SWEETER THAN SUGAR Dead Confederate

Or,
how the southern-fried hard rockers learned to stop worrying and love the jam.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

When Athens, Georgia’s Dead Confederate burst on
to the scene in 2008 with its debut album Wrecking
Ball
, the first sound people heard was singer Hardy Morris shredding his
vocal chords as what seemed like an avalanche of guitars built behind him. It’s
a sound that earned them a growing fan base, as well as the unfortunate label
of “southern-fried grunge.”

 

Dead Confederate’s second album, Sugar, should put that label to rest, with the band adding pop
hooks to its arsenal without abandoning its power. We talked with bassist
Brantley Senn, who splits songwriting duties with Morris.

 

***

 

BLURT:
You’ve said you intentionally set out to write shorter, poppier songs for Sugar. Why was that important to you?

SENN:
That was a tongue in cheek joke. It’s not really poppy. We did set out to write
shorter songs. We wanted to cut the fat out. We always appreciate bands that
can do three-minute songs that feel like six minutes because they have a lot of
changes going on.

 

What bands
do you think do that well?

Radiohead
is a good example. It’s amazing how short they keep their songs. They feel so
much longer because they cram so much into such a short time span.

 

You road
tested a lot of Wrecking Ball before
recording. Why didn’t you do that with these songs?

When
we started working on the new songs, we thought we might learn them by touring
on them, but we decided we wanted to give everyone a brand new record they
hadn’t heard before. That was the original inspiration. It turned out that it
worked to our benefit because it created an atmosphere where the songs were
malleable. When we got to studio and worked with [producer] John Agnello, we
were able to change the songs around and not just play them the way they were
written.

 

How have you
and Hardy changed as songwriters since Wrecking
Ball
?

We
were in a different place in life then. That was about four years ago, since we
learned the songs two years before we recorded them. It has to do with time and
growing older. Those things affect everything you do in life. It’s about your
state of mind. A lot of times, when you write songs, they kind of write you.
We’re in a different place now; we’re happier and more confident.

 

You were
compared a lot to Nirvana. Did you want to get away from that?

That
doesn’t bother us. People will compare you to whatever they want. A lot of it
has to with Hardy’s stage presence and vocal timbre rather than actual songs.
They were definitely an influence, but we’re not trying to be the grunge
revival band people make us out to be. I think people will see we have a
broader range than that.

 

Even though Sugar has less of a grunge feel, it
still seems very influenced by the music of the ‘90s. How important was that
music to you?

That’s
my generation. I was listening to whatever was on the radio until I discovered heavy
‘90s rock. Then I started digging deeper. If you’re talking about Nirvana, Bleach was the album that inspired me,
not Nevermind. I also got really into
the Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr.

 

What did you
like about those bands?

Distortion.
It was pretty much as simple as that. It wasn’t polished or clean. It felt like
they didn’t give a shit. That’s an attitude I can sympathize with

 

You got to
tour with Dinosaur and the Meat Puppets. What did you learn from them?

That
guitar solos are pretty freakin’ awesome and not to be scared of them. We used
to be scared of improvisation. After touring with those guys, I learned “jam”
is not a bad word.

 

Now that you’ve expanded your sound, where do you go
next? Are you working on new songs?

The songs I’m writing now are
more bittersweet and dark than what I wrote for Sugar. We’re going back to that a bit. They’re catchier but at the
same time darker.

 

Early on, your
name drew almost as much attention as your music. Were you surprised by that?

I
was. I thought it was a cool name that Hardy came up with. There’s no meaning
behind it. The name just sounded like what our band sounded like. It got
attention and that’s what it’s supposed to do. We don’t really worry about
album titles or song titles. The real meaning is inside the song or the band. It’s
not in the name.

 

[Photo
Credit: Jason Thrasher]

 

 

 

 

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