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Need for Speed

The Dead South channels its punk-rock roots into edgy bluegrass and folk jams for Fall Festival

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The Dead South dresses the part of a traditional bluegrass band, while staying edgy and relevant. - BRANDON WHITE
  • Brandon White
  • The Dead South dresses the part of a traditional bluegrass band, while staying edgy and relevant.

"I'd say that bluegrass is the punk of country music," says Nate Hilts, guitarist and vocalist for Canadian folk-bluegrass band The Dead South. "They came at it with a whole new speed. If you look at the Czech Republic, they look at bluegrass and country music as a form of revolt. I love the style of it in general, the fast picking; it's got a really interesting attack. The kind of tragic storytelling, I'm a sucker for that in a weird way. And just folk in general, acoustic instruments. Just because they are acoustic doesn't mean they can't be played aggressively."

The Dead South specializes in playing an edgy style of folk and bluegrass that incorporates the band members' punk and metal roots. Banjo player Colton Crawford was a self-described metal and punk fan, saying speed was what initially drew him to the banjo. He described seeing Steve Martin playing the banjo on TV and being blown away.

In the world of playlists and Spotify singles, The Dead South still prefer making and listening to entire albums—creating a cohesive collection of songs people listen to over and over again.

"You put years and years into an album and you sharpen the edges until you have the culmination of a couple years of work," Crawford says. "For all of my favorite bands, you can hear the story of what's happened to the band in between the different albums." 

Hilts agrees, saying, "People just choose their favorite songs and put them on playlists now, but it's so beautiful how bands put an album together.

"The approach we try to take, the method we did on all of our albums, we just played live on the floor at the exact same time," Hilts says. "On 'Illusion and Doubt,' we did it live off the floor, finding the energy and then punching in parts after as necessary. It's impossible to replicate the live experience in the studio because when you're playing live, you feed off of every person in that room. Even when you think you have it in the studio, it's coming out tenfold on stage."

The Dead South tours consistently throughout the year and brings an immense amount of energy to the stage.

"I get so jacked up about going on tour, but then at the end I feel jacked up to go home," Hilts says. "You get your little rest and then you're insanely excited to get on the road again." 

"It's kind of nice when you do find that balance because you always have something to look forward to," Crawford says. "You can't wait to get on the road and be with your closest friends for a couple weeks and then you can't wait to go home and have a home-cooked meal and sleep in your own bed."

The Dead South recently recorded some demos at a studio in Alabama. They still have more to work out in preparation for their next album and don't have a timeline in place, but hope to do some more recording in the winter.

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