Show up for the openers at a Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires show and you're just as likely to find frontman Bains running around wildly and belting out lyrics as a random audience member. It's an energy and a connection to the crowd that only heightens when Bains takes the stage and rips into his roaring set, bounding out into the audience as far as his guitar will take him and giving thoughtful, cheer-inducing banter between every song.
"I just appreciate people letting go of their concern about how people are going to receive it, or whether they hit every note exactly right or whether they look cool," Bains, who will play The Milestone on July 24, says. "That's what I appreciate about music and art in general. To be honest, I get sick to death of the pretense and the hipster irony and sort of sense of detachment that's so prevalent in independent music these days. I just love to see people believing in what they're doing."
That attitude is perhaps best revealed on "Dirt Track," a gritty, guitar-heavy rock 'n' roll song about working on cars and racing. The song was born from conversations with older people around Bains' hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, who had grown up on cars and weekend races. Around the dinner table on one occasion, Bains asked one such racing enthusiast about the latest in NASCAR.
"He said that he actually didn't follow NASCAR at all, you know," says Bains with a laugh. "Having been a part of the stock car racing community when it was a grassroots, community-oriented sport ... Once it had sort of left that behind and become this big commercial entity as NASCAR, it really kind of lost what was special about it to him. So, he said that he just didn't pay any attention to NASCAR, and that instead he just kept racing and building cars and going to races at the dirt track and the track strip."
Bains says he related to that feeling in his own way, having played in several bands and gone to different types of shows over the years.
"A lot of the shows that had the deepest impact on me were shows where there weren't many people," says Bains. "They were in a small bar or a DIY space and were played by bands who were just a group of friends, sleeping on floors in their van or wherever, whose motives were really unquestionable. They were playing because they were passionate about music and about the things they were singing about, and nothing else."
On the Glory Fires' latest release, Dereconstructed, that passion is evident not just in the delivery, but in the carefully constructed lyrics.
As its name suggests, the album pieces together bits of Southernness, reckoning the region's burgeoning present with its dark past.
But while many of its themes seem universal, Bains is insistent that his songwriting stems from a deliberately personal, first-person perspective, a decision he made for both aesthetic and political reasons.
"I am, after all, just a dude, who has an opinion, a set of opinions, that's an outgrowth influenced by my experience and upbringing and context," Bains says. That upbringing and context may have taken place in the South, but Bains maintains that there's no concise answer to the question of what it is to "be Southern."
"That's a lot of what this album is trying to do. It's trying to disassemble sort of the prevailing, monolithic ideas of what Southernness is, and sort of, in some way, to assemble a very unauthoritative idea of what my South is," says Bains. "There are 15 million people living in the South and there are 15 million answers to that question. I think that, for me and my roots, my edition of the South — it'd be deeply in my own experience, deeply in my own place in that part of the South where Birmingham sits."