A few days ago, T. Hardy Morris was hanging around his house in Athens with Alice Cooper's 1971 classic Love it To Death blasting from his speakers.
“It sounds killer,” the Dead Confederate frontman recalls. “All the tones are great. Everybody that’s playing on the record is kicking ass. The drummer’s killing it, everybody’s doing something special, and everything that they’re doing is very audible to me. On a lot of modern records the song may be fine, the melody’s good, but I’m like ‘Nobody’s kicking ass on this recording at all. They’re just playing parts that are kind of passible.’”
He checks himself, and chuckles at what he’s just said. “I don’t know,” he says, “that’s just kinda what it sounds like to me.”
It was this love for the sound of his favorite old-school records that led Morris to a certain Nashville studio, where he cut his very first solo album, Audition Tapes.
It’s an all-analog, straight-to-tape recording. And he didn’t take loads of time perfecting every note, either.
“It just feels like that’s the way you ought to do a record,” Morris says. “Do it live, do it quick, and knock it out. It’s not a big exhausting project.”
Lately, he’s been thinking about the past. “I guess I’m more of a record guy,” he adds. “There’s lots of little things that interest me about records. Something was right about that time. Because the medium of an album only holds a certain amount of music, records became this specific length that made sense. Even though it was conforming to that medium, it feels complete.
“Like Dark Side of the Moon is the length it is because it fit. They had to make it that long because it was on the vinyl. Obviously, Pink Floyd would have made something hours long if they could have.”
Audition Tapes has the same rough-hewn, garage-band quality of Morris’ work with his longtime band. The electric guitars are crunchy and layered; the songs—more personal than we’re used to—sound like first or second takes. There’s reverb-y, Jim James quality to the recording. It’s a warm record.
“In the digital age, we can be completely limitless,” Hardy opines. “But I kinda like the constraints of the old stuff. I don’t think it’s necessarily retro, I just think it sounds right. I think music was in a pretty special place, in the late ‘60s, early-mid ‘70s, I just love that whole era.
“Especially the ‘70s, I love the way those records sound. It just feels like they were doing it right. I just prefer that process more than Pro Tools and all the newer stuff.”
Lyrically, what wound up on Audition Tapes found Morris—a native of Augusta —looking back as well.
“A lot of the songs are coming from early teenage years in the town I grew up in,” he explains. “When your hometown seems like the whole world. Some of it takes places in those earlier years, like before you can drive, and some of it’s a little bit after. But it’s from before you get out of your hometown and your world kind of expands.
“Looking back even years ago, and writing now, it seems like I’ve touched back on that part of my life a lot. That just seems to be the place my wanders to when I start writing, I guess it’s more of a reminiscent thing. Not every song, but some of those stories start popping up. I got lots of stories from my youth!
“I’ve never written a lot of love songs or anything like that.”