If 2008 broke huge plots of new ground for Georgia-based pysche-rock indie band Dead Confederate, the last year has been a serious adjustment period of transition.
"Some of the modern Southern rock bands like Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket are making changes and transitions and keeping it interesting for themselves," says bassist and co-songwriter Brantley Senn, speaking from his home in Atlanta. "I see us in the same boat. I'll never be content just making the same album five different times."
The band performed material from their latest full-length album Wrecking Ball for several years before documenting the songs in the recording studio. Senn and lead singer/guitarist Hardy Morris conducted the overall direction and shape of each track.
"Originally, me and Hardy would write and arrange the songs and get them all down real well on demos," says Senn. "I wanted to keep it where the band didn't learn the songs until right before we went into the studio — mainly so that we weren't already tired of playing them. When you played 'em for a year straight, it's hard to get those ideas out of your head. There can be a really good energy in the studio like that. It keeps the songs malleable, and it's easier to think outside the box."
If the arrangements, subtle transitions, and fills were well established before the sessions for the last album, the band took a much looser approach to things this time around, aiming for more flexibility and spontaneity. Working during the winter in a New Jersey studio, Senn, Morris, and their bandmates — guitarist Walker Howle, drummer Jason Scarboro, and keyboardist John Watkins — conducted an impressively healthy musical balancing act under the supervision of engineer John Agnello, a veteran studio man known for his recent work with such bands as Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers, and Andrew W.K.
"We're really excited about the new stuff," Senn says. "John was easy to work with and was totally on the same page as me and Hardy. He actually made the songs longer. We went in with songs right at the three-minute mark this time around. That just shows when you start to get older and mature as an artist, your patience for things kind of goes down. When I write, I'm thinking about keeping every inch of the song moving and not repeating too much.
"It's nice to have some new songs after touring behind the stuff on Wrecking Ball for so long," he adds.
The band has worked steadily and assertively over the last two years, embarking on numerous regional road trips and national tours, tackling various studio sessions, and polishing their stage show. Hometown colleagues R.E.M. picked Dead Confederate to open a major concert at 2008's South by Southwest festival in Austin. The band followed that prime gig with nearly non-stop touring and earned notoriety around the Southeast. They enjoyed headlining several showcases of their own at SXSW this spring.
Last spring, Dead Confederate blew the fireproofing off the rafters at the Pour House during a stop on one of the many tours behind Wrecking Ball. The performance balanced melody, noise, and atmospherics. Illuminated from the stage floor with bright white floodlights, Morris resembled a skinny frontman from a classic BritPop weirdo band (or maybe a stage frightened Mick Jagger) as he bellowed through the din. It was one of the more spaced-out, migraine-inducing indie-rock shows of the year.
"I'd like to think that people appreciate the realness of the music and that it harkens back to what made rock 'n' roll good to begin with, like guitar solos and no overly polished electronic stuff," says Senn. "People either really like it or really hate that it's not there. And every song has something violent in it ... or something dealing with mortality. It's not gothic or anything, but not everything's roses."
He's right. Wrecking Ball has its dark and grim lyrical moments, with the unsettling guitar noise to enhance them. There are the dramatic, agony riddled rockers like "Star Me Laughing," the mid-tempo anthems, like the grunge-inflicted songs "The Rat" and "All the Angels" (replete with massive, minor key, four-chord patterns, a la Nirvana's Nevermind), and the excruciatingly slow-creeping mood numbers, like "The News Underneath."
Tentatively titled Sugar, the band's forthcoming collection veers into new stylings, according to Senn. They're looking for an early summer release.
"A lot of people are asking about the kind of direction we're going [with the new material]. 'Is it happier or heavier?' It's kind of both," he says. "There are some songs that are surprisingly chamber like and poppy, relative to the old stuff. There's not a lot of grunge in it. Then there are some songs that are heavier than anything we've ever done — easily the most over-the-top distorted. Little details have been expanded upon. It's much broader."