The Dead South on Bluegrass Purists, New Album 'Sugar & Joy' and Being Canada's "Night Off" Band

The Dead South on Bluegrass Purists, New Album 'Sugar & Joy' and Being Canada's "Night Off" Band
Photo: Morgan Coates
The Dead South are arguably Canada's best-known "bluegrass" band. Their video for "In Hell I'll Be in Good Company" has been viewed over 150 million times on YouTube, and the band have toured across North America and Europe. They just released their new album, Sugar & Joy, and will be hitting the road hard to support it.
 
On the surface, the band look like a typical bluegrass ensemble: the members play banjo, cello, guitar and mandolin; they sing in four-part harmony; and their songs tell stories of hard times and broken hearts; and they won the Juno for Traditional Roots Album in 2018 for Illusion & Doubt. But despite what you might have heard, the Dead South aren't bluegrass — at least, not according to purists.
 
"We don't know how to define our sound," lead singer, guitarist and mandolinist Nate Hilts tells Exclaim! "We're definitely very inspired by bluegrass music — that's what kind of started the band. The instrumentation that we brought in was to play a bluegrass style; however, our own personal forms came in, we just started playing music and this is what we came up with. We don't really know what to identify it as, because it touches on a lot of different places."
 
The group have been together since 2012, and although there has been some interchanging of musicians over the years, original members, Nate Hilts, Scott Pringle (mandolin/guitar), Danny Kenyon (cello) and Colton "Crawdaddy" Crawford (banjo), remain in the current lineup. The group recently embarked on their "Served Cold" tour, which Nate expects to last until January 2021, and will see the foursome performing their unique variety of traditional Canadian folk on stages in Germany, the UK, and even the birthplace of bluegrass music, Raleigh, NC.
 
On whether they fit the bluegrass label, Hilts answers, "we're not, for sure. We root from bluegrass and we root from punk, and we root metal and classical and we put it all together."
 
Hilts notes that "open-minded" bluegrass fans have embraced the Dead South's unique take on traditional roots music. The band don't, however, have a target audience in mind. "We consider ourselves a 'night-off band,' meaning you can come — we don't care who you are or what you believe in — we want you to forget all that and hang out with everyone. Just enjoy your time.
 
"The goal is to keep going," he says, when asked about the band's future. "One foot in front of the other. We didn't expect any of this, and we're just happy that it's happening."
 
The Dead South will perform as the Undead South on October 31 in Toronto at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.
 
Sugar & Joy is out now on Six Shooter Records.