If you follow Internet culture, you’ll have noticed a recent trend toward sneering op-eds on the millennial vogue for all things old, slow and analog. And while mustachioed, suspended hipsters in Brooklyn eschewing their degrees to start pickling companies are easy objects of ridicule, many of those youngsters are creating beautiful things out of their search for authenticity in the relics of the past.
Dead Confederate’s drawling, blue-eyed frontman T. Hardy Morris is just such a young man, though he might balk at the grandiose characterization. On his downtime from Dead Confederate and the indie super-group Diamond Rugs, he found time this year to record Audition Tapes with Adam Landry and Justin Collins at their Playground Studios in Nashville. A solo album of raw singer-songwriter material, recorded straight to tape, it celebrates the South’s musical heritage with keening steel guitar, storytelling songs and an inviting home-recording sound.
Adding to the aura of history surrounding the album is Morris’s series of videos. Shot by Athens photographer and filmmaker Jason Thrasher, they’re set in various locations from the Georgia Trust Places in Peril list, like Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden and the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. Morris is a long-time member of the Trust with a vested interest not only in preserving our musical heritage, but our physical heritage as well.
“I think as much as people are into organic groceries and green things and playing on vintage guitars—why aren’t we into restoring these older houses and stuff?” Morris asks. “You see around our state, so many of these cookie cutter houses and new, new, new and tearing down old stuff before you even know the story behind it. Why not try to preserve some of that and build your house or your studio out of something that’s already there?”
Morris hopes that by pointing to the value in our shared architectural heritage, he may drum up support for the Georgia Trust among young people in his audience.
Personal history plays an equally important role on Audition Tapes. On songs like “Hard Stuff” and “Share the Needle,” Morris explores his feelings about the prevalence of addiction among friends from his hometown of Augusta.
“When we decided to do the video series, it kind of came about to deal with the places in peril. But the album really deals more with people in peril,” he says. “The theme of the hometown/addiction thing—I didn’t even realize the theme until we were recording. We’d gotten through a handful of songs, and we were figuring out the last three or four, and I started listening back and I was like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t realize I wrote about all my old friends that way.”
Morris says moving to Athens changed his perspective on the culture of drinking and doing drugs that’s so common in music scenes.
“Athens was a big eye-opener for me. As uncool as being a complete f*#k-up and doing drugs is [here], down there, for some reason, it was cool. You come here, and it’s not cool to do that kind of stuff. Up here, it’s like, ‘What are you doing? Go practice. And you come to the shows and you don’t show your ass.’ It’s kind of the saving grace of Georgia, to me.”
Morris writes about these themes not in a broad or self-righteous tone, but with a personal vulnerability not seen in his work with Diamond Rugs or Dead Confederate.
“I probably wouldn’t have put out a record like this when I was younger, ‘cause I needed all that [noise] around me,” he says. And while he still loves playing in a wall of guitar fuzz and psychedelia, he sounds equally as comfortable with the warm intimacy of his solo recordings.
Morris has no plans to leave Dead Confederate behind for a solo career. “I always thought I would do a solo record but I had to find the right time. I wasn’t setting out to do my solo debut,” he says. But as a prolific songwriter who plays in many different styles, he’s found in solo recording an outlet for compositions that don’t fit into Dead Confederate’s oeuvre and a showcase for the old way of doing things that will make listeners of all ages take note.