Southern Gothic is, first and foremost, a literary genre that seemingly no one can define; a series of broad themes, stereotypes, and general ‘vibes’ often interpreted through the lens of the untrue many, regurgitated back into a self-affirming echo chamber of aesthetic cheesiness. In many ways, what people view to be southern gothic music is more of the steampunk approach to being poor wHite (with a capital “H”) country folk with an alcohol problem. So take it from a southerner who’s seen their fair share of weird occurrences; that ain’t southern gothic.
Here to correct course, flesh out your southern gothic music knowledge or at least your spooky Halloween playlist, here’s Resident Sound’s Guide to Southern Gothic Music.
Bill Frisell – Tales from The Far Side
Originally the theme for the hard to find Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side 1994 TV Halloween special, The Bill Frisell Quartet’s lengthy opening statement takes cartoon oddity to a macabre and haunting place. The song’s eerie and haunting motif is slowly twisted and transformed into a grotesque and wild semblance of its origin, giving Tales from The Far Side more bite than its ‘Denver sound’ contemporaries.
Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room
From Porter Wagoner’s vaguely uneasy What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972), The Rubber Room is the oft overlooked and much needed addition to any southern gothic or spooky country playlist. On the non-cinematic side of additions to this list, Rubber Room sings the malady of the minds and the confinement and isolation imposed on the mentally ill, all located in “a building tall, with a stone wall around.” The whole song could’ve started with ‘on a dark and stormy night’ for all I’m concerned…
Rowland S. Howard – Dead Radio
What’s more southern than the southern hemisphere? Okay, that’s a copout, but Australia has given us The Birthday Party, and with it the solo careers of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and my personal favorite Rowland S Howard. Rowland is the Lee Hazlewood of goth music, and in turn Hazlewood’s southern gothic counterpart. While his earlier work alongside Nick Cave in The Birthday Party may have embraced southern gothicism to a T, Rowland S Howard’s solo record Teenage Snuff Film (1999) is a must for anyone looking to dive right in.
Hank Thompson – I Cast A Lonesome Shadow
Let’s get it straight: the best version of this song is on Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas (1963) bar none. The spacious feel of its environment only sneaks into mind all the negative tropes of carnies and fair. Besides that, Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas offers a more uptempo version to the song’s slower single release from the year prior.
Foetus – Spit on The Griddle (The Drowning of G. Walhof)
The lush orchestral arrangement from composer J.G. Thirlwell more or less speaks for itself. Thirlwell’s high anxiety sound lends itself perfectly to the dark edges of perception. Perfect for night drives in the backwoods or stumbling upon a mutilated dead body. Looking for more? Try the Foetus track Rattlesnake Insurance.
Reverend Horton Heat – It’s A Dark Day
Perhaps the only person using ‘reverend’ in their band name that I don’t hold disdain for, Jim ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ Heath and crew usually deliver at least one fairly dark gem per record. 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em may have the beloved hit Psychobilly Freakout, but It’s A Dark Day, a perfectly somber song drudging through the depths of depression and heartbreak, is our takeaway.
These Immortal Souls – These Immortal Souls
These Immortal Souls was the brief side-project of Rowland S. Howard. A split from his work in Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls may be the most interesting and overlooked branch in The Birthday Party lineage (to echo sentiment from Charles Spano). Rowland S Howard’s work may be the most consistently southern gothic while never falling to the try-hard cheese of dedicated ‘southern gothic’ music acts.
Mario Batkovic – Quatere
It would be remiss to go straight to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack in a guide hoping to change your perception on southern gothic music, but Red Dead Redemption go-to-ers get some things right. We went with score contributor Mario Batkovic’s cinematic solo accordion work and, I guess, ‘hit’ Quatere.
Patsy Cline – Crazy
C’mon. Do I need to explain this? If you still don’t hear it, go back to Tumblr fanfic or harassing children on the internet or whatever it is you do with your life. …Still here? Great. Try throwing a little extra reverb or delay on this song if you really want to trip out. I highly recommend it.
Eddie Noack – Psycho
Of course this song is on our list. What’s wrong with you? While plenty of murder country music should be left to the grave, Eddie Noack’s single Psycho is a bonafide classic in our ears. Sometimes put in comparison to the later serial killer Ed Kemper, Psycho is a twisted tale of black outs, murder and mommy issues. What more could you ask for?