There's a new breed of dark, raw, mind-blowing psych-rock crawling from the South, and its name is Dead Confederate. The Georgia group conjured the haunting sound of their debut full-length album WRECKING BALL the old-fashioned way: by making it in the tiny concrete box of a studio in Austin, Texas, where the sound effects for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were recorded. "We're kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting," explains singer/guitarist Hardy Morris, 28. "Brutally honest. There isn't some big twist or turn, it just lays it all out there. Immediate, no frills, primal, emotional.”
Dead Confederate - Morris, bassist Brantley Senn, guitarist Walker Howle, keyboardist John Watkins, and drummer Jason Scarboro - first bonded over Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath ("stoner shit," as Morris puts it) when they attended high school together in Augusta, Georgia. After keeping a band loosely together throughout college, the five-piece got serious when they were faced with the prospect of finding careers outside of music. After the small-town crew moved to Atlanta, "We were all kind of huddled together in this little house in the big city," Morris recalls, "Things took a turn and Brantley and I started writing serious personal stuff. We weren't just playing anymore, we were really writing and searching." Dead Confederate was born.
After relocating to music-rich Athens (where Morris and Senn had attended college), Dead Confederate amped up their touring schedule and a copy of their demo fell into the hands of Scott Register, a radio DJ and well-known member of the rock community who had a good relationship with The Artists Organization label’s founder and legendary A&R executive Gary Gersh. Gersh, who inked deals with Nirvana and Sonic Youth, heard the band's disc by chance on a car ride home from the airport and was riveted. He immediately made plans to travel to Nashville gig to meet with the band, and offered them the opportunity to work together over a Mexican dinner that same night.
Dead Confederate's first eponymous EP is a patchwork of early recordings, taken from different sessions in different cities and home-studio recordings. Producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead) mixed it into a coherent introduction to their sound. McCarthy next led them to Austin to record their Morris and Senn-penned album in a tiny gear-packed sound studio (the room also doubled as ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead's rehearsal space), the microscopic, no-frills environment where WRECKING BALL would come to life as the band passed their down time reading, playing Scrabble and watching Judge Judy ("It was the only channel we got," Morris says). WRECKING BALL boasts 10 tracks of tightly coiled, spacey rock that leaps from slow, aching verses into gut-blasting choruses into propulsive, Southern-rock tinged jams led by wailing guitars. (Several tracks, like the 12-minute odyssey "Flesh Colored Canvas," were even nailed in a single take.)
Explosive opener "Heavy Petting" was inspired by a relationship that collapsed, leaving Morris living in a trailer with a dodgy guy named Critter. "Goner" is about the band, and their fear that Dead Confederate could call it quits and their hard work would be forgotten ("I could be gone / You would never know," Morris screeches on the aching, melodic chorus). "If something good happens, I'm like, sweet, let's go get margaritas," Morris says. "If something bad happens, I'm going to go to my room to write. I don’t know where Jack Johnson pulls it from."
First single “The Rat" – a song that grabbed attention when it appeared on the band’s EP – is one of the band's most misunderstood tracks ("A lot of people think it's about a relationship," explains Senn. "It's kind of a protest song about the religious right.") Led by pounding drums and a spooky guitar riff, as Morris' vocal gets increasingly desperate and pained, distorted guitars build until the track reaches its catchy peak.
That kind of seething, black-bellied emotion and honesty informs everything from the band's name to their already legendary live shows. "I wanted something that was dark, because we're kinda dark, and I wanted something that would hit you," Morris explains of selecting the term "Confederate." "It's not stereotypical Southern rock at all, but that flavor's in there for sure."
They've already shared the stage with R.E.M. (at a lauded 2008 SXSW appearance), Dinosaur Jr., Drive By Truckers, the Black Angels, Deerhunter and Black Lips and are looking forward to tossing aside their day jobs (everything from catering to construction) to get back into their live groove this summer. "Offstage, I'm not going to sit there and bother people with my problems. I can get everything out of me onstage and I'm back to normal offstage," Morris explains. "We're just all pretty laidback and light-hearted guys. People meet us and are like, y'all are not what we expected at all."