For T. Hardy Morris, COVID-19 had an unexpected upside. Like all of us, he was forced to put everything on hold in early 2020, including his follow-up to 2018’s Dude, The Obscure. Stuck at home in Athens, Ga., he took a sharp turn inward—and out popped his pandemic baby, The Digital Age Of Rome (New West/Normaltown), due out June 25. Birthing it meant abandoning the dozen or so songs he’d already hashed out and embracing a new agenda—one that takes the latest version of progress to task.
“We like to think of technology as always being progress, but that’s not necessarily true,” says Morris. “History has shown us that a million times over. Maybe it’s a moot point—you can’t change it. But at least you can sing about it. I tried to approach it from a mildly philosophical place. I don’t have answer, but I have opinions and questions.”
Premiering here, “DirtRocker” opens The Digital Age Of Rome on an introspective note, with Morris acknowledging his willingness to hurtle himself into the eye of the storm. “Moving faster towards disaster, I’m not afraid to fall,” he sings, as a funnel cloud of guitars and synth swirls around him. “The song is a rumination on riding with your current self and your old self in a car and dropping off your old self on the side of the road somewhere,” says Morris. “Then you go back and look for your old self, and you’re not there anymore. In high school, one of the first trucks I had was called the ‘Dirt Rocker.’ In the song, it’s kind of a nickname for my old self.”
Morris’s old self worked its way from Augusta, Ga., to Atlanta in the 2000s. During that time, his Southern-fried psych-rock outfit, Dead Confederate, enjoyed positive press and a short stay on Gary Gersh’s TAO label before Morris moved on to other things. In 2012, he joined the ranks of Diamond Rugs with members of Deer Tick, Los Lobos and Black Lips. Out of that collective, he developed a working relationship with producer Adam Landry that’s resulted in four distinct solo albums, including the retro-futuristic Rome.
“It’s my version of futuristic,” says Morris, addressing the liberal use of a Prophet synthesizer on “DirtRocker” and other tracks. “Those things are limitless. You can create whatever sound you want.”
As for the album that never was?
“I have the songs archived in my brain—they’re still around,” says Morris. “But the record I made was the one that I needed to make.”