T. Hardy Morris established himself as a key player in the Southeast scene through his time with psychedelic Southern rock band Dead Confederate, but the Georgia native is showing his versatility as a songwriter through his solo endeavor, Hardy and the Hardknocks.
In 2013, Morris released his first solo LP, Audition Tapes, a hearty slice of Americana that goes for twang over his mainstay’s signature trippy swills. Vulnerable, road-weary, and observant, Audition Tapes was a crossover success; followup Drownin on a Mountaintop offers a fuzzier approach, laden in slide guitar and tied together by Morris’s signature earnest, weathered, and distinctly Georgia-accented voice.
We chatted with Morris about growing up in Augusta, playing in supergroup Diamond Rugs with members of The Black Lips, Los Lobos, and Deertick, and mastering the Hardknocks’ sound.
On recording Drownin on a Mountaintop:
The first album I did pretty much by myself; it wasn't a specific band or audition tapes. Just me in the studio bringing in whatever the song needed, and this was more of a band album.
We did some demos of some stuff with the whole band and wound up recording in Athens. It was a full band thing. I came in with skeletal outlines of the songs, but when you put them together as a band, that’s T. Hardy Morris and the Hardknocks. It’s a full band album. It wouldn’t sound the same without those guys. As I started writing this stuff, they were along for the ride and ready to go. It’s a much different sound; they’re awesome players and can do whatever.
On writing for Dead Confederate, Hardy and the Hardknocks, and Diamond Rugs:
I just kind of write whatever and figure out which box it belongs in later. You can tell as it comes together; I don’t think of a certain thing while I’m writing. I just play around it, and it finds its way there.
I’m usually writing by myself, and then I’ll bring it to whichever band. I do some little demos on my phone and kind of keep a long list in my head of songs. When the time arises, I bring it to that band. It’s a little scatterbrained, but somehow, it works.
On coming of age and playing music in Augusta, Georgia:
It’s not the most compelling music scene there, but it’s still good. I still play with the people I’ve known from there—the Dead Confederate guys grew up there, we’ve played together forever.
My music wouldn’t sound the way it sounds without it. It’s a pretty Southern place, you know? A pretty healthy dose of Southern rock lingers and remains in my music. As much as you try to get away from it, it kind of becomes engrained in there somehow, especially the Hardknocks record. It kind of did hearken back to being young and having fun, and that’s kind of what that record was supposed to have.
On the definition of “Southern Rock” and playing it outside of the Southeast:
I feel like everything I’ve done has treaded that line and shared a troubled history. The sounds that I make, it kind of reveals a little bit of that: you want to defy the bad things about it, but you embrace certain parts. It’s identifiable; you can’t escape it, but you take the good and leave the bad shit behind, because there are positive things to it. There’s plenty of bad you want to forget about.
I’ve definitely noticed that, with this album more so than anything I’ve done, it’s definitely kind of, I’ve noticed, more buzz bubbling around Southern talent. It seems to have gotten more of a response from probably a lot of artists and people who are around my age and grew up the way we did. It rides a lot of country and Southern Rock, and the lyrics are the antithesis. I think there are places—I wouldn’t say it’s over their head, it’s not hyper-intelligent—but maybe they don’t get it. But it’s gotten a lot of good response, so it’s fine by me.
On mastering the Hardknocks’ Southern grunge sound:
The guitar, pedal steel, bass, and drums, a four-piece, carry a little more weight. With guitar, I have more pedals going on. It’s a really fun little band; it’s a good time and makes for a good show. It never gets old watching someone play the pedal steel, it’s just such a treat and just feels good. It’s fun to use it in a more punk rock, garagey kind of way; it adds this layer of twangy-ness to the punk rock.
On the origins of supergroup Diamond Rugs:
The first time in 2011, 2012, it was John and Robbie from Deertick. They booked some studio time—we’d talked about doing some stuff together in the past. So they were calling, asking me to come to Nashville to record some stuff, and I met Steve and Bryan, the drummer—and Steve’s the horn player and keyboardist from Los Lobos.
When I got there, Ian from Black Lips came over; I knew them from living in Atlanta and playing some shows with them. And it wasn’t a band name or any idea, really; everybody just came in and we started putting down songs and drinking a lot of beer and having fun. We didn’ tknow if we’d do five songs or fifteen songs or two, we didn’t know what was going to happen, everybody had a lot of good song ideas. They were sounding good, and through it, we had 12-15 songs or whatever.
We said, ‘I guess we better think of a band name!’ Ian had always wanted to have a band called Diamond Rugs because it’s just ‘D’ and ‘I’m on drugs,’ and that’s how Diamond Rugs came about.
On the casual nature of Diamond Rugs:
It was kind of funny; some of the write-ups about that band were, ‘Oh, it’s all over the place and they have no identity, yadda yadda’...that’s the frickin’ point! Since when is everybody supposed to sit around and hark up this grand scheme to create a band? Why do they have to be these big institutions? And whatever, to me, it was exactly how a band should start: throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks with people who don’t hardly know each other but speak the same language, because we all love rock ‘n’ roll. That kind of sucked, the critique on that end. It’s like, y’all really missed it, to be a rock writer.
I’m generalizing. A few people were like ‘How can you not get it, how can you be that far off.’
It was pretty pure and fun; I don’t know what’ll happen in the future.