Interview by Ellen Eldridge
On a 4-day break before touring with The Meat Puppets, Brantley Senn (bassist and songwriter for Dead Confederate) and I connected via phone call for a 20-minute interview about Dead Confederate’s first full-length album release, Wrecking Ball. We discussed everything from his favorite song on the album (which inspired a painting) to Brantley’s advice on not getting a puppy!
As one of the main songwriters for Dead Confederate, do you feel that when you play each song you need to be in a specific emotional state? In other words, when you perform each song what do you think about?
Hardy [Morris] and I are both minded about that. You kinda can’t help but think about the things you write about when you play them live. Even if I’m not trying to think about it, songs like “Flesh Colored Canvas” can kinda bring up some old emotions and stuff. Most of the time, I try to focus on the music, but a lot of times emotions do come up. It’s not something I do so much consciously. I probably used to more; when the songs were more fresh I would think about it more deeply than now, but after touring so much and doing hundreds of shows a year you get to a point where you focus on making each show the best you can, playing the best…
That’s part of the question, when you’re up on stage playing say, “The Rat”, a song that’s your single and you’ve played a dozen times before, do you have to get yourself in some kind of mental place as opposed to when you’re playing a different track or a happier tune?
Right, I think there is an element of that but I’m not sure if it’s so much forced as it occurs naturally. Sometimes the negative songs come out more strongly if the crowd’s kind of negative. Like if we’re not getting a good response sometimes it makes the song more meaningful and egg you on.
Do you have a favorite song on Wrecking Ball? Either to perform or because the words and music means something special to you personally?
I think “Flesh Colored Canvas” is my favorite. As far as anything I’ve written I feel like that’s the best I’ve brought to the table yet and kinda my pride and joy out of all the songs.
And is that because of the lyrical content or the music or both…?
It’s mostly lyrical content, but the music too. You know, a big epic, long song it’s got a gentle touch to it which is a little bit different from the other stuff, it’s fun to try to pull off live. I think sometimes playing softer stuff can be more challenging.
Personally, I love it when verses are sung with meaning and emotion, and that makes up for the actual words. A combination of sounds and words where the meaning is implied in the delivery more than the translation. Do you feel an atmospheric quality of music overcompensates for otherwise trite lyrics, making them somehow mean more?
Well, those lyrics to me were intentionally trite, tongue-in-cheek. A lyric like “Stupid human shit for brains”, obviously I can write better lyrics than that, but it was meant to be very blunt and very simple. A lot of songs I’ve written lately have been more tongue-in-cheek. We have a song called “Guns”, it’s kind of a b-side, and it’s completely meant to aid the whole aesthetic of Nirvana just in the sense that we keep getting so many references to it. Just ‘cus Hardy looks like him.
We wrote a song that was a Nirvana song, kinda. It apes “Aneurysm”. Yeah that’s the mentality when I write too, I have a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor. “The Rat” itself, I was very emotional when I wrote it, really livid, but it’s also in your most pissed-off moments you’re gunna say something more to the point and simple, like “stupid human shit for brains”. It’s real natural; I wasn’t trying to act slick or be really sophisticated. It was more of a driving straight forward…elaborate insults aren’t the ones that really stick to somebody, the ones that are really painful are the ones that are straight forward.
I think a lot of reviewers can look too deep into stuff when they listen to too much bullshit like Vampire Weekend where they think that everything needs to be about this super educated highly literate concept and sometimes it’s the simplest shit that’s the real art. Same reason “Flesh Colored Canvas” has taken influence from Jackson Pollack and his painting. Maybe his stuff isn’t highly academic or intelligent, but it was really blunt and really just what it was.
Yeah, slapping paint down on the canvas…
That’s why his paintings sell for 20 million while somebody who can draw a pretty painting can’t sell their paintings for shit.
That’s right, a lot a people accuse Nirvana of just being verse-chorus-verse and simple chord progressions and power chords, but it obviously impacted my generation at least. It was important to me.
What about the video for “The Rat”? Watching the video changed my perception of what the song was about even before I knew what it was about; I still see that boy burying his bag. Driving around thinking, “what’s in that bag?” Who worked on the video and what role did you play in the storyline?
Pamela Littky is a photographer out of L.A., she’s a friend of ours, she had this concept and we kinda went with it. There’s certain effects to it, certainly a lot of Athens, the whole thing was shot in Athens. As far as my role, I just reviewed it and made sure it was true to the meaning of it. I’m not sure if it hit it dead on; that was our first experience with the whole video thing. In the future we’ll strive to put more effort into it; it was kind of thrown together, I think. I don’t think it strayed; there were a couple things I had to edit out that I felt were taking away from the meaning.
One of the things I’m more interested in doing with Target Audience Magazine is in having friends/artists from the community take a song and either paint a picture or run with an idea for a video. It may go off in different tangents, but that’s the kind of thing I like hearing about: how artists inspire one another.
Yeah, Hardy’s mom actually just did a painting based on that song “Flesh Colored Canvas” it was kind of neat. She took hand-written lyrics and bass strings and stuff and incorporated that; she’s a really good artist.
Why did Dead Confederate choose not to print the lyrics for Wrecking Ball on the album insert?
I think that was a financial decision by the label (laughs). We did put the lyrics in with the vinyl copy. The gatefold where you have the excerpt in there. I think with the CD they wanted to keep it short and sweet. It’s hard to fit all the lyrics on the CD without doing elaborate packaging and the fact that nobody actually gives a shit about CDs anymore, it was like what’s the point. But we did it on the vinyl. It’s on the gatefold where people used to roll all their weed up; on the inside.
And how many albums do you actually have on vinyl now?
Me? Probably about…close to 400 now. It’s my favorite way to listen to it, at least with new albums. As long as they weren’t mixed for mono like old Beatles and Beach Boys albums. There’s a huge difference when you listen through headphones to a record player. I don’t know so much about CD versus MP3; most people can’t hear the difference as much but if you sit down with headphones and listen to a vinyl record it’s a pretty amazing experience.
Some media has labeled Dead Confederate as “southern rock,” which I don’t personally agree with; I think Dead Confederate is a band from Athens, GA and, musically, sounds straight out of Seattle in the ’90s.
Yeah, I would agree with that.
Do you feel mislabeled or represented by the media?
Yeah, I think everybody that does or anybody that does music for a living; there’s plenty of opportunities to be mislabeled. Certainly I don’t think we’re any different than anybody else; I think that happens with all bands. You get stuck in a small category as people see fit. It most often done by people who haven’t even heard the record. They read a press release and think we’re “southern rock.”
Well, trust me from my perspective, as inundated as I am with all these press releases and jumping from CD to CD doing reviews I’m starting to feel like a whore, you know I can’t get back into that high school mentality where you just got really really into a band
There’s so much music out there these days, you don’t have to have a label to put stuff out anymore. You can find success a million different ways….
So who do you think is your target audience? Who are you trying to reach with your music?
I think everybody. I think that comes from our great appreciation for different types of music. I was really excited about getting the new Jay-Z album today and we’re kinda all over the place. I don’t see us really sticking any kind of method…we want the next album to be completely different. All the songs we’ve written for it are different than Wrecking Ball so we’re just gunna make music we want. We don’t have a particular audience in mind per se. We’ve had shows we played in the south where it’s all fraternity kids or somewhere else everyone has tattoos and piercings. It’s a huge mix of cultures, ethnicities, sex everything. It’s really broad spectrum.
With Wrecking Ball as your first full-length, is this tour the first time you have played any specific cities?
We toured for a good year and a half before Wrecking Ball, about a year before we even recorded. We’ve pretty much been touring since last August. We had pretty much two months off in the last year.
What’s been your favorite city or venue so far this tour?
Paridiso in Amsterdam was phenomenal. I think any musician who’s been there will say the same thing; it’s pretty renown amongst musicians. Amsterdam is like the Mecca of perfection. An old church like the Tabernacle; probably much older and everyone who works there…everything runs really well. They tape every show so you have this document of footage of the show. The sound there is incredible and it’s in Amsterdam so…
Finally, what are you most excited about for the future of Dead Confederate? What is your next goal to accomplish?
I guess that we’re getting ready to put our album out over there and we definitely want to focus on developing a following in Europe. Mainly, we’re focused on trying to finish this next album. Right now we’re trying to line up a producer for it and writing and writing and writing.
When do you expect it to be released?
We’re planning on spring of next year barring any big fumbles or things in our way. We’re trying to aim for that, that’s our goal, at least. It could end up being later depending on who we work with. We may have to wait on recording.
How do you go about trying to find a producer?
Depends. Label people and management. Usually the way it works is just like booking a gig; they send the music over and either the manager or they will listen to it and decide if it’s something they want to do. If yes, they give a call and we start talking about ideas on what it should be and how things should be done in the studio.
So, are they going to play Wrecking Ball or the new songs which are yet to be produced?
Probably both, but mainly the new stuff. We do demos ourselves at home….
Final words of wisdom or gems…stuff you want to get off your chest?
Don’t get a puppy! (laughs). Yes, this whole conversation I’ve been chasing one around the yard trying to get him.