The Voice Of A Dead Confederate: An Interview With Hardy Morris

They are one of those bands that seems like they have been around forever, when in actuality they only officially came together around 2006. Created in the fertile musical breeding ground of Georgia, the young men in Dead Confederate present the aura of a band weathered in history yet have a rare non-rock-star attitude. Vocalist Hardy Morris, along with fellow songwriter Brantley Senn, are not your average everyday creators. Their lyrics tend to fall about 10 degrees south of the sparkling happy my-girlfriend-is-hotter-than-your-girlfriend pompous vignettes. War, personal fragility, human interaction and intellectual thoughts are more to their liking. Dead Confederate is a band with more brains than brawn.

If you think you have heard their name before it’s probably because you have. With their 2008 full-length debut Wrecking Ball, they gained some noteworthy success with the song “The Rat”. Following that up with a moodily engaging opus called Sugar, The Confederate has come back with more songs about not-so-happy things. Their goal is to make meaningful music that pleases not only their fans, but themselves as well.

Recently, Hardy Morris called to chat with Glide about music, books, touring with the Meat Puppets, and deciding that even with a college degree all he ever wanted to be was a musician.

Hi Hardy, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. How is everything going?

I’m good. Just working on music and doing a few things that I’ve got to get done, you know, while we’re home for a little while [in Athens, Georgia].

You just played Voodoo Fest in New Orleans not long ago. How did you think you guys did and what did you think about the whole experience?

It was cool. We’ve played there before but we played like a really early in the day slot so it was nice to play a little later where we were actually playing for some people (laughs). I thought it went well. I was told there was some sound issues out front but we couldn’t really hear it going on onstage so we just kind of, you know … I’m glad we didn’t know cause it didn’t affect the way we were playing, cause we didn’t have any idea anything was going on. So we were just playing. But it was a great time. We’ve played in New Orleans at Voodoo a couple of times but we’ve played only one club show in New Orleans at which it seems strange being a band from the south that we didn’t get to New Orleans more often.

I saw you after your set go out in the crowd and talk with fans, take pictures with them, and check out other bands. Is that what you like to do when you get a chance at these things?

Oh yeah. I mean, there is nothing going on backstage, I promise you that laughs). It’s kind of lame. But I get out and certainly try to see other bands and see what the festival is all about. A lot of festivals kind of have a multitude of bands playing on all the stages but they kind of theme them in other ways, like to a kind of beer drinking festival or the eco-friendly green thing; just depends on who the sponsors are and all that kind of stuff to what kind of vibes its taking on. I didn’t get to spend as much time around Voodoo th (is year as I would have liked to because we turned around and went back to Athens. We saw a few more artists and then we headed home. But it’s always good to mill around and check it out.

Do you prefer playing the festivals with thousands of people or the more intimacy of a club? Where does Dead Confederate come alive the most?

I mean it’s just a totally different thing. Festivals you get the opportunity to play for a ton of people that have never heard of your band and most likely otherwise never even get to see your band, which is rewarding but can be a little daunting too because people are hearing these songs and the band for the very first time. And with our music it’s kind of awkward in a daytime situation. We’re not the most light-hearted of bands. But then in club settings, you’ve got your real fans and its right there, and like you said, a little more intimate. But there is a reward to both, you know. I certainly wouldn’t just want to play festivals and I wouldn’t want to just play club shows either. It’s nice that we get the opportunity to do a good number of festivals and tour as well. It’s good to do both.

How many festivals have you done this year?

I think three or four. We did like four or five festivals when we were overseas this past year. We wind up doing a good number every year.

Are the crowds different overseas? They seem so massive over there.

Yeah, I think more people turn out but you’ve got a smaller area. You’ve got the same number of people on a smaller piece of land so it’s not as many festivals. At Bonnaroo, everyone from the south goes to Bonnaroo and everyone from the northeast goes to Sasquatch. Whereas Reading or Leeds, that’s all of England goes to those festivals. So you’re dealing with a place that’s an eighth of the size of the United States and you’ve got the entire country coming to the festival.

Do you get nervous playing to that many people at one time?

We’ve never played Reading or Leeds, but we’ve played other festivals there and they’re all really well attended. I mean, you kind of are curious as to the way people are going to take your music because it’s fun but at the end of the day it’s just music so it usually translates pretty well. You’ll play and you get done and you’re talking and they go “Oh you’re American, we didn’t even know”. It’s just playing music.

You know the music business has been kind of hurting lately. Have you noticed the crowds not being as populated?

That’s the one place where people can’t get that for free. You can’t get the experience of seeing the band live for free. Album sales and things like that are taking a hit, people are getting that for free, but in the end I think it winds up encouraging them to go see more bands. They get all this music for free online but then you’re always going to be curious to see what it’s going to be like live.

How is your latest CD Sugar doing?

It’s doing good as far as I know. It’s gotten good reviews, especially overseas, so we’re looking forward to going back over there and seeing the response over there. I think we’re going over there in February.

Was it different recording Sugar than it was recording Wrecking Ball? Did you feel like you were old dogs at this now?

We approached the record a little differently in the studio. We recorded it the same way, as we recorded it essentially all live, as in we were all in the same room playing together with minimal overdubs. But we hadn’t played the songs a million times over like we had with Wrecking Ball. Those songs we had toured on and played them and played them and played them, whereas with this album we waited and learned the songs like right before we went into the studio. So that was a little different. And then the studio was a bigger space but we recorded it essentially the same way. We just all got in the same room and hammered it out.

You had said you wanted to make this CD different than the last one. Do you think you accomplished everything you set out to do with Sugar?

Yeah, I mean, it sounds like the record we made for sure. I don’t look back on it with any regrets on what we did. We had a lot of songs going in and our producer helped us with picking what songs to use, what songs could translate best and work alongside the other songs. As you know, it’s kind of different from song to song, the record is. But I think we put the right ones on there and in the right sequence to give it the right flow. It’s got kind of a mixed tape kind of vibe to it but it just happens to be by the same band. But we had a lot of songs going in so I haven’t once thought, “So, we should have put this song instead of one of the ones on the record”. I’m glad that it’s in the order it’s in and I like the way it came out.

It really is a good CD. My personal favorite track is the last one, “Shocked To Realize”. You wrote that song. What can you tell us about it?

It’s kind of supposed to be just kind of pondering on art in itself, music, paintings or sculpture or whatever. You know a lot of people will look at something or hear something and just kind of immediately be like “Oh I don’t like it, that’s not my kind of thing” with any kind of art. The song is just kind of saying if you take the time to look at it, to look again, to take time to see what the person meant by it, a lot of times you’ll be shocked to realize that you actually might enjoy that piece of art or that … like the first time people probably hear a band like Sonic Youth or something they’re like, “Oh God, that’s just noise”. But if you give it another listen, then take into account where the band is going with it, it can be some of the greatest stuff you’ve ever heard.

Well, you’re not exactly a happy-happy joy-joy type of songwriter are you? You said you tend to prefer to get more into the darker side of your feelings. Why don’t you write a happy song?

I don’t know if I ever really tried (laughs). Not all the songs are super dark but I guess that’s just kind of, I mean, I like to kind of write about reality and if something affects me enough to write about it, it’s not always the most pleasant reality, you know. If I’m excited or happy about something, I’m usually more like, let’s have people over and go drink a beer or something more than I am like I want to sit down and write a song about it. Usually when something is nagging at me or making me angry or upset, that’s when you’re kind of like, I got to get this out. That’s when I’m usually drawn to create music. But it might not be the greatest thing but that’s how I work, I think.

When you sit down to do this, does it just flow out in one big spurt or do you have to kind of keep going back to it?

It depends on the song. Like some songs will take a few sittings to kind of come to fruition and some songs just spit out real quickly. And I’ve heard people say that “Oh that’s just one that happened real fast”, and sometimes that’s the case. But I’ve had other songs that I think came out really well that I spent some more time on or worked on over the course of several different sittings.

I know that you have answered this question a million times but you have talked about being influenced by Neil Young, who is not known for his happy-go-lucky songwriting; he is very honest and very blunt. But was it the songwriting that first attracted you to him or his music?

At first, my Mom introduced me to him because I was trying to learn to play the guitar and she taught me “Heart Of Gold”. I liked the song and I thought Neil Young was cool but he was still to a twelve or thirteen year old kid or however old I was, he was just an old folkie, like Bob Dylan or whoever; he’s just … there was no real difference yet in my musical spectrum between like Neil Young or the Eagles or whoever. It was just like, yeah, that guy is on classic rock radio, his song’s easy, I’ll learn it and its ok (laughs). And then as I started playing music I started learning more about music and getting more albums and I started realizing that this guy is actually really great. I remember getting a year or so in on guitar and I started wanting to get into Neil more and more. Just kind of realized he was head and shoulders above people; he wasn’t just a classic rock radio guy. He was his own thing, far above a lot of that stuff. But I have to be honest that at first I just didn’t really know who he was. I just learned the song and later on I had to kind of take a double take and be like wow, Mom was right (laughs).

Who else influenced you?

One of my favorite songwriters was and still is John Prine. He kind of does a good job of writing kind of dark sobering songs and then really upbeat, almost silly quirky songs too. But he’s got some pretty real ones too. Maybe I should try to emulate that a little bit and get some happy stuff going (laughs).

Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote?

I don’t. I’m sure it was awful (laughs).

Were any of the songs on the first CD any that you wrote a long time before that?

It all kind of started coming together around the same time. I had written some stuff but I don’t know if I ever recorded it or what. It was kind of, I guess on the first EP we have there is a song called “Memorial Day Night” that was a pretty early song.

How has the band evolved from when you first got together with these guys and started playing? Were you doing mostly covers or were you trying to put out mostly your own stuff? How was the band born?

We did the college band thing and played a little bit of covers and some originals but we never recorded anything, just kind of playing around and trying to figure out what in the world we were doing. Then we started writing songs after college and we were like, what are we going to do, are we going to take this seriously or not and that is when we started writing songs for our first EP, which included that song “Memorial Day Night”. And we recorded that at our band house that we were living in. We just started recording locally in town in that house and put that EP together and through that we got our record deal and added that with some other songs we were playing live and that’s what came out on the first record.

So you knew you wanted to do this; that there came a point when it wasn’t all for fun anymore and you wanted to make this an actual career.

Yeah, we definitely didn’t want to just work desk jobs if we didn’t have to. It felt like we had at least a chance. If there were labels looking at us, well we should certainly pursue that, try to get out there and play and put a record out. There’s lots of bands that don’t even get that opportunity, to put a record out.

You are originally from Augusta, Georgia, just an ordinary city. So how does an ordinary kid like yourself end up being in one of the most popular up and coming bands right now, touring and making records? For all the other ordinary kids out there with rock & roll dreams, how do you make it happen?

The main thing is to get out of town and play out of town. A lot of people just expect things to come to them and where they live and that’s not necessarily the case, especially not in a town like Augusta or something. You’ve got to get out there and play as many other towns as you can and get in touch with other bands and trade shows with other bands. That’s what we used to do, find bands in Birmingham and Atlanta and Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina. We would trade shows with those bands. We’d be like, you come play with us in Augusta and we’ll come play with you in Charleston kind of thing. Just trade shows and get out there and play house parties and make your way to SXSW and TMJ. You can’t expect things to come to you, cause that ain’t going to happen.

When you got that first big taste of success with “The Rat”, how did you not let the whole business overwhelm you?

We were just on the road playing so it wasn’t like we were eating caviar and sipping champagne every night (laughs). We’ve all been pretty good about being ourselves. These are the same guys that I’ve known forever so we just kind of continued doing our thing. We had played for awhile so it didn’t really change things that much. We were still dragging our equipment in and playing every night, you know.

You have been touring a lot and with some pretty cool bands. Who have been your favorite ones so far and what have you learned from them?

Probably one of my favorite tours of the past couple of years was with the Meat Puppets. I mean, all the tours have been great. It’s good because you learn a lot from every band. But touring with the Meat Puppets was especially cool because they are artists to the purest form and very much do their thing and don’t give a crap what anybody thinks. I think that kind of rubbed off on us a little bit.

Your drummer Jason Scarboro is probably the most energetic drummer I have seen all year. How do you keep up with him? He’s just so wild back there.

Yeah, he is an enthusiastic drummer, always has been. We’ve played together a long time so it’s good to see that, you know, early on you’re like, man this guy’s crazy but his enthusiasm has not changed one bit throughout the whole thing so it’s good to know that that’s really the way he is and really the way he plays and not some put on.

I heard that you really didn’t want to be the singer at first.

Yeah, I didn’t really set out to be like a front man. I’m actually kind of shy and quiet but its ok.

I wanted to ask you about the videos. In the “Giving It All Away” video the kids look like they are having a blast, pulling all that stuff out of your stomachs. How do you feel about making videos?

We had worked with Jason, the director, on that before and we all kind of came up with the idea together. Making videos is ok. That one was especially fun because we had the kids involved and it was an idea we had talked about for awhile. It’s not something I would want to do all the time but every once in awhile it’s fun.

You were an English major in college. Did you get your degree? And what was your plan with that degree?

Yes, I finished at UGA here. But I had no plan really. I just moved to Atlanta and I actually worked with an architect drawing houses for a little while, just kind of random with an English major. I did that for not too long before we started taking the band real serious and started making enough money touring to not have to be there.

Do you still like to read? Do you even have time to read anymore?

Yeah, I read all the time, especially on the road. But I read at home a good bit too. I read all kinds of stuff. I like fiction, southern fiction especially. I read a book, non-fiction, called The Good Soldiers recently. It’s a journalist from Washington DC that went in and spent a year with a troop in Iraq, and it’s funny that you mention that cause I was emailing with the guy [David Finkel]. The book got wonderful reviews, Book Of The Year by New York Times and such for 2009. But I was emailing with him this morning. Authors you can get in touch with more readily than a lot of other artists. And we were talking back and forth on email. It’s kind of neat to talk to him. I’ve sent him a link to the “Run From The Gun” video cause I figured he might be interested and he was all about it, thought it was awesome. So check out “The Good Soldiers”, it’s a great book. It’s not the happiest read but pretty realistic.

Who do you think is the single most influential person in your life so far?

I would say to this point, my parents have been a big influence in my life. They have a strong marriage. My mom an artist and musician and she has really been encouraging in my pursuit of trying to make some dollars and change at art. And then my dad is a life-long educator and kind of free thinker and then my wife, her kindness towards everyone and her outlook on the world as a whole was a pretty big influence. But as far as my life up to now, I’d say my folks. I’m pretty fortunate to come from good stock, I guess (laughs).

How far do you think Dead Confederate can go and how do you plan to accomplish all your goals as a band?

I think our goal is to continue to make records and make enough money to get by and pay our taxes (laughs) and make records. I don’t think anybody is looking to be a millionaire or shake their ass around on TV like an idiot for money. We just want to make music we want to make and continue to make records for some sort of label that is interested in us and we’re interested in putting out music for them. It’s as simple as that, to just be able to create and get by. Like I said, we’re not looking for riches.

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