Exclusive Interview: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires
March 14, 2012
by Chuck Norton
My interview with Lee Bains III of Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires is one of the most interesting, insightful, laugh-out-loud interviews I’ve done. And because it’s a little long, I’m going to try to keep this introduction as short as I can. I don’t want to lose you before you get to the good stuff.
Here’s the skinny on Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires:
They are from one of the most music-rich areas of the country: Alabama. It is an area that might prove to have as many break-through artists in 2012 as anywhere this side of New York. Really. Alabama.
Specifically, the band is from Birmingham. Bains III, who returned to the state after going to school in New York, joined legendary Tuscaloosa band, the Dexateens in 2008. After playing with the band for several years, they called it quits, and Bains III played as a solo artist before deciding to look for a band. Pulling from the region’s talent, he recruited Blake Williamson (Black Willis, Taylor Hollingsworth, Dan Sartain), Justin Colburn (Model Citizen, Arkadelphia) and Matt Wurtele to form the Glory Fires.
The band’s combination of rock, punk, soul and country is typical of the sound that comes out of the Quad Cities, an area in North Alabama rich with musical talent going back to the 1960’s – and home of one of the fasting rising bands in music, the Alabama Shakes.
Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires will be releasing their debut album, There Is a Bomb in Gilead, on May 15, 2012. Prior to the release, they will be joining the Alabama Shakes on tour. You can see the album tracklisting and complete tour dates in this post.
A couple of weeks ago, this gem of an interview with Bains III happened. As I mentioned, it is one of the more interesting and insightful ones I’ve done since starting DeadJournalist.com. For those of you not from the South, he proves a rare insight into common misconceptions cast upon southerners in other areas of the country, among some hilarious stories.
For more information on Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, visit their Web site.
DeadJournalist.com proudly brings you this exclusive interview with Lee Bains of Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires.
So far 2012 seems to be like a helluva year for Alabama artists. Why do you think the national scene is back to embracing acts from Alabama?
LB: Man, there really have been a couple of Alabama bands to erupt onto the national scene recently. I was talking to a friend of mine about it the other day.
We were saying how amazing it was that G-Side and The [Alabama] Shakes – two bands from tiny Athens, Alabama – are both being acknowledged by pretty much unrelated national audiences.
That being said, I don’t much think that Alabama bands are getting attention because they’re from Alabama. I think it’s probably more that, in places like Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Mobile, kids are making music without paying much if any attention to the commercial aspect, and winding up with some pretty cool, innovative shit.
If you want to make a living playing music, or if you want a publishing deal, or if you want to be a press darling, a town like Birmingham is not the place to do it.
A town like Birmingham is, though, a great place to make honest, genuine music with a lot of underdog heart.
What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about acts from Alabama? Do you see a bias when you tour? Additionally, what bias did you see when you went to school in New York on personal level?
LB: I’d say the biggest misconception I’ve encountered is that people in the North often assume that Alabama is completely rural. I mean, I’m not even remotely country. We had a bus stop in front of our house growing up. The distinction between country Southern and city Southern is lost on them a lot of times, I guess.
I have run into a few people up there thinking I’m racist, too, just after hearing my accent. Some people have made digs at me, assuming I’m racist, but that’s just such a ridiculous concept to me, that I pretty much just write those kinds of people off as judgmental assholes.
The ones that really weird me out, though, are the guys who will pull me aside at a bar in Ohio or someplace, and start nodding knowingly at me and saying racist shit, expecting me to pat them on the back and give them the secret Klan handshake or something.
It’s pretty creepy. I usually just get real serious, and say, “Yeah, man. I’ve lived with black people my whole life, and I think they’re just the same as anybody else.”
I can’t have them walking away thinking their racism was reciprocated by the one white person from Alabama they might ever meet.
Although the release of There Is A Bomb In Gilead is a couple of months away, what were the biggest challenges during the recording of the album? What are you most proud of, in regards to the finished product?
LB: This album took booking time in two different studios, switching guitar players, playing a bunch of shows and essentially recording the same record twice.
What I’m most proud of is really striving to do what Tim Kerr told me the first time we went in the studio, and that is to make it sound like us. For better or worse, I don’t much think it sounds like anybody else.
What did you learn from the process that will help you on your next album?
LB: To have fun. If you want to make me uncomfortable, just cut on a camera or recording device. I think I found while making this record that if you focus on the moment – the music you’re making right then – instead of what it will sound like when you play it back, you’ll be a lot happier and have a lot more fun with the process.
As a proud, but non-stereotypical, Auburn grad, I couldn’t help but notice the Auburn reference in Centreville. You obviously drew a lot of influence from the state, but what drives the creative process behind writing and recording your music?
LB: War Eagle! Man, I didn’t intend for there to be an Auburn reference in the song, but it’s cool you heard it! It’s about helping a really good friend of mine, a great fiction writer named Caleb Johnson, move from Tuscaloosa to Selma, where he’d gotten a job with the local paper.
The only truck we could get a hold of that day was his granddaddy’s ancient pickup that probably hadn’t seen a highway in years. Partway to Selma, in Centreville, it overheated.
Anyway, as it pertains to Alabama and the larger South, what drives me creatively is to illustrate and define a South that is big enough for people like me, who have felt like outsiders for some reason or another.
As somebody who grew up wanting to get the hell out of the South, who felt repressed and who hated the political climate, I want to try and show other people who might feel that same way what it is that makes this place so peculiar, and beautiful, and, in a way, sacred. What makes it home.
Which do you enjoy more: writing, recording or performing?
LB: I definitely spend the most time writing, and I’ve done it constantly since I was probably 14. I love writing, but I don’t get a kick out of it the way I do playing shows.
When touring, do you try to maintain consistency from show-to-show or to you like the mood of the band and the vibe of the crowd impact each performance?
LB: Man, that’s a really good question. We are a pretty loose rock’n’roll band. No two sets are going to sound the same, and most of that has to do with how we’re feeling and what the vibe is like. We’ve played shows of every stripe; from trainwrecks to laid-back, lazy ones to shows with a hardcore-level intensity.
I kind of think our best shows have been the ones where we’re all pissed off and tired, and nobody in the bar cares. That’s when we get all Alabama-wild on ‘em.
What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you while on tour?
LB: This isn’t the most bizarre. But it’s one of the weirder stories.
A year or so ago, The Glory Fires were up in Asbury Park, NJ for a power-pop fest that the Paul Collins Beat was putting on. There were maybe twenty bands there, and only two from the South: us and the Future Virgins from Chattanooga.
Anyway, we played close to the end of the second night, and had a real fun set. Afterwards, a guy came up to me, and was saying how much he like the band, and we started talking some. He said he was from pretty nearby – New York, maybe – and we talked some about that. He was a nice guy.
Then, all a sudden, our guitar player Matt came running up, hammered, yelling, “They got him! They got him! Osama’s dead!”
And the entire band was just stunned, and amazed, and Matt started hollering, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and we all joined in.
All I could think about was all the folks over there in Afghanistan who might finally get to come home, thinking about how it hadn’t happened so far away from where we were standing – that, a full 10 years prior, those two towers had fallen.
So, we’re hollering and carrying on, and then I notice the guy next to me – the New Yorker – is looking at us like we’re eating pig brains through a straw.
I look at him and say, “What?” And he just kind of shakes his head in disbelief, and goes, “You guys really are from Alabama, huh?”
Well, that kind of pissed me off a little bit.
So I was like, “Man, it was your neighborhood he blew up.” And he looks incredulous, and goes, “You really think he had something to do with 9/11?”
Well, at that point, I was less pissed and more intrigued. Because, I’ll entertain a good conspiracy theory with the best of them. And, I mean, I do feel kind of weird cheering the death of anybody, an asshole or not.
So, I was like, “You don’t think he was involved at all? I mean, I’m not even saying that the government didn’t know about it. But you don’t think he had anything to do with it?”
And the guy just kind of threw up his hands, and turned away.
Well, I was just kind of perplexed, and we all went back to talking about it. How did they find him? Was he in Afghanistan at all? Do you think it’ll bring the troops home? Do they just have a replacement for him waiting in the wings?
Just then, the dude came running back up, and, shaking his head, said, “Dude! OSAMA! BIN LADEN!”
We all looked at him blankly.
“I thought you guys were talking about the President! You know, Obama!”
How has social media and social networking impacted how you market the band?
LB: Man, I do a pretty horrible job of marketing the band. But if we didn’t have that stuff, I honestly probably wouldn’t promote it at all. I have been trying to do a better job of making flyers for every show.
Have you seen benefits or detriments from the intimacy your fans have to the band because of Twitter, Facebook, etc.?
LB: I really haven’t seen it affect the band too terribly much. Not at this point, anyway.
Is there an artist that you’ve encountered recently that you’ve been recommending to your friends?
LB: Man, our buddies The Bohannons from Chattanooga are pretty amazing. Their next LP is going to be a monster, I think. I’ve also really liked this band Purling Hiss from Philadelphia. I was going to try and go see them in Atlanta [recently], but wouldn’t have been able to get there in time.
What were you listening to in 2002?
LB: Let’s think. I was a junior and senior in high school in 2002, and that was the time I really started to get into the all-ages scene in Birmingham. So, I would’ve been seeing Birmingham bands like Model Citizen, Dan Sartain, Plate Six, and Vesper.
There were two bands around that time that really blew minds: Blue-Eyed Boy Mister Death, and The Glowing Swords.
I would’ve been listening to a lot of Hot Water Music, Avail, Against Me!, and then also stuff like Crooked Fingers, Magnetic Fields and The Microphones.
The only decent radio station in Birmingham was the rap station, so Outkast, Mystikal, Trick Daddy, Lil’ Flip, etc.
There was the stuff that my older brother had gotten me into, like the Old 97’s, Blue Mountain, Whiskeytown.
And throughout my life, I’ve constantly listened to the stuff I grew up on: classic rock, soul, and old country.
Which do you prefer: MP3, CD, Tape or Vinyl?
LB: It’s hard to say, but, man, I’ll tell you, since I put my ’97 Subaru out to pasture, I sure have missed that tape deck. Our van doesn’t have one.
I’ve had the best luck listening to tapes and MP3s, because they’re both pretty near indestructible. I’m not known for my orderliness, and a CD on the floorboards doesn’t last long.
On the other hand, I’ve had tapes that I’ve had since I was 10 years old that’ll still play.
Vinyl definitely sounds coolest, but if I’m at the house, I’m playing music, not really listening to it. The vast majority of my listening is done driving or walking.
Web site(s) you read regularly?
LB: Get Bent is a killer new online music zine. I don’t know how they find all the bands they write about, but I’ll find at least one band a week I really like.
One Drink. One Album. One Movie.
LB: Strong dark coffee. Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett. ‘Cool Hand Luke.’
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