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The Dead South have been described as outlaws, modern hillbillies and Mumford and Sons’ evil twins, but the best way to describe the Regina-based band is fearless. They’re a rare musical commodity – a band that’s equally compelling on record as they are on stage.
While The Dead South’s signature blend of bluegrass and classic folk is familiar, it’s also eminently fresh; fuelled by the kind of energy and ethic you’d associate with a punk band. “A lot of our inspiration comes from an old school feel, but our sound is an amalgamation of the we all like, and the punk influence is definitely there,” says vocalist/guitarist Nate Hilts.
Since the release of their second record, “Illusion & Doubt”, in late 2016, The Dead South have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the 49th parallel.
“Illusion & Doubt” recently hit Top 5 on the US Billboard Bluegrass chart and entered the top 30 on the US Country iTunes Chart. That’s fuelled interest in the band’s debut, “Good Company”, as well, which, though released in 2015, recently hit the Top 50 On Billboard and the Top 20 on US iTunes overall chart
The boost to both albums, Hilts believes, is partially due to the band’s video for ‘In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company,’ which was released in early 2016. “We were late to the game getting videos out for “Good Company” in general and after we did the ‘In Hell’ video in 2016 we concentrated on releasing “Illusion & Doubt” and put the video on the back burner. But, a few months after we released it, there was just this huge… BOOM.”
Boom is a good way to put it. Currently ‘In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company’ has over 37 Million views!
Having two records drive up sales and interest in each other is an enviable position, but when you’re listening to either album it’s not hard to see what the fuss is about. Like “Good Company”, “Illusion & Doubt” relies heavily on songs about lovin’, cheatin’, killin’ and drinkin’ – “But it’s a more mature take on lovin’, cheatin’, killin’ and drinkin,’” Hilts says, laughing.
“Illusion & Doubt” also finds the band expanding on their amalgamation of vintage folk, alt. country and bluegrass, adding fiddle and pedal steel, but not abandoning their stripped down, acoustic sound. Nowhere is that more evident than on lead single, ‘Boots’ – a rollicking old school bluegrass offering that showcases The Dead South’s tight arrangements, gritty lead vocals, raw harmonies and unique blend of mandolins, banjo and cello.
What people tap into on both records, Hilts believes, is The Dead South’s ability to take on dark topics sounding like they’re wallowing in pain. “We tend to make songs sound happy, but if you listen to the lyrics you’re like, “Wait, that’s not happy,” he says, chuckling. “There’s a dark aspect to both records. A lot of the songs are tragic or about really bad habits.”
“All the songs on Illusion and Doubt play into each other,” he continues. “They’re like multiple love letters between a man and a woman” – songs populated by outliers, outlaws and down on their luck drifters who show up shit-faced drunk on a lover’s front porch begging for shelter. That’s the story behind ‘Time For Crawlin’ – a track Hilts says is about, “Drinking your self into trouble, getting kicked in the ass for it, and just begging to come in,” Hilts says.
Since signing their first record deal with Germany’s Devil Duck Records in 2014, “Touring is pretty much all we’ve been doing,” Hilts says. The chops they’ve developed on tour come across loud and clear on “Illusion & Doubt”, displaying a no holds barred ethic that blurs musical genres and transcends time – not only because their singular brand of punk tinged, vintage folk can’t be pinned down to any specific era, but because “Illusion & Doubt” recalls a time when fans listened to records top to bottom, over and again.
Few bands set themselves apart the way The Dead South do, musically and in terms of personality; from their recordings through their rip it up live shows to their distinctive hillbilly cum pioneer look; a dress code, Hilts says, “that’s become a staple of who we are.”