7 Minutes in Heaven

Hardy Morris

Dead Confederate

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We set the timer and snuggle in with our favorite new bands in the Impound’s version of speed dating with a killer-diller soundtrack.

7 Minutes In Heaven: Dead ConfederateAthens, Georgia is lousy with good music but even so Dead Confederate made folks snap to attention the moment they surfaced a couple years ago. Elemental and intense, their early work made psychedelic rock viable in a modern way, but it could little prepare one for the stylistic buffet of their sophomore album Sugar (released August 24), where the young band finds greater swerve and a far wider reach, exhibiting a studio and compositional creativity that nicely recalls where My Morning Jacket found themselves around It Still Moves. Horizons seem open and one feels confident that all destinations will be rewarding, both in the going and the eventual arrival.

This positive surge was confirmed in a huge way at a bowl-you-over great performance last week in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall. Dead Confederate has been out on a co-headlining tour with fellow comers Alberta Cross, and the healthy competition and mutual admiration of the two bands made them strive a touch harder, resulting in a raw ‘n’ refined, cut-to-the-core concert where one felt seized, though willingly abducted, by Dead Confederate. The roar and whisper of their new material is evolving beautifully live, and the in-tune light show and skillful use of amplification and effects made the whole experience very complete. Or more crudely, as my buddy remarked during their set, “That’s some balls-deep rock ‘n’ roll!”

DC’s lead singer-guitarist Hardy Morris joins us for the first installment of 7 Minutes In Heaven.

Why do you think you’re a musician?
I don’t know how good I really am at it, but I’ve never excelled at much else. And I don’t know if I’m exactly excelling at this but I feel like I kinda know what I’m doing [laughs].
On the basis of Sugar, I’d say you’re doing alright. I really dug Wrecking Ball [DC’s 2008 full-length debut] but there’s the sense of a band trying to reach just beyond their comfort level on Sugar. You’re really pushing outward on this one.
We were pretty comfortable with the one-trick-pony approach of Wrecking Ball. We were good at dark, lyrical songs, mainly because that was the only way we knew how to write; when we sat down to write we were just in this really bleak place. I had some different kinds of songs but we didn’t think they fit with the band at the time. With [Sugar] there wasn’t any of that. It was just, “These are our songs, so who gives a shit?” So, we just took the ones we liked.
You and [bassist] Brantly Senn split songwriting duties, but actually chose which of each other’s tunes you’d put on the new album. Tell me how that works.
We recorded a bunch of songs and it was hard to decide which ones would go on the record, which was tough to sequence because every song is so different. Some of the b-sides are even more different, and some of the songs we loved and thought would no doubt be on the record ended up not fitting. We had to listen to each other and everyone in the band and around us to see what worked.
The snow storm that hit during the recording session ends up being referenced explicitly on the cover. Natural events like that have an impact on the music.
We were holed up in [New Jersey] and it was an insane amount of snow. We’re southern boys so we were pretty impressed and took it as a sign. All there was to do was dig deeper & deeper into the songs and recording each one. There’s not a song on there that ended up sounding like what we’d originally envisioned, where as on Wrecking Ball every song came out pretty much as envisioned.
The fact that you surprised yourselves is great, and it carries over to the listener. I love the shifts in dynamics on this record, where it can get down to one guy with a scratchy ass guitar and vocal and then blow out into something absolutely huge.
Every previous time [in the studio] we had to record the songs we had ready and then release them. This time we actually had to make an album because the songs were so new and fresh to us. This is the first album we ever made, even if it’s not the first album we recorded.
Having someone like producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady) as a facilitator doesn’t hurt.
He was super open to any and all ideas. We tried all kinds of different stuff and he was game for everything and didn’t shoot stuff down.
Was it a trip to get J Mascis in on this record? I’m a Dinosaur Jr. fanatic from way back.
We had toured with them a couple times and we know J and the guys, and Agnello’s done all their records since forever. Touring with them had kind of influenced some of Brantly’s songwriting, particularly [Giving It All Away], which he’d envisioned with a Mascis-like element, though not really thinking he’d play on it. J makes major chords cool, which [Dinosaur Jr.] are the greatest at. Agnello said, “We gotta get J to play on this!” and we thought that’d be pretty great. And sure enough, he hit him up and he did it. It wasn’t too complicated though, just John calling his friend and it happens to be J [laughs].
One word titles are neat when they highlight how a single word like sugar can have varied connotations, a resonance beyond the simple definition as a noun.
Well, you wouldn’t call an album Salt, right? But for some reason Sugar totally works. But looking at the bare definitions it’s just that one tastes sweet and one tastes salty. Both are a granular thing but sugar is such a larger word.
Similarly, the name of your band is quite evocative in just two words, though rarely in a very specific way. I don’t think you could pin Dead Confederate to one genre just based on the name.
And I hope this [new] album isn’t further confusing. Earlier we were shaping up to be this dark, sometimes punky but still southern thing and Dead Confederate sounded like that. And it really worked for that, but now that we’ve done an album like Sugar I guess it still works [laughs]. It’s our band, our name, so we’ll do whatever we want, and I think that’s more interesting than a band just doing another genre exercise for five albums.
So, what’s usually going through your head right before you go onstage?
Probably something different every time; maybe what will be the best song to start with, what fits the room, and sometimes what the people in attendance want. Mainly it’s the overall vibe in the room we’re thinking about, and fortunately we’ve got a lot of different vibes to choose from. The opening song, especially if you’ve never heard that band before, is really important. It sets the tone for what that band’s all about, and it’s always important to me to get them engaged fast.

photo: Jason Thrasher