At Work: T. Hardy Morris
Peaceful Uneasy Feeling
T. Hardy Morris had a set of songs demoed and ready to go for a new album when the novel coronavirus brought him to a sudden halt. And that’s when the Athens, Ga.-based singer/ guitarist decided to scrap everything and start over.
“The songs came quickly— I stumbled on a different guitar tuning that created this uneasy sound. And it reflected this uneasiness that we all felt,” the former Dead Confederate frontman says of the fresh set of tunes, which were released in June as The Digital Age of Rome. “One song crossed over, but I changed the lyrics and brought it into the bed with the new stuff I was writing.”
Morris’ new ideas harnessed the strange and impactful feelings he experienced while quarantining during the global pandemic—as well as the growing political divide he witnessed all around him. As the album’s title suggests, the singer/ guitarist also started to see some unfortunate parallels between his country’s current climate and another once great society that met an unceremonious demise.
“A lot of the motifs and themes are really just from 2020 and the last four years,” he says, while calling from his family’s beach vacation. “A big strain of the album is that rub between analog and digital— questioning technology, which doesn’t necessarily equate progress. Information doesn’t necessarily equate truth. We should be careful about how we use technology. Things are getting better as far as the vaccine, but the political divide that comes along with the advent of the internet is worse than ever. And as long as the digital realm maintains the power it has over all of us, half of our days are gonna be spent in this other world that’s not the real world.”
With COVID-19 safety precautions in place, Morris eventually entered an Athens studio, recruiting producer Adam Landry, who is known for his work with Deer Tick and Rayland Baxter, and engineer Nate Nelson. Though Morris didn’t bring in his usual backing band this time, Drive-By Truckers drummer Brad Morgan came over for a few days and singer-songwriter Faye Webster lent her services.
“It wasn’t your regular studio experience, it was pretty isolated—you couldn’t have your friends come by to listen or to have a beer or pizza,” he says. “It’s the first album I’ve done where I didn’t drink anything.”
Morris was also able to use his unexpected time at home to think about Diamond Rugs, his supergroup with Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Robbie Crowell, The Black Lips’ Ian Saint Pé, Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, and Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite.
“We’re emailing all the time about whether we are going to do something,” Morris says of a potential third album. “Ian and I have been sending some songs back and forth, and Steve keeps everything archived for us. We just try to stay inspired about the possibilities of the project.”
With his solo outfit fully vaccinated, Morris is now ready to hit the road and bring his latest batch of songs to the live stage, though he admits that the gearing-up process has been relatively “low key.” And, despite his current songoriented approach, he still sees some direct ties between his new material and his old psych-folk band’s roots in the improvisational music world.
“When I was in high school, we played more jam-oriented music—before we realized that we needed to write some actual songs. And that’s when Dave Schools heard us,” Morris admits, while also being sure to point out that his wife is still a big Grateful Dead fan and that he’s always cranking live Allman Brothers albums “for the kids” when he’s with his family. “It’s funny that it was only after we started getting into songwriting that the jamband guy began passing around our demo. He helped us get a booking agent and all that stuff. He’s a fan of all these different types of music and has helped so many people in the Southeast get off the ground.”