There is a cliché in the music industry that suggests you get your entire life to write songs for your first album and then you get six months to create your second album. But judging by repeated listens to psychedelic rock group Dead Confederate’s second full-length release, Sugar [Razor & Tie Records], the band has not fallen victim to the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Hardy Morris, the band’s vocalist/guitarist, says a spontaneous approach to writing and recording for Sugar was advantageous in what could have been a pressure cooker situation.
“There were a couple of [songs] that had hung around for a while, but the vast majority of them are new,” Morris says, speaking by phone from his Athens, Ga. home. “We didn’t learn any of them until right before we went into the studio and we worked a lot of them up in the studio. We wanted them to be fresh to us and we wanted to play around with them a little, whereas all the stuff we recorded in the past we had played a million times and it was all set in stone. We wanted to do it a little differently this time and not be so familiar with the songs.”
On Tuesday, August 24, Dead Confederate will return to Bottletree Café with fellow Athens-based band The Futurebirds opening the 8:30 p.m. show. The show date coincides with Sugar’s official release date. The album’s title is a reference to the abundant snowfall that occurred while the band was recording the album in New Jersey.
Finding Sugar’s producer, John Agnello [Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers], through the legendary alternative band Dinosaur Jr. led to an unlikely collaboration with Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis. Mascis appears on the Sugar track “Giving It All Away.”
“We had toured with Dinosaur Jr. a couple of times last year, so we knew J.,” Morris recalls. “We wound up meeting John Agnello, the guy that produced the record, through the Dinosaur Jr. guys. We were doing the album and we got to that song and, given the vibe of the song, our producer said, ‘We need to get J. to play on this.’ He sent the song over to J. and he liked it and said he’d love to do something. So he sang and played on it and it happened real naturally—it wasn’t anything too forced. We sent the song over and J. happened to be off the road and he decided to be a part of it.”
Though relocating to the Northeast for Sugar’s recording proved fruitful, Morris and band mates Brantley Senn, John Watkins, Jason Scarboro and Walker Howle were eager to return to the South’s milder climate upon completion. Natives of Augusta, Ga., the band’s members now call Athens, Ga. home. While the town’s fertile music scene has been well-documented and has attracted legions of musicians, Morris feels the Athens scene hasn’t lost its charm.
“People stay pretty tight-knit around here—it’s a pretty close-knit scene,” he says. “There are a lot of bands that stay on the road and tour a lot, but when we’re home everybody gets together. It’s a small scene but it’s strong.”
Drawing their sound from a number of influences, Morris and his band mates feel fortunate to have been raised in the South and exposed to the region’s diverse musical offerings.
“I couldn’t really imagine being from anywhere else, honestly,” Morris offers. “It’s all I’ve ever known. Some people grow up here and they can’t wait to get away, but I’ve never felt that way. I’ve loved going to the places we’ve been and I love experiencing other places, but it’s always good to come home. I’ve never had that urge to grow up and move away from the South. I love it down here—its home.”
Like other current recording and touring bands, Dead Confederate is forging its way during a time of change for the music industry. Raised on vinyl albums and record stores, Morris and his band mates find themselves now operating in the era of iTunes, Youtube and satellite radio.
“I just look at it like it is how it is and there’s no way you can control it,” Morris says. “It’s not my job to figure out a way for record companies to make money in this climate and it’s not my job to say it should be one way or another. I’m not going to be able to change anything, so I just use it to my advantage and make music. It’s just the time we’re in and I do what I do, so it’s our job to make the music that matters to us and get it out there. When I grew up and a record came out, I was standing in line at the record store. Now, the only real mystery left is to go to live shows. That’s the only place where you really feel like you’re buying a part of the band. It’s about ticket sales now and bands have to focus on the live shows.”
Thankfully, technology and new distribution models will never replace the one-on-one connection between artist and audience. Performing material of substance is the overriding, motivating factor when Dead Confederate takes the stage.
“We all enjoy playing and we enjoy playing together,” Morris says. “There are certain nights when it feels more real than others, but a lot of it has to do with the club and the sound and the crowd. You have to mean it again and again. Fortunately, our music is based around honest, heartfelt moments in our lives and it’s not just about jumping up and being happy. That would be a lot tougher to do night after night and to fake it. But with this, you close your eyes and dig in and it’s there.”
Tickets to the 18 show are $10 - $12 day of the show, and can be purchased at www.thebottletree.com or by calling (205) 533-6288.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.