The boys in Dead Confederate ain't pretty. Sure, the buzz over the Athens, Georgia, quintet has reached a fever pitch, with everyone from Rolling Stone to The New York Times raving about their debut album, Wrecking Ball. Yet it's hard to imagine them courting supermodels or trashing rooms at the Hotel Marmont, much less the Motel 6, anytime soon. These are hard-drinking, hard-living Southern boys with names like Walker and Hardy, but they'd still rather drink bourbon in a dive bar with a toothless gent than hang out with Paris Hilton.
"I could give a shit about being in Rolling Stone," says singer/guitarist Hardy Morris, on the phone from Athens. "I can't stand bands that you hear about all the time and they're supposed to do big things. Then you watch them and you're, like, 'This band fucking sucks! What is this shit? They're all wearing suits.'"
And unlike their geographical peers in, say, Kings of Leon or Widespread Panic, they're not horndogs or hippies obsessed with loose morals and even looser women. With music and lyrics that are equally loaded, their stuff isn't meant to be fun.
"I'm not gonna stand there like a poseur," says Morris. "We just try and play the songs as fucking loud and brutally as we can. They [the songs] mean a lot to us, because it's what we've poured our whole lives into, so we might as well pour it back out."
The pour started in Augusta, Georgia, home to the late James Brown and the Masters golf tournament, but not much else. Morris remembers the scene as "crappy" when he and the core of the band (bassist John Watkins, drummer Jason Scarboro, and guitarist Walker Howle) met in high school in the late '90s. Even after they went to separate colleges, they still loved to get together and jam, but it wasn't until after graduation, with allowances cut off and the unmistakable waft of responsibility and job-hunting in the air, that the guys got serious and headed to Atlanta. While they didn't feel at home in the big city, Morris says, the fact that they didn't know anyone made the move very productive.
"We were all boxed up in this little house, and being isolated definitely crept into the music and gave it more of an honest, dark quality. We were all, like, 'Oh shit, we gotta get to work.' There was no procrastination anymore."
They soon left for Athens, where they found a nurturing scene that was immediately impressed with their unique, yet unmistakably Southern, sound. Their EP fell into the hands of A&R exec Gary Gersh (who helped Nirvana and Sonic Youth get signed), which led to the band traveling to Austin to record Wrecking Ball. Soon they found themselves sharing the stage with Dinosaur Jr., Drive-By Truckers, and a gig opening for fellow Athens residents R.E.M.
Recalls Morris, "Mike Mills came to a couple of our shows, and then Michael [Stipe] came to our show at the 40-Watt Club" — Athens' version of the Casbah. "I told our booking agent, and he asked them what they thought of Dead Confederate playing on their bill at South by Southwest. They let us play right before them on a five-band bill. They've been very cool and complimentary, even though our music is very different."
Accolades and all, the members of Dead Confederate don't see themselves jumping to a major label anytime soon. If all the years together, and even the ones apart, have taught them anything, it's discipline and persistence. Now that they've gotten to where they are by just being themselves and playing their type of music, Morris says, they'd have a hard time fathoming it any other way.
"The record industry has gotten so bad. We were talking to some labels, but the guy said that he couldn't release the album because it's not super-poppy and [because it's] kind of a downer album. But that's fine. I'm well aware of that. That's what we set out to make, something dark and cool."
He then adds, "If it's what you do, do it."
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