Paintbrush-wielding zen master Bob Ross may or may not have said “If if it ain’t fun, you’re doing the wrong thing.” Even if he didn’t, that’s a statement that rings louder than Big Ben in his cheery old London bell tower at high noon, and one that has become the guiding philosophy for Saskatchewan string band The Dead South.
It’s been a busy year for the modern Canadian hillbillies, who have made tour stops at festivals like SXSW, traveled all over their native homeland and Europe, and released their latest album, Illusion & Doubt, in November via Curve Records. “We recorded it in a studio in Regina, Saskatchewan; It took us about a month, and it was a blast,” recalls frontman Nate Hilt. Illusion & Doubt is a twelve-song collection of rustically jangly and lyrically quirky stories of traveling, smooching, and massacres, you know, the regular stuff. “We’re not your typical bluegrass band—at all. We just did what we could do; we love Spaghetti Westerns and Quentin Tarantino films, and those kinds of things inspire our lyrics. We’re not ‘clean’ bluegrass, that’s for sure. We’re like ‘dirtygrass’,” laughs Hilt. There’s a lot of death happening in our songs.”
Massacre-themed songs aside, The Dead South makes having fun a priority, and that’s a fact that’s evident in listening to their music and watching them perform. Not to be ignored, however, is the band’s stellar musicianship, born and partly honed in the punk scene. “Country music is huge for us, of course, but punk and hardcore are super prevalent here, and we were all into it when we were younger,” Hilt says. “Some of our lyrics reflect that. About five or six years ago, we started listening to bands like Trampled By Turtles and Old Crow Medicine Show, and it rekindled a love for string band music.,” he adds. “We randomly met our banjo player, Colton, and he said, ‘I just bought a banjo, and I’ve always wanted to be in a band!’ So, we started jamming together, and getting more into that sound.”
The Dead South has a few shows scheduled in their home province before the year ends to celebrate the album’s release, and will be headed to Germany to tour in the new year. “We love playing for Eurpoeans,” declares Hilt. “Sometimes you think they might not even like what you’re playing, but at the end, they’re so appreciative. They’ll come talk to you, and buy all of your merchandise,” he laughs. “It’s a great time.”