T. Hardy Morris calls Hardy and the Hardknocks: Drownin on a Mountaintop his “genre-bender album,” and it’s hard to disagree with him. The second solo album from the Athens, Georgia-based Morris — his main gig is as frontman of the Southern rock group Dead Confederate — is a fusion of what would seem at first two be two disparate styles of music: grunge and country. He calls it “crunge.”
“I write a lot of music and a lot of songs and I had a few that dipped their toe in both of those worlds,” Morris says. “Maybe a little more heavy-handed in the guitar department, but they had the pedal steel. I love classic country and I love rock and roll. I had a few songs that married that stuff, and that’s how Drownin on a Mountaintop came about, just going after that strange marriage of grungy stuff and country.”
“I think it kind of works,” he adds. “Grunge sounds kind of rural to me, kind of desolate and dark, and country can be the same way. I think they work better than it would seem on paper.”
While country has had almost a century to mature, Morris says he feels like grunge, a genre brought to the forefront of the mainstream by bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden in the early 1990s, never got the chance to properly grow.
“Bands like the Meat Puppets have been doing it for a long time — they’ve always had a country lean to what they do — but those bands quickly got sucked up into the machine,” Morris says. “Grunge got exploited before it could get explored. It became a bad word before you knew it. And it still is kind of a ridiculous term, but whatever.”
Morris certainly isn’t treating either genre with any undue reverence. “You can tell if you listen to the record, it’s all in good fun,” he says. “It’s using those genres in a more whimsical way. I hope the album doesn’t come across as taking itself too seriously. Some of the lyrics are serious and there are a few serious songs, but we’re just having fun with the musical side of it and not being too attached to, ‘I am this and I’m not that.’ The whole album is about living outside of the box and being yourself.”
There’s a refreshing looseness to Drownin on a Mountaintop. The title track, for example, careens between a driving rock verse and a slower honky-tonk chorus; as the song woozily begins to speed up for its second verse, Morris throws a little self-deprecation into the mix. “What the hell is going on?” he sings. “How can you call this a song?”
Morris is often quick to differentiate between his “fun” and “serious” songs; he calls the latter his “real” songs. “That’s something I say at the shows,” he says. “We’ll play a few of the more upbeat, fun numbers and then I’ll play ‘Starting Gun,’ which is a little more pointed and serious. It doesn’t have the ridiculous time signatures. It’s definitely more mature-sounding — I guess that’s kind of a crappy word for it — but it’s like, ‘Oh, it sounds like a real song!’ It’s not just kicking out the jams for fun.”
“I guess every good party has some serious conversations,” he adds. “When I’m writing, I’m pretty serious about it. I don’t just write about chicks and cars and stuff. It just doesn’t happen. This is probably the most good-time-sounding record I’ve ever made, but a lot of the songs are not, if you listen to the lyrics, they’re not exactly just stupid, you know? They’re not about just drinking and girls. There’s always something behind it.”
Some of the album’s weightier moments, he says, came from the birth of his first child during the record’s writing process. “It’s like an expelling of youth,” he says. “It’s getting over that hump and being like, ‘Alright, it’s time to be a daddy.’ It’s kind of like kicking out the garage rock one last time — not that it’ll be the last time. But that was just the idea behind it at the time. I was about to have my first kid and I just felt like cranking up the amp and pretending to be 13 again, just to do it.”
Drownin on a Mountaintop was released in June, but Morris says he’s already working on new material. “I write all the time,” he says. “I’ve got another record I’m working on now. We’re working on some Dead Confederate stuff as well. It’s a fast-paced world. There are new records coming out every single day.”
Even so, Morris says that he hopes listeners will spend more time with his latest album. “I’m glad that I’m writing, but at the same time I hope more and more people will keep finding out about Drownin on a Mountaintop because I think that most people who give it a shot find something they like about it,” he says. “It’s a fun record.”
T. Hardy Morris and his band the Hardknocks will perform at Saturn Birmingham on Saturday, Dec. 12. Saint Pe and Duquette Johnston will open. Doors open at 8 p.m.; the show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.