Lee Bains III of the Glory Fires on Being Southern: "We Do Have To Account For Our Sins."
Wes Frazer / SubPop
In October of 2013, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires had the plug pulled on them during their set at the Live Oak Music Hall and Lounge in Fort Worth. On that night, the group's amp-busting brand of southern soul-rock was too much for the venue's operators to handle. With the recent release of the band's excellently blistering SubPop debut, Dereconstructed, it's a safe bet that the Live Oak will not be adding Bains to any show announcements anytime soon.
Speaking with Bains over the phone on the opening night of his group's tour celebrating the new album in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, he jokingly offered up his back-up plan should they get a bit too abrasive on their Texas swing this time around, which includes a visit to Three Links Wednesday night opening for Diarrhea Planet.
"We'll just bring out the Peruvian flutes and keep it mellow," Bains explained though a combination of groaning and laughter.
Honestly, even if Bains and crew do bust out a case of earthy wooden flutes, it's not a stretch to imagine them finding a way to turn those into the most raucous of instruments, as this is a band that sweats powerful guitar rock and breathless performances.
The band's 2012 debut, There's a Bomb in Gilead, recorded after Bains split with his previous band, the well-respected Dexateens, is a somewhat subdued, R&B-flavored collection of tunes. But Dereconstructed is a balls-to-the-wall record where the guitar attack is intended to be every bit as incendiary as the lyrical content is potent. It's a record that matches the band's true identity far more than their initial offering did. But there are plenty of reasons for that, according to Bains.
"With our first record, we had a different lineup, and it was a green one at that," he explains. "We hadn't played many shows together before we recorded and a singular voice hadn't been developed. I was listening to a lot of Muscle Shoals soul at that time, but after playing shows with that record, I didn't feel like it represented what our band was all about."
Seeking to make amends on the new record, Bains sought out Tim Kerr, of Dexateens and Riverboat Gamblers fame, to helm production duties. "He can capture the raw energy and happy accidents that often happen when a loud rock band records," says Bains. "This batch of songs is more abrasive and there's a lot of frustration and anger in these songs. So I wanted to be able to convey all sorts of intense emotions."
Without question, Dereconstructed is filled with pointed commentary and unflinching views into the lives and conflicts that go along with being a prideful but sometimes skeptical Southerner. Underneath the multi-guitar frenzy of the album's opening track, "Company Man," Bains is quick to aim his lyrical gun into the direction of the proverbial one-percenters.
"It's a meditation on the way in which people in power are motivated to marginalize others who are asking for reasonable things," he explains. "I think that's been common in the south as well as western civilization. I really wanted to confront the abuse of power that's become so prevalent."
Much like another literate, thoughtful but righteously rocking band from the south, Drive by Truckers, Bains accepts what the Truckers famously refer to on their epic 2001 masterpiece Southern Rock Opera as "the duality of the Southern Thing."
"I saw the Truckers live for the first time when I was 16," he says. "That definitely left an impression on me and it got my gears turning on how to look at southern cultural history and the politicization of that culture."
A recent trip to another land with a horrific and still all-too recent legacy has left Bains feeling that facing the past and refusing to ignore the sins of our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers is going to help progress society into a more tolerant, reasonable one.
"My girlfriend and I were in Germany recently, and we hung out with a native German friend attending university," he explains. "His family history included involvement with the Third Reich, and he's decided to focus on a course of study that centers on the Holocaust. I was so impressed by the commitment he has to confront such a harsh reality of his country's and family's past."
In turn, Bains was inspired to confront the actions of his own ancestors, which he saw running parallel to those of his German friend's. "It's not pleasant to think about the evils of society, but it's necessary in order to recover and operate in a healthier way," he insists. "I'm a Southerner, and that's just a fact. It doesn't matter if I'm proud or ashamed of that. I choose to examine all that is Southern, the sad aspects of our history and the part that's sweet and hospitable. But we do have to account for our sins."
On a lighter but still relevant note, Bains proudly owns what he considers to be one of the South's great, most inclusive contributions to society: rock and roll.
"I don't think rock and roll is a genre. It's a tradition that's based upon incorporating elements of gospel, country and rhythm and blues," says Bains. "Over time, it has evolved and blended more sounds into it." Those connections run deeps, whether it's Deep Ellum or Muscle Shoals. "It was either Dickey Betts or Gregg Allman that said, 'The term southern rock is redundant, because rock music is from the south. Calling something southern rock is like saying rock-rock.' So, I'm honored to be a part of the rock and roll tradition."