject matter of your songs?
Yeah, it crept in there for a couple of my songs for sure. I think that also some of the bands we toured with last year helped influence us as well. We did some touring last year with some pretty fearless bands, like Dinosaur Jr. and Meat Puppets, and that kind of led us to just write what we wanted to write and not be afraid to do that.
When I heard the name of the album [Sugar], I expected that you guys had written a bunch of pop tunes, but the album definitely isn't that. Why did you choose that name?
Well, for us it definitely seems like a sweet, sugary, poppy record. It was a lot of fun to make, and I think we had to get some things out of our system. We've been touring on all of the gloomy material for several years, so it was kind of fun to just play with some other ideas and just write what we were feeling. It seems like a mishmash of songs, kind of like a mixtape or something.
It does, but it's tied together well with the production style. It has kind of a '90s vibe in the sense that it has all of these different styles, and it's kind of all over the place.
Yeah, it's like a Breeders record or something. The last record felt really linear, and I love records like that, but I also really dig the mixtape idea, and that's kind of how this one ended up.
It's kind of refreshing. A lot of records these days feel really contrived in the way they try to perfectly flow together.
I know what you mean. Instead of writing songs that mean something to them, I think a lot of bands are just doing these genre exercises. It all feels very interchangeable. But there is also a lot of really fantastic music coming out right now.
I saw you guys play a great show opening for R.E.M. a couple years ago at the big SXSW show. That must have felt like you were on the cusp of something huge.
No, I mean we knew exactly what that show was. It's not like just because you play with some huge band that it's going to result in the same for you. I don't really have any expectations for this. All you can do is just make the records and play and enjoy the show. If you start expecting things and thinking you deserve things, that's when you're probably going to shoot yourself in the foot. It's like, "Do you really want what you deserve? Because you probably deserve to just sit your ass at home." I don't try to act like I'm owed anything or we're owed anything. We just play and have a good time while we do it.