Alt-bluegrass act The Dead South play The Pyramids, Southsea, on their biggest UK tour yet

The Dead South are at The Pyramids in Southsea on February 13, 2019. Picture by Brandon White
The Dead South are at The Pyramids in Southsea on February 13, 2019. Picture by Brandon White
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Last time The Dead South came this way in spring 2018 they were initially booked in to play at The Square Tower, which holds a mere 100 people.

When that swiftly sold out, they were moved into the 500-capacity Wedgewood Rooms, which also promptly sold out.

Now, less than a year later, they’re coming back and about to play to 1,200 fans in a packed out Pyramids Centre in Southsea.

And it’s been a similar pattern for the alt-bluegrass act from Saskatchewan, Canada, elsewhere in the UK.

Singer and guitarist Nate Hilts still seems rather taken aback by it all. ‘It is very pleasing, we’re all very excited about where things are heading and how they’re coming about.

‘Nobody knew who the hell we were and now our venues keep getting bumped bigger and bigger, and we can’t find rooms big enough right now! It’s pretty cool.

‘To be honest, it seems like the scene for our music now is expanding everywhere, like in the UK, or Germany, Canada and the US. We’ve had requests for Australia as well – we've not been there yet. It’s kind of touching a lot of places right now.’

When The Guide caught up with Nate the four-piece were at The NuttHouse Studio in the music mecca of Muscle Shoals in Alabama, putting the finishing touches to album number four.

‘It was actually a suggestion from our manager to come here. We talked to a couple of people, and heard about this cool studio so we hopped in right away.

‘We came down in September and did a few days here to see how we liked it, cut a few demos, and we loved it, we couldn’t wait to come back.

‘It’s awesome here, I don’t know what it is about being around here – we just feel it, you know?’

With 13 new songs in the can, but no release date as yet, the band are looking forward to airing some of them on the forthcoming tour.

‘We’ve been working hard and stuff has just been flowing out of us. We’ll definitely be playing a couple of them here and there on the tour, probably switching them up from night to night so it’s different for us and we can still work on them.’

The band’s style sees them mixing the roots aspect with an energy more typical of punk. But Nate attributes their sound to a lack of technical ability when they first began.

‘We wanted to play bluegrass-style music and I don’t know, we weren’t really good enough, so we formed our own kind of music naturally. The more we kept playing, the better we started to get at what we were doing.’

Their last album Illusion and Doubt won Best Traditional Roots Album 2018 at the Juno Awards, Canada’s version of The Grammys. While the band were thrilled with the honour, it rubbed a few traditionalists up the wrong way who said they weren’t exactly ‘trad’.

‘I’m sure there’s other categories we could have fitted in,’ chuckles Nate. ‘When you get the traditional part in there, that’s when it gets a little bit interesting. There’s definitely bits of our music that are taken from the traditional, but we’re more contemporary. I don’t even know where to put it if I’m honest.

‘People do put out their noses about us a lot – but we just don’t pay it any attention.’

The song that has put the band on the map more than any other though, is the distinctive In Hell I'll Be In Good Company. Since its video was put online in late 2016 it has racked up more than 100m views and is still picking up about 1m a week.

‘From the moment it was written it was special,’ recalls Nate. ‘It was definitely different to anything we had written at the time. It was one of those songs where the three of us were sitting around – Scott [Pringle, guitarist] couldn’t make it, and the idea came to have just cello and banjo and Danny [Kenyon, cello and vocals] started whistling. We thought: “Oh, this is cool...” So we worked with that, and it became a fun song to play.

‘When we did the video, we didn’t think any differently to usual. Our friend had a cool idea for it and we were excited for it, and we thought it might get a bit of traction, but we didn’t expect it to get 103m views! It’s so cool.’

The Dead SOUTH

The Pyramids Centre, Southsea

Wednesday, February 13