The Best Rock and Roll Right Now Is Coming from the South

Get to know Bully, Wednesday, and more rising Southern bands making a joyful noise

Photo: Sophie Hur

Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy.

If friends lament to you that “there aren’t any great rock and roll bands anymore,” you need to clue them in. Music naturally goes through cycles, and whether it’s punk bands fronted by people of color or a fresh onslaught of bands from England, rock is never dead.

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The South has had a long history of seminal rock bands of course, from the Allman Brothers to R.E.M. But today a new generation of Southern-bred bands are playing a ferocious brand of knotty indie rock, heavy on the woozy soundscapes, with an occasional lap steel or fiddle thrown in. They may not fill stadiums like Taylor or Beyoncé just yet, but the South is currently home to some of the most exciting rock and roll bands out there right now. Here are five that should be on your radar. Viva la rock!


Nashville, TN

photo: Alysse Gafkjen
Alicia Bognanno of Bully.

For Bully’s fifth album, the just released Lucky for You, founder Alicia Bognanno got rid of her bandmates and turned Bully into a solo project. Smart move because the results are stunning. Lucky for You is one of the best albums of the year so far. A Minnesota native turned Nashville resident, Bognanno has taken the grunginess of past records and added power pop, soaring shoegaze guitars, and crunchy garage rock. She’s an intense singer, with scathingly personal lyrics (a touchstone of the album is the death of her dog), and when she screams “I want to feel the way I used to” in the bruising opener “All I Do,” you can feel East Nashville shake.

Soccer Mommy

Nashville, TN

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Soccer Mommy, aka Sophie Allison, and Bognanno are two peas in a pod: Nashville residents who like to make a racket (Allison contributes backing vocals on the new Bully song “Lose You”). But while Bognanno is in your face, Allison prefers dreamier fare on Soccer Mommy’s latest, Sometimes, Forever. An ethereal beauty hovers over songs like “newdemo” and “Darkness Forever,” which is as bleak as it sounds, but then her angular guitar gives way to a steady, thrilling peak that dissolves as quickly as it appears.


Asheville, NC

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“Bull Believer,” an eight-minute song on Wednesday’s latest album, Rat Saw God, is a colossal, distortion-loaded anthem where lead singer Karly Hartzman spits out “finish him” over and over again for the song’s last four minutes. But as much of a monster as that song is, the Asheville band is at its best when incorporating the musical influences of its home region. “Formula One” is a hazy, hushed country ballad, while “Chosen to Deserve” is Tom Petty at his most rocking, with a lap steel guitar twinkling in the background. Pure bliss.

Illiterate Light

Harrisonburg, VA

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Illiterate Light is a duo consisting of Virginia residents Jeff Gorman (lead vocals, guitar, synth pedals he plays with his feet) and Jake Cochran (vocal harmonies, stand-up drum kit), who got their start when the pair ran an organic farm in the Shenandoah Valley. They specialize in big, epic songs akin to the War on Drugs and fellow Southerners My Morning Jacket. Their latest effort, Sunburned, finds them mixing moody synth-driven numbers such as “Heaven Bends” and “Automatic” and slow burners like “Light Me Up,” with a chorus that matches the unbridled energy of the band’s cathartic live shows.

Knocked Loose

Louisville, KY

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A recent post on a Bonnaroo message board announced that “all festival disputes will be settled in the Knocked Loose pit.” The metalcore band from Louisville isn’t for everybody (though Billie Eilish and Hayley Williams from Nashville’s Paramore are fans). But if you have a taste for thick, driving grooves and controlled chaos, check out the band’s electrifying performance from this year’s Bonnaroo, where fans of all stripes lost their collective minds.