Eleven years into a career that has seen a few name changes, a significant sonic shift and countless road-weary miles, Augusta-bred Dead Confederate might be on the verge of overnight success.
Over the past few months, the band has worked with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead), been named band of the day by Spin magazine and had the song of the day (The Rat ) on National Public Radio. There have also been high-profile gigs, at the CMJ conference in New York City, at the Christmas concert for influential Seattle radio station KEXP and as an opener for guitar-rock band Dinosaur Jr. in Washington D.C.
"Yeah, that was the first time I've really been nervous on stage," bass player/vocalist Brantley Senn said.
The band, which Augusta audiences might remember as Redbelly (and later the Redbelly Band), has found a new sound, new success and a new lease on life.
Hardy Morris sings and plays guitar with the band. He said the genesis of Dead Confederate was The Rat , written by Mr. Senn. Dark, a little dangerous and intentionally tight, it was different from the loose jams that defined Redbelly. For the band, it was also more appealing.
"It does feel good," Mr. Morris said. "It feels right. It feels good to play songs that you really like and that you feel like are strong."
This month, the band will return to the studio with Mr. McCarthy to record a full-length album for the TAO label. Still, drummer Jason Scarboro is quick to point out that as welcome, and surprising, as plaudits and applause are, success has remained fairly abstract.
"We were still painting a warehouse three days ago," he said.
Lyrically dense and barbed-wire taut, the Dead Confederate sound pulls from the disparate musical interests of its members. Mr. Senn said heavy metal and indie rock, classic country and hip-hop have all played a part in developing the bruising Dead sound. What you won't hear much of, he said, is Southern rock. Rather than being a Southern rock band, Dead Confederate prefer the position of rock band that just happens to call the South home.
"You are what you eat, and we just didn't eat that much Southern rock," Mr. Senn said with a laugh.
The Dead Confederate sound is often lyrically driven.
"It's pretty deliberate," Mr. Senn said. "When these songs go longer, it's usually because whoever wrote the song has stood up for their lyrics. But nobody wants these songs to go too long".
That's something of a sea change from the Redbelly days, when songs could meander and weave and the extended jam was the norm.
"We had our share of playing 20-and 30-minute songs and really, it sucked," Mr. Scarboro said. "It's something that gets really old."
Mr. Morris said Redbelly was driven by the belief that if they played enough, success would come. Though Dead Confederate puts just as much, if not more, time on the road, there's also a relatively new understanding of what success might mean.
"Originally, we did think of success as just getting a following and everything being really grassroots," Mr. Morris said. "But then we took a break and we put the new thing together and these other things started to happen. It's funny, though, because there has never been a sense of, 'Yes, we finally got it', and I think it is because that isn't something we were ever going for."
Onstage, the band is all intensity, squeezing songs out of guitars strangled with a white-knuckle grip and exorcising demons with a rock 'n' roll shout. Walker Howle plays lead guitar with the band and said that delving into darkness on stage doesn't mean that team Confederate is all glowering gloom off. In fact, he said, people are often surprised to learn just the opposite is true, that the scorched earth sonic assault is actually being laid down by normal guys with suburban roots.
"People are a little blown away when they meet us," he said. "They'll tell us that we scare them a little when we are on stage. But really, we're pretty normal, just regular guys."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.