published Friday, September 21st, 2012

Band mixes Southern rock with Muscle Shoals soul


• What: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Nim Nims, The Tammy and Monocots.

• When: 10 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: JJ's Bohemia, 231 E. M.L. King Blvd.

• Admission: $7.

• Phone: 266-1400.

• Venue website:

When Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Southern rockers The Dexateens began a steady decline from touring a couple of years ago, the band's newest member, Lee Bains, was in a desperate flurry.

A longtime fan of the Dexateens, he joined the band in 2008. Playing with them was the fulfillment of a longtime dream, and watching them fraying at the edges was disheartening.

"I didn't know what I was going to do because I had a lot invested in The Dexateens," he said. "I was taking random jobs, and it was distressing to me that I would be left without a band to play with."

Instead of letting his worries consume him, however, Bains turned to writing material and seeking out musicians in Birmingham, Ala., to play them with. In 2010, he formed the core of a group that eventually would become The Glory Fires.

Now a touring quartet, The Glory Fires have become well-known for their combination of a punk attitude, a swampy Southern rock reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival and a Muscle Shoals soul that hearkens back to artists such as The Rev. Al Green and Otis Redding.

Saturday, the band will take the stage at JJ's Bohemia as part of an ongoing fall tour that has gone up and down the East Coast and will conclude with a loop through Texas.

In addition to the artists of his native Alabama, Bains said he was greatly influenced in 2001 by The Drive-By Truckers after seeing them perform their "Southern Rock Opera" concept album.

Although he was impressed by the believable characters in the Truckers' songs, Bains said he is even more drawn to writers who draw from their own experiences. An honest, introspective approach is something he said he strives for in his own writing.

"That's really, really important to me," he said. "I like something a little more substantial that I can really latch on to and think, 'This is a real person singing about a real experience.' "

With the recent release of the band's debut album, "There Is a Bomb in Gilead," Bains said he hopes their energy onstage is only part of what audiences walk away from shows remembering.

"We're pretty loud and rowdy, and I hope people have a good time," he said. "[But] I hope that people do reflect on the songs. Whatever they pull out of it is out of my hands at that point."

Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke to Lee Bains III, the frontman of southern rock/soul band Lee Bains III & The Glory Fire, about the influence of Muscle Shoals, finding a sound all his own and his hopes for their debut album.

CP: When did you first start playing music? What drew you to it?

LB: To be honest, I don't really remember when I started, exactly. I didn't' start playing guitar until I was 12 or 13, but I was singing since I was really little. My grandmother was a choir director, and my granddaddy sang solos in church. I started singing with them when I was in kindergarten. It was mostly church music I was around at that age. We listened to rock'n'roll in the house all the time, and I guess I started clamoring for guitar lessons when I was 12 or 13.

I just loved it all. Since I was really, really little, I just loved rock'n'roll. I loved Elvis and The Stones and The Allman Brothers and Skynyrd. I love Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding - stuff my dad would listen to. I was listening along to those songs and playing air guitar since I was in a car seat, probably. [Laughs.]

CP: Walk me through how The Glory Fires got together. When was it and what were the circumstances? Was it right after you left The Dexateens?

LB: The Dexateens were touring a lot, and some of the guys wanted to start slowing down and talked about not playing much anymore. Most of the guys in The Dexateens are seven or eight years older than me, and most of them have kids and are married now. They just needed to get home and stay at home and provide for their families and be with their families. I wanted to keep playing. I was definitely wanting to stay on the road all the time.

Once all that started getting talked about, I started talking to different guys in Birmingham about starting a band. While that was going on, another weird situation erupted where a guy I know in Birmingham knew a guy in L.A. who was trying to make an Americana record. He called this guy asking if he knew any songwriters. He put my name up, and I went out to L.A. to write demos for a major label.

That was while The Dexateens were waning. I was scared shitless. I didn't know what I was going to do because I had a lot invested in The Dexateens. I was taking random jobs, and it was distressing to me that I would be left without a band to play with.

While that was going on, I started writing a ton of songs. I started playing with Blake, who I've known fro a long time, and Jeremy. I was doing that while the Dexateens were playing some and the L.A. thing was going on. I ended up turning down the L.A. thing because it weirder me out.

The Glory Fires just kept practicing and learning these songs and cut a record with Tim Kerr, who is a really rad music guy in Texas. Then, our guitar player, Trey, moved, so we got this third guitar player, Matt, who is still playing with us. The Glory Fires started practicing in summer or spring 2010.

CP: When you decided to get a group together, what were you hoping to accomplish, musically?

LB: That's a good question. To be honest, I didn't really have a very clear idea. I just had these songs. I had the songs written, and I just kind of figured we'd play them. [Laughs.] I didn't have a strong idea of what our sound was or whatever. We have, I think, really developed that, almost in spite of ourselves. We've just sort of wound up developing a sound.

As far as The Dexateens goes, part of the reason I was so upset about not playing with them anymore is that there was a good bit of distance between me and The Dexateens, creatively, because I wasn't writing any songs. I started to toward the end, but we were playing the songs the two main guys in the band had been writing for years. They were my favorite band when I started playing with them, and there's a certain security playing with your favorite band that I lost when it was just me writing the songs and getting the band together.

It's been awesome. I really love playing with these guys and I'm proud of the work we've done and are doing.

CP: Are you happier with the sound now?

LB: It's just totally different. I guess The Dexateens, I definitely felt like a part of the band - I knew we were in it together - but creatively, I didn't feel like as much a part of it. I was only on the one record with them, and the part I played was pretty minimal. When I think of playing with The Dexateens, it's pretty much playing shows with them. When I look at their discography, I don't see them as my band but as a band I love.

Whereas with this band, I feel very differently about it. I feel extremely invested in this one, in the songs and the music.

CP: Are you pleased now?

LB: I'm extremely pleased. It's constantly changing. Our sound has changed even since we cut the record, which was less than a year ago. We're all chomping at the bit to start on the new one. We're all having a lot of fun playing, and we're all really excited, musically, about what we're doing. We're trying to keep changing and not settle, just keep digging.

CP: Many of the press references to your band seem fixated on your proximity, geographically and stylistically, to Muscle Shoals and the Muscle Shoals sound. Is that comparison a pro or a con, in your book?

LB: Oh man, that's a total pro. I think we all love the stuff that came out of The Muscle Shoals in the '60s. A bunch of my favorite singles were cut there. I think a lot of the stuff that came out of that area just sounds like Alabama to me. [Laughs.] It sounds like where we're from. That's just so powerful, to me. I think we're all definitely drawn to that era of Muscle Shoals.

There are also a ton of bands that we're still great friends with from that area now. Tuscaloosa and Birmingham and Muscle Shoals over the last couple of years have had a great relationship. It's still a really fertile area. It's cool how that continues to work up there.

CP: There's something about the guitar work on “There is a Bomb in Gilead” that makes me think you were influenced in some part by Creedence Clearwater Revival and, at times, Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers. Obviously, there's a lot of soul in the mix, too. Who were you most influenced by growing up?

LB: Oh man, it's really vast. The Drive-By Truckers, I really have enjoyed them over the years. In 2001 or 2002, when “Southern Rock Opera” came out, I was like 16 or something, and I went to see them in Birmingham, and it was one of those eye-opening moment. It was a lot because of the songs. They're a great rowdy live band, but their songs are so specific and direct and honestly assessing where I lived and where I was coming from. The characters in the songs, I could really relate to them so closely. That was a really important moment for me.

As far as Creedence goes, I'm not into them, which is weird, because people do say that. They listened to a lot of the stuff I listened to. They were totally into Tony Joe White or Bo Diddley or Fats Domino or Otis Redding, so I can definitely see where people would say that. I feel like those branches are from the same tree.

As far as songwriters go, I love Paul Westerberg of The Replacements. I love The Ramones and Mark Eitzel, who had a band called American Music Club who was amazing. I love Waylon and Townes Van Zandt.

CP: What did you like that those artists did that you wanted to replicate in your own songs?

LB: I want to write honestly. That's really, really important to me in writing songs. I don't like to write from other people's perspectives. I feel like I really got out of punk rock and going to see bands as a teenager whose songs were intensely personal and owning your own experience and being vulnerable, in some regard. I really look for that in songwriters.

I like people, in keeping with that, who are specific. They're not fake songwriters; they're not just putting general sentiments out there that can be shared by millions of people. I like something a little more substantial that I can really latch on to and think, “This is a real person singing about a real experience.” I guess I have friends I talk to about writing who I'll play my songs for in their early stages, and they appreciate that about it, so that's good for me.

CP: Speaking of the album, some bands see their debut project like a kind of calling card. What were your hopes going into the studio to work on it?

LB: We were in kind of a weird place because we basically recorded the album twice. The first time we recorded it, we'd only been together a month or two and had only played one show. Our aim was to get it to sound really live. We did that, and it sounded cool, but we didn't sound like a band quite yet. I think I probably just rushed it and got us to record too early because we didn't sound too cohesive.

When we went in to record the second time, we had the first one in mind. We knew wee had the loud, raw one, and we were definitely trying to make it sound real and organic and everything, but I think I was listening to a lot of Muscle Shoals stuff and stuff the Stones did at Muscle Shoals and Al Green stuff from the early 70s when we went in to re-record what came out. I think that was part of the mindset.

We knew going into it that a label was going to put it out and get distribution for it. The label paid for us to get back in and record, so we knew we'd at least have a bunch of boxes of them in our basement waiting for us to sell them at shows. [Laughs.]

CP: “There is a Bomb in Gilead” is a biblical reference, and the song is much more subdued and soulful than the rest of the album. What inspired such a stark departure on that track?

LB: It's interesting because that's the only song on the record that came from the first recording. That was the first time we recorded the record with Tim Kerr. That song is from those sessions, so it does sound different from the rest of the record.

I don't know why we kept it. We looked at each song one by one that we'd done with Tim, and we asked, “How can we do it differently and in a way that is, at least, just as cool.” We could do that for every song, but that one. We can replicate that, but that's as good as we can do, so what's the point?

CP: When you're putting material together, what messages or sensations do you want your material to embody? What do you want people to feel walking away from the song feeling?

LB: That's a good question, and I think I just leave that to the songs and hope that people just listen and do experience them in a mindful way. As far as shows go, I hope that people have fun. We're pretty loud and rowdy, and I hope people have a good time. I hope that people do reflect on the songs, and whatever they pull out of it is out of my hands at that point.

CP: What are you playing mostly these days? Your about four months out from the release of “There is a Bomb.” Have you started testing out any new material or are you pulling mostly from the album?

LB: Yeah, at this point, I think we're playing four new songs and are still learning. We've been playing so much that we haven't had much time to practice. I'm demoing songs at home, and we'll listen to them in the van and try them out at sound checks. That makes it slower to introduce new ones, but we're working up to the new record. We might be doing the next one up there in Chattanooga, if things work out, actually. We're not sure yet; we're trying to figure out scheduling and everything.

Email Casey Phillips at Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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