It all started with Geoff and Jeff.
Two years ago, Atlantians Geoff Reid and Jeff Gardner, singer/songwriters and guitar players both, threw in together after separate, unsatisfactory stints in big-hat country bands.
"It was a great experience, and it was also an eye-opening experience," says Reid, "to the ugly commercial side of mainstream country.
"Just being on the inside of it, and seeing what the record labels were expecting the songwriting to sound like. It eventually drove a wedge into the creative process for me. After doing it for about five years, and not really being able to get to that next level. To me, the next level required a little bit of soul-selling."
For Gardner, coming off his second commercial-country disaster, finding a kindred spirit in Reid was a game-changer. "It's interesting that once those bands came to their demise," he explains, "we both had this realization at the same time: Let's form our own thing and not try to conform to what's selling, or what's supposed to be the mainstream. Let's do our own thing, and hopefully make our big impact that way."
Their own thing started as an acoustic duo, morphing over time into a five-piece band called the Deadfields. Playing two Savannah shows this week (at Congress Street Social Club and the Flying Fish), the Deadfields will remind you of the Train Wrecks, American Aquarium, and — on the fully professional side — the old '97s, the Avett Brothers and Drive-By Truckers.
Yes, it's alt-rock Americana, hard–driving and rural-tinged, with a big twang and a big beat.
What gives the Deadfields an edge is their tight vocal harmonies —although Reid is, technically, the lead singer, this band brings the harmony home, like vintage Eagles, Poco or Pure Prairie League.
The other musicians are Chase Alger (bass, vocals), Corey Chapman (pedal steel, dobro, banjo) and Brandon Russell Jay (drums, vocals, keys).
Gardner, who also picks a mean mandolin, is proud of the vocal comparisons to the Eagles, a longtime favorite band. He even played in an Eagles tribute group for a while.
"I've always been a fan of vocal harmonies; I did chorus in high school and stuff like that," he says. "Geoff and I found out that we sing together flawlessly, like right off the bat. But it was also nice to find other members in the group who had the ability to sing harmony, and sing it well."
Reid's influences include an adolescence filled with hard rock, followed by a gradual infatuation with the twangy melodicism of bands like Whiskeytown and Wilco.
"Part of me wishes that I could sound just like that," he stresses. "I don't, because I'm not trying to copy. But I know that some of that influence is coming out, and I wish I could make people feel the same way that I felt when I listened to those kind of records."
With a fine debut album, 2012's Dance in the Sun, the Deadfields have been touring the East Coast for an admittedly smaller demographic than they'd encountered during their country days.
"But," Reid smiles, "it's been a beautiful and supportive, music-loving demographic."
Since those early days, it's been an organic, one-step-at-a-time process.
"The goal of it was just to be true to ourselves, to write from the heart, and no more of this trying to please everybody all the time," Reid says. "Let's please ourselves, and hopefully the people that like the kind of music that we like are going to like our music."