MusicMusic Features

Dead Confederate and the Musician’s Life

In the Marrow, Dead Confederate’s third album, wallops just as hard as, if not harder than, the local band’s first two. Sludgy, heavy and guitar-driven, the disc showcases a band—Hardy Morris, Walker Howle, Brantley Senn, John Watkins and new addition Nick Sterchi—that’s never been light but has gone especially dense this time around.

The album, released this week on the band’s own Spiderbomb label, retains the band’s sprawling guitar apocalypse, seriously dirty work that pulls from mid-’90s grunge. (The band has gotten comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. before, but this time around, they really apply.) Some variety pokes its way through the haze, though, like on the relatively frisky “Vacations,” where things lighten up a bit, or “Big City Life,” on which Morris’ drawling, yawling Southern vocals are given a little more space than usual, to great effect.

The sonic weight of In the Marrow owes a lot to the way the album was recorded. Dead Confederate recorded its two prior full-length albums (2008’s Wrecking Ball and 2010’s Sugar) with the financial help of a record label and was under pressure to work quickly and efficiently. This time around, the band took its time.

“The first one was recorded all live, all crammed into one tiny room, done really fast,” says Morris. “And those were songs that we really knew—we’d played them live a thousand times and knew them like the back of our hand. The second record was also recorded live, but we pretty much learned the songs right there in the studio. We went in never having played them before, so that fresh ideas could flow into the recording. And with this record… we didn’t know the songs super well, but we had played some of them live, rehearsed more. There were also a lot more songs to pull from.”

Recorded with the aid of producer David Barbe at Chase Park Transduction, and with assists from local musicians like vocalist Thayer Sarrano and pedal steel player Matt Stoessel, In the Marrow‘s eight tracks were culled from sessions that produced 16 or 17 songs. That seemed like a luxury to the band, says Morris.

“We went in and tracked a bunch of songs and kind of stepped back from them for a while, came back in, decided which were worth tackling and in what order,” he says. “Our other two records [were] done in two weeks, wham-bam, whereas this time we listened to things and pondered over them, did some touring, were out of the studio for a while and then came back to it. We went with the best stuff instead of going with just what we had.”

Besides a heavy Dead Confederate touring and recording regimen over the past several years, bandmembers have kept busy with other projects. Walker Howle has been gigging around town as Tia Madre as well as focusing on his visual artwork, while John Watkins has been contributing keys to a number of recordings. Nick Sterchi also plays in Chattanooga band The Bohannons, and Brantley Senn has been busy handling label duties as well as gaining experience as a recording engineer.

Morris, too, has been at it, playing in Diamond Rugs, the band he formed with the Black Lips’ Ian St. Pe and Deer Tick’s John McCauley. Pile onto that a solo release, Audition Tapes, recorded in Nashville and due for release later this year. All around, this is a group of guys who seem unwilling to sit still.

“As a musician, you tend to look back more on the experience rather than just on the end product,” says Morris, but he might as well be talking about his approach to life, too.

“I don’t have a lot of money or anything, but I’m happy,” he says. “I’m pretty stoked by simple things. I live in a cool, cheap town with a lot of great music around. Get to tour; get to record. If I cared about driving around on a tour bus and hanging out in L.A. with famous rock stars, then I might be a little upset or disappointed in the arc of my career, but I’ve only ever done this because I’ve felt like doing it. It just kind of happens.

“I still feel like I’m a kid in a band like I did before,” he continues. “I don’t have goals besides taking it day by day. I don’t think rock and roll should have goals. There’s a value in creating something and appreciating what you did.”

Still, it remains important to Morris that other people hear and appreciate what he does, too. “I’d always want at least my peers and my friends and wife and fellow musicians to [appreciate it],” he says. “I want them to think it sounds great, or to be as excited as I am, at least… And as far as playing music in public, releasing albums, that sort of thing… what lets me do music every day is there’s gotta be at least a minimal financial reward to keep you going, or at least keep the bills paid, so that means other people need to appreciate it, too.”

The musician’s life seems to have presented itself to Morris. There’s no choice in it, he says.

“It’s not a decision. Or, man, not my decision. [I] just wound up writing songs and playing guitar. I wonder the same thing sometimes, not knowing why I’m so drawn to picking up a guitar. I like to do it. I love to do it. I never feel like I have to go out of my way to write music; it just happens when it happens. It never seems like a chore, or a job, or work or anything.”

WHO: Dead Confederate, New Madrid, Muuy Biien
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Saturday, April 20, 9 p.m.