By Casey Phillips
With a name like Dead Confederate, a band might be expected to embrace Southern rock's history, not carry around the weighty expectations of those looking to them as one of the genre's brightest future stars.
Despite their name's appeal to the South's past, the Atlanta-based Confederates are a stark departure from Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers, boldly blending moody, emotionally charged lyrics and a twinge of garage grunge with an explosive guitar presence.
For all the praise the band has received for its contributions to the new direction of Southern rock, however, lead singer Hardy Morris said the laurels were unexpected and won't be rested upon.
"We just want to be ourselves but do something different, not let ourselves get pigeonholed or stay in one place," he said. "(We need to) keep moving because what's kept us going already is to keep changing things up. The minute we slow down is the minute we're gonna slip up."
Morris, along with Brantley Senn (bass, vocals), Walker Howle (lead guitar), Jason Scarboro (drums) and John Watkins (keys, vocals), got his start in Augusta, Ga., on the club scene while in college. During their days there, the quintet played under the name of The Redbelly Band with a looser, jam-band brand of rock. They later graduated to more-structured music in 2005 with a move to Atlanta, where they adopted the Dead Confederate name.
Now, with work well under way on their first full-length, untitled album following the 2006 release of a self-titled EP -- both bearing a tighter, darker sound that hit Atlanta's airwaves like a runaway fire truck through a fruit stand -- their eyes are firmly fixed on the future.
"Redbelly was just a college band," Morris said, citing the band's experimental approach to playing as a way of defining themselves as musicians. "Now, we're totally tapped into what we're good at, and we've come into our own."
Dead Confederate's brand of rock wouldn't have had as rapid or far-reaching an introduction to the public had the band not taken on 100-plus contenders during last year's Open Mic Madness, a battle of the bands in Atlanta. As a result of their win there (their first public performance since adopting the new name and sound), two days of free recording time at Atlanta's Nickel and Dime Studios yielded the four-track demo that has since found play time on stations as far away as Birmingham, Ala.
Currently, Dead Confederate is putting the finishing touches on a contract long in the making with an as-yet-unannounced label in Atlanta. As with the EP, the new album will feature the band's new, darkly mature sound and songs by Morris and Brantley bearing lyrics drawn from intense emotion and personal experiences.
The South has given birth to a wide range of musicians, from James Brown to R.E.M., and Dead Confederate's sound simply adds to that variety. In the process, it challenges some people's rigid definitions of what Southern rock can be, Morris said.
"We're kind of in a place right now where we're like, 'Should we just try and lose the label of Southern rock because it does have such a shallow connotation?' or, should it be, 'No, this is the new version of Southern rock?' " he said. "Really, I don't know -- rock 'n' roll is rock 'n' roll, and we'll just stick with that."
E-mail Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org