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Forging a Connection Between Punk and Southern Rock
Although the South isn’t likely to rise again in any discernible militaristic fashion, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires might just be the band to help Southern rock find its bearings in a respectable manner. Bains, who cut his teeth in the Dexateens, is now trying to take the anti-establishment attitude he sees in both Southern music and punk rock and channel it through his new project. There aren’t going to be any costume changes, and there’s a good chance the audience will have to suffer through at least one fool shouting “Free Bird,” but if that doesn’t put you off, you’re in for a real Southern treat.
You cite punk and Southern rock as influences, both styles that have had their own (and very different) political and personal messages. Do you have a message? Where does it fit in here?
I guess I don’t think that the social messages of late-’70s punk rock and mid-’70s Southern rock were all that different from one another, when viewed in their own contexts. They both aimed at being somewhat humble forms of rock and roll, I think, relatively simple and straightforward. I mean, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas were pretty bare bones, unpretentious rock and roll outfits compared to Yes or T. Rex or Pink Floyd or whatever other rock bands might have been internationally famous at the time. They didn’t have laser lights or drum solos or costume changes.
There was a certain anti-materialistic slant to a lot of the Southern rock bands’ songs, I think, just as there was in punk rock. And I think both forms of music appealed to outsiders, in some way.
For people of my dad’s generation, the Allman Brothers meant something very different than they mean to a lot of people now. For a lot of white Southerners who were born and came of age during segregation, the Allman Brothers represented a new South, where black and white kids could be friends, and be against the Vietnam War, and shake off the burden of bigotry and closed-mindedness. In 1969, you would get your ass kicked for wearing long hair in Mississippi, and it was for the same reason that, in 1977, you would get your ass kicked for dying it green in New York City. Each form was challenging the status quo in its own distinct, particular place and time.
Lyrically, there are some pretty common themes here. How do you make sure that what you write is unique and original?
Well, I guess folks have been writing about the same things forever. Homer and Shakespeare were talking about God and love and mortality and family and place, and Hank Williams and Louis Armstrong were, too. I guess I just try and stay faithful to my own experience and my own place – my own personal way of engaging those really universal ideas and concepts.
How did your time in the Dexateens influence you or help you evolve, musically?
Playing with the Dexateens definitely helped me in the sense that it gave me an opportunity to get intimately acquainted with the work of two great, distinctive songwriters in Elliott McPherson and John Smith. Both of those guys wrote killer songs from very different perspectives, and, getting the chance to play them every night, I felt like an apprentice in a way. I mean, I’d been writing my own songs for years at the point of joining the Dexateens, but I wasn’t nearly as developed as either Elliott or John. My favorite thing about those two guys’ songs is that they sound like they could be written by nobody but them. Outside of that, I definitely learned the logistics of being in a band: how to book shows,
how to get merch together, how to operate on the road, how to work a record contract. It was really invaluable in that regard, too.
You chose to record this album with someone who has done more work with punk bands than classic Southern rock; what led you to that decision? Why did it seem like the right choice?
Well, Lynn [Bridges, engineer] has made some great, idiosyncratic records that pretty well defy genre [classifications]. He’s worked on everything from the ramped-up Dixie-punk of the Quadrajets to some really amazingly eerie and minimal Devendra Banhart records. But, to me, there’s a sense of honesty and intimacy to all of his records. They all sound like real people making real music. Lynn is one of the few engineers I know who can reference Don Williams and Lush and The Oblivians in the same breath, and we all really appreciated that.
The same could be asked about instruments. Do you find yourself picking up certain instruments because of their sound/style/history and sticking with them?
You know, I just think rock and roll is played best with loud guitars, bass and drums. Maybe keys at times. It keeps things in your face. I play the guitar and bass, and mess around with banjo, mandolin and the piano. I just started playing the banjo within the last year or so, and I really just aspire to playing the part in Jerry Reed’s ‘Eastbound and Down.’
What sort of guitar are you using? Do you have a favorite?
I play a Gibson SG. I’ve had it since I was 16, and it’s been my guitar ever since. It’s pretty much covered with all the gunk – sweat, beer, blood and dirt – that you get from playing night after night. It kind of feels like another appendage at this point. I recently fixed up a backup guitar (an Epiphone SG model), in case I break a string on stage.
What did the recording process look like for you?
We went in to cut the record after having played these songs on the road for at least a year, so we knew them pretty well at that point. The challenge we made to ourselves, though, was to re-imagine the songs – to, rather than play them out of muscle memory – rethink the songs and have fun with them. Because he’s so enthusiastic and energetic, Lynn really helped with that. We worked really hard on the record – 16 to 20-hour days – getting the right vibe or the right arrangement or the right sounds.
You talked about how long you spent in the studio, how did this positively affect or impact the record?
Man, I think it was good to have a defined and relatively short period of time to cut the record.
On recording: These days, a lot of bands use their home studios, or friends’ local studios, and wind up spending hundreds of hours making a record. While I think that can result in amazing work, I think it can also result in a recording that’s overwrought and scrubbed clean of what made it special or real. I’m a fairly obsessive and perfectionist person, so keeping a recording session brief is necessary to making a true document, glitches and all.
Best place you’ve ever played a show?
Man, that’s a good question. My favorite shows would probably either be at The Nick in Birmingham, or Egan’s in Tuscaloosa. On a good rowdy night, it’s hard to beat either of those places. As far as places to play, I like the Bottletree in Birmingham a ton. They’ve done a lot of good for the city, and treat bands better than we deserve to be. I also love the Whitewater Tavern in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s probably a good thing I live several hours away, because otherwise I’d be in there every night.
What does your touring schedule look like?
We’ll be playing a lot in the South over the next few months, taking a trip to the Midwest in [the summer], and the East Coast in August/September.
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires
There is a Bomb in Gilead
Standout Track: “Eve
rything You Took”
photos by Brett Falcon and David A. Smith