Dead Confederate, Interview

03 June 2010

Interview with Dead Confederate

Interview with Dead Confederate

Hailing from the town of Athens in the state of Georgia, already renowned for bestowing the likes of REM, The B-52s, Deerhunter and Neutral Milk Hotel onto then-unsuspecting audiences, Dead Confederate look set to be its next global exports.

Having already released one skull-crushing long player entitled 'Wrecking Ball' to a wealth of critical acclaim, the five-piece have just completed recording and mixing the follow-up, 'Sugar', set for release at the back end of August. Musically flitting somewhere between alt-country, noise infused shoegaze and nascent grunge, one thing that cannot be disputed is the fact they're undoubtedly one of the loudest bands in existence anywhere you care to mention today.

As it happens, Dead Confederate are currently in the UK, amidst festival appearances and the odd date here and there. Later this afternoon they'll tear up the Nottingham leg of Dot To Dot, but first, main songwriters Hardy Morris (vocals/guitar) and Brantley Senn (bass) take some time out to talk to Contactmusic.

The first time we saw you guys play live over here was with A Place To Bury Strangers last year, and its fair to say the response from the audience - particularly as most wouldn't have been aware of you beforehand - was very enthusiastic. Do you find this is more the case with UK audiences than ones back home in the States?
Hardy: I'd say it's pretty much the same. A lot of the time it just depends on which town we're playing.
Brantley: I do find that over here you have more attentive crowds and they don't tend to talk as much during songs. When we play back home, particularly in the south, they do tend to talk a lot. It can be really distracting trying to play a show over the top of people talking.
Hardy: I think that's one difference between the two, back home people tend to treat live shows more as a social event whereas here it seems to be purely about appreciating the music.

Does it affect your mood and ultimately the performance when you have to compete with people's conversations during a show?
Brantley: It depends how many drinks I've had! If I've had a few beers then I don't really care and we'll just play whatever but at the same time, we'd obviously rather play a show to people that actually want to listen to us.
Hardy: That's so true. I mean, if you don't want to pay attention that's fine but then go outside onto the smoking patio and talk, y'know.

I saw you play at Brighton's Great Escape festival a fortnight ago, and the line-up for the venue you were at was quite diverse to say the least. Are there ever times where you look at things like that and wonder what the promoter was thinking of booking such a strangely varied bill?
Brantley: If it's a festival then it can be quite interesting playing to an audience that wouldn't normally come to see a band such as ours. One thing we've found, particularly with UK festivals, is that most people in the audience seem very receptive to new sounds.
Hardy: In terms of touring then obviously we want the other bands on the bill to match up really well. If people are paying to see a certain artist then it makes sense really for the rest of that line-up to be of a similar vein, but for a festival it's more about making new discoveries anyway.

Your sound has been compared to many different bands from My Morning Jacket to the Brian Jonestown Massacre and even Black Sabbath and Nirvana. Where do you see yourselves in terms of genre definition?
Brantley: We were having this conversation between ourselves the other day, and to be honest I still find it a difficult question to answer. Some bands pride themselves on having some kind of authenticity, and not being about fitting into a scene, or wearing costumes for the live show or creating any kind of spectacle other than making music. We've always gotten along really well with those kind of bands - Alberta Cross are one that immediately springs to mind - mainly because they're really genuine people who don't get hung up about other people's perception of what their bands should or shouldn't be. In terms of genre, I don't think Dead Confederate can be placed into one kind specifically because that does change from song to song.
Hardy: The bands we've identified with the most and appreciated over the years are ones who consider what's happening onstage between the band members more important than what's happening out front in the crowd. That's not to say we don't consider our audience to be important; of course we do, as without their support we wouldn't be able to do this, but to me playing a live show in a band is about people witnessing a performance and the camaraderie that goes on.

You've already mentioned Alberta Cross as the kind of people you're drawn to, but which band would you say you've enjoyed being on tour with the most?
Brantley: We've been really fortunate to play with so many amazing groups of people.
Manchester Orchestra, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr. I don't think we've ever been out on tour with a band that we didn't get along with.
Hardy: I wouldn't say there's been a best experience but a rather unique one was the Meat Puppets tour. Just being around those guys and listening to some of their stories was an unforgettable experience to say the least!
Brantley: They were absolute gentlemen, really nice guys. I guess you learn more about being in a band from spending one evening around those guys than you ever would in ten tours by yourself.

How did it feel being invited to tour with such legendary artists as the Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr?
Hardy: It was an honour! We basically sent them our music and the
Meat Puppets manager got in touch with us to start with.
Brantley: I think they wanted to be on tour with a younger band anyway so to think we fitted the bill over so many other great bands was a privilege, as you can probably imagine!

Your first album 'Wrecking Ball' came out in 2008, and has achieved something of a slow-burning cult following ever since. How do you feel about that and would you rather have been in people's faces as it were from the moment the record was first released?
Brantley: It is what it is, and there's not a lot we can do about it. We've definitely always preferred the idea of the band having some kind of longevity rather than worry about how soon its coming. Whether we play to eight or eight hundred people we'd still put on the same level of performance.
Hardy: The main thing about being in a band is not to expect anything from this because you're just one of many bands striving to achieve the same goal. Be careful what you wish for and just be grateful for the opportunity to do it.

The album was produced by Mike McCarthy of .And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Spoon fame. What did he bring to the recording sessions that made the album so special?
Brantley: His main philosophy was for us to try and recreate the intensity of our live show on the record. We managed to record 'Flesh Colored Canvas' in just one take.
Hardy: There are a few songs on there which were done in one take. He spent most of his time making sure we set up our equipment in exactly the same way as we would for a live show, and any rehearsals in the studio were done in the same way as a soundcheck for a gig. Then, it was just a case of knocking out the songs in one go and putting it down on tape. There were a couple we struggled with - 'The Rat' was one which took us forever because we'd been playing it for so long, and we really loved that original recording that came out on our first EP.
Brantley: That was the weird part really. We'd been playing that song for over a year, already recorded it and then with the album the record label really wanted it on there so we had to record it again in the same context as the rest of 'Wrecking Ball', which proved quite frustrating at times.

Hardy: When we listened back to the version on our EP it seemed more ferocious, heavier and faster, so for the album we had to rein it in slightly and slow it back down, which is something Mike helped us with massively.

Comparing the two, which version do you now prefer the most?
Hardy: Well in the end we kind of backtracked and made the album version really similar to the original, so there's not much difference between the two.

The video to 'The Rat' is actually quite disturbing in places. Did you have full creative input into that or was it purely down to the director, Pamela Littky?
Hardy: A little bit of both I guess. The plot and the way she wanted to film it was Pamela's idea, but the location and the kid in the video were down to us.
Brantley: That kid is actually Hardy's cousin!
Hardy: It was a real marriage of ideas. We had two days to film it while we were off tour, but it gave us an insight into making videos that we're currently working on with songs off the new record at the moment.

Your new album 'Sugar' comes out on the 24th August. Would you call it a progression from 'Wrecking Ball' or a completely fresh start, as there seems to be a more song-based rather than sonic approach to this record?
Hardy: Well, there certainly aren't any songs over five minutes long on 'Sugar' that's for sure!
Brantley: I think it would be fair to say that Hardy and me have grown a lot as songwriters since 'Wrecking Ball' and that's by far the biggest difference between the two albums. Learning how to make more happen in a song but take less time to do it.these things don't just come naturally.
Hardy: 'Sugar' is definitely a more upbeat album than its predecessor. I mean, there's still plenty of doom and gloom too but.
Brantley:.yeah, I used to get scared of doing the upbeat stuff! It's like we'd suggest putting tambourine on a song and people say "No! No! No!" like we're trying to be too happy or something.I mean, we're pretty happy, stable dudes so it makes sense for our records to reflect this!
Hardy: For me, the hardest part of the process was trying to decide which songs to put on the album and in what sequence, because there are some really different ideas to what we had with 'Wrecking Ball', and my main concern was to try and make the record represent flow rather than just change.

Have you decided on the first single from 'Sugar' yet?
Hardy: We have. Its going to be 'Giving It All Away', which features J Mascis on guitar, and we're releasing it as a limited edition seven-inch which will come with a code to download the album.

You've also been known to slip the odd cover into your live set such as Elliot Smith's 'Roman Candle', Officer May's 'Smoke In A Minor' and more recently 'Theresa's Sound World' by Sonic Youth, which you recorded for National Record Store Day. What made you specifically choose these songs and are there any others in the pipeline?
Hardy: The
Sonic Youth cover was inspired by an annual charity event in Athens, and we were asked to contribute along with a load of other local bands. We chose that song because it really seemed to fit in with our sound. At first we were talking about doing 'Sugar Kane' but then after several listens we thought it would be too difficult for us to do justice to, and then we did a little tour with Wax Fang and heard their cover of 'Sugar Kane' which is near flawless and that totally convinced us not to do it! With the other two we've been playing them since the band started really.they're probably two of our earliest recordings just because they're songs that I guess partly inspired us to form Dead Confederate in the first place. We also occasionally play 'Gouge Away' by the Pixies although that's gradually becoming stored away in our archives.It's a good version, but at the same time way too much like theirs!

Finally, what has been your most pleasurable experience of being in Dead Confederate to date?
Hardy: Seeing the world.
Brantley: It's like, when you wake up and realise what it is you do for a's awesome!
Hardy: Just meeting new people, seeing new places. Where we grew up in was a small town where a lot of people really don't see beyond the town's borders so to be able to travel all over the world playing music is like a dream come true.

How does it feel when you play your hometown?
Hardy: It is getting better. Most of the people there know us now so it's pretty cool.
Brantley: Yeah, I mean we could play a whole set of reggae covers and they'd still come to see us!

The album 'Sugar' is out on Monday 24th August via TAO Recordings/Old Flame Records

Dom Gourlay

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