A Q&A with lead vocalist/guitarist Hardy Morris and bassist Brantley Senn.
Can you tell me a little about about how you met? I know you've known each other since you were pretty young.
Brantley Senn: Hardy and I have known each other since we were kids. His dad used to drop us off at the neighborhood pool together (laughs). Hardy and Walker (Howle, Dead Confederate guitarist) played in a band all through high school and Jason (Scarboro), the drummer, played in a band all through high school. At some point in college, I think Hardy and them realized that they needed us, because we're awesome, and invited us to come play.
Hardy Morris: Yeah well we didn't have any drums or bass (laughs).
Senn: So then it turned into this every weekend kind of thing, we didn't really take it too seriously. Hardy and I graduated from Georgia in 2003 and then we moved to Atlanta and started taking it seriously.
Was that early band during the time you went by Redbelly?
Senn: Yeah it was.
Did you feel like your sound and the direction of the band changed when your name changed? Or was it just a detail?
Morris: Yeah for a long time in high school and college we were just playing because we wanted to play so we got together and jammed some. Then with the shift we just started actually writing and it became a lot more song-oriented rather than just getting together and experimenting and playing to play. We started writing and focusing on the song and that's kind of when Dead Confederate became it's own thing.
What made you have an "okay, let's get serious" moment?
Senn: When we didn't want to get jobs. Basically we graduated and really hated our jobs. We were like well, we might not make any money doing this but at least we'll be enjoying our career.
Morris: Yeah, I guess being in a band is not a "job" but it's still work. We had to work at being a band and we had to work hard enough to not have a job.
No more day jobs, huh?
Morris: Yeah we haven't worked in a while now. There's some get-by work from time to time, like around the holidays when you have to be able to buy somebody something or around somebody's birthday. Or if you want to do something extravagant like a vacation or something you might wait some tables briefly. But for the most part we just get to work on music, which is just awesome.
How did you start working with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, ..And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead)?
Senn: That was actually through our A&R guy, Gary (Gersh, who worked with Nirvana and Sonic Youth), who signed us to our label. He was friends with Mike and was familiar with his work so it was his idea. We just kind of jumped in the studio.
Morris: We let him mix our EP (self-titled) first.
Senn: Yeah, he mixed our EP and did a good job with it. And we could afford him (laughs).
Morris: Yeah, a lot of producers are hard to afford.
Senn: He seemed like his recording style was what we liked, like using a lot of old gear and that kind of thing.
Morris: Really raw and live, which was how we wanted to do the first record at least because we had been playing those songs for a long time and we wanted to capture them in an honest way. We didn't want to do anything over the top, we just wanted to record them. That's what Mike does well.
Senn: Like Steve Albini (producer for bands like Nirvana, the Stooges), kind of.
Morris: Yeah, it's just really straightforward.
He took you to the studio in Austin where they recorded sound effects for "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," didn't he?
Morris: Yeah, that was where he was stationed at the time.
Senn: It was ..And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead's practice space. I guess he just had all of his gear there because he did most of their albums. I think that's how they were paying him, like, "You can have your studio here if you work on our albums with us."
Well since you two are the primary songwriters, is there a lot of collaboration? Do you sit down together or is it more of doing your own thing?
Morris: We probably don't collaborate as much as we should. We kind of write on our own and bring it to the band. We're pretty lucky that we all have the same tastes in a lot of ways.
Senn: Even with this new album we're working on, it's like we're both on the same page with what we want to do. We're challenging ourselves to write shorter songs versus songs on the old album ( "Wrecking Ball") which were a lot longer.
Morris: Yeah, it's more of a collaboration in mindset and taste than it is actually sitting down together. We influence one another. It actually is probably more of a collaboration than we think it is.
Senn: We do a lot of demoing and stuff like that. Like, I'll get Hardy to put down stuff and then I'll try and work with the songs after they're recorded. And whenever we take it to the whole band, we each have input on each other's songs. It's not, 'It's my way or the highway' or anything like that. We definitely collaborate more than we think, probably.
Morris: A lot of the songs are about personal things, you know -- stuff you would rather write alone than divulge in front of everyone.
Senn: Yeah, at least the core of it. And the lyrics especially.
So are you pretty big on writing from experience rather than just writing to write?
Morris: Yeah, it's usually not a conscious effort to write. In a particular song, it's storytelling about a personal experience.
Well since you're songs are personal, what can you tell me about "The Rat?" The first time I heard it, I could tell someone may have been a little angry at some conservatives.
Senn: (laughs) Yeah I mean that's definitely where it came from. With a lot of the lyrics in "The Rat," I know that it's almost dumbed-down, and I think that's because I was genuinely angry when I wrote it. When you get angry sometimes I guess you tend to say some pretty dumb insults, and that's part of why the lyrics are charming to me. The song is basically just directed at the conservative right and people's attitudes towards religion that if you believe in God or if you're a Christian then that somehow makes you better than anybody else. It's about how that has nothing to do with being spiritual and everything to do with wanting power.
Did you come up with the concept for the video?
Morris: Elements of it. We had some ideas in mind, but we weren't working with a whole lot of time. We only had about four days so we did what we could. It's hard, I wish we could do more in the video department but it takes so much time
Senn: We met these two kids out in Akron about a year after we shot that video and they let us stay at their house and they had all of these write-ups and concepts for videos. It was incredible how well they read the lyrics, they just got it. We'll be working with them in the future.
That must feel good to have fans so in tune with your work. Do you keep in contact with fans through social networking or anything like that?
Senn: I do. I'm doing the "Twittering."
That's pretty addictive, huh?
Senn: Yeah it totally is. I've been trying to do it as much as possible. We have a blog and we try to update it as much as possible with everything that happens from the road. You check the MySpace, Hardy.
Morris: Yeah I check the MySpace stuff more because I'm old school, man. That's pretty sad when stuff that was popular like a year ago is now "old school" (laughs). But there's still tons of people on MySpace, it's crazy. We have pages of friend requests.
Senn: There's twice as many on Facebook but we don't even touch the Facebook page.
Morris: But they don't really have the avenue for music like MySpace does. If you want to check out a band, you still check out their MySpace, right?
Yeah you can go to MySpace pages without an account, so it's definitely easier.
Senn: Yeah. They do spread the word about shows through Facebook really well, though. But we don't (laughs). We're just like, "If you know about it, come on out, whatever."
Well you've gotten a lot of attention and good press for Wrecking Ball, including some mentions in pretty big publications like Spin and the New York Times. Did you expect that kind of success so quickly with your first full-length record?
Morris: No, not necessarily. We had been playing music for a long time, and you always hope for that and it's nice to receive it. So it wasn't expected, but it wasn't completely unexpected either, if that makes sense.
Senn: Yeah, you hire someone who does publicity and starts sending your stuff to all of these people and, I mean, somebody is bound to pick it up and listen to it and write about it.
Morris: And it's not like we got 10 out of 10 stars on everything, but I would have been pretty surprised if we were just getting trashed by everything out there. But getting all of those write-ups is definitely due to having someone work your record and get publicity for it. But the opportunity for all of those publications to decide whether it's good or bad is still there. So yeah, we did get some good press which is really cool. We're glad people enjoyed it to some extent.
Do you feel like there was a turning point, something that sparked the success? Or has it just been gradual?
Senn: Once the album dropped it was pretty much gung-ho from there, once we started doing publicity and having people send stuff out.
Morris: The most difference I've seen was at South by Southwest this year. Every time we played a lot of people showed up, which was never the case in the past at South By or CMJ.
Senn: Yeah whenever we played a bunch of people showed up, and we played about eight shows. That was a turning point, I think, for being able to tell that people were paying attention. As far as the industry side of things, that just comes naturally with the way things work. Someone puts out an album, here come a bunch of reviews.
You mentioned a new album earlier, what are you working on now?
Senn: Yeah we're writing for it, doing a bunch of home demos.
Morris: We also just recorded some live stuff for a possible live release.
Senn: An EP or a 7-inch or something like that.
Morris: Yeah, not a full record.
Senn: We haven't listened to it ourselves yet though, so we're hoping it was good.
Morris: Gotta make sure we weren't too drunk.