At the end of their South By Southwest 2016 set (footage is available on Youtube) Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires played "Dirt Track," the last song from their sophomore album, Dereconstructed (Sub Pop, 2014). Bains told the crowd the song was partially inspired by the people who built and raced cars before racing became a professional sport.
"This is kind of about that," Bains told the audience, "but it's more particularly about independent rock music and... about people who wake up in the morning and make decisions to do things that are outwardly focused, that are change-focused and don't have any commodity to them."
Bains could have said the same about Dereconstructed as a whole. Mixing full-throttle punk and Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque Southern rock, the album's songs rail against racism, homophobia, income inequality and other societal ills, and have earned Bains and his band some serious acclaim. The Guardian's Michael Hann praised the album as "a ferociously anti-traditionalist affair," New York Times contributor Jon Pareles wrote how Bains and his band "proudly join the Southern-rock tradition of wild-eyed music hitched to serious deliberation." The Bitter Southerner editor Chuck Reese went even further, declaring Dereconstructed "might be the most important rock record about the South ever released."
Bains and the Glory Fires have recorded tracks for their upcoming third album and are working on mixes now, but they aren't done with Dereconstructed—they'll spend this month touring the western U.S. and Texas, including a stop in Boise at the Neurolux on Thursday, June 8.
Looking back, Bains sees Dereconstructed as laying the foundation for the Glory Fires' identity and purpose.
"Putting that record out, I think, helped to sort of ensconce the mission of our band and the songs I'm writing in a way that's been gratifying," Bains told Boise Weekly. "We're working on a new record now, and with each one, I get excited about being able to put a body of work together. ... The records can kind of be in a discourse with one another in such a way that they can actually be more significant."
The roots of Bains's songwriting reach back to his childhood, growing up in Birmingham, Ala. The stories and songs he learned while attending church with his family had a profound effect on Bains' sense of art and culture.
"There's something about a lot of religious music and gospel music that resonated with me—and I think resonates with a lot of people—even when every other aspect of religion and the church grated on me," said Bains, who identifies as a Christian today. "There's something about so much of that music that embodies... a more open, beautiful, accepting, loving vision than is expressed when conversation gets mired in dogma and theological embattlement."
The vision Bains absorbed grew more sophisticated when he became involved in Birmingham's punk and indie scenes as a teenager. In 2014, he told The Guardian that all-ages DIY venue Cave9 "completely changed the way I thought about music as well as art's role in a community." Bains went on to study at New York University, where he found inspiration to make art about the South.
"I went up to New York like a lot of artsy Southern kids would hope to do to learn about the art scene, the music scene, to be exposed to different people and ideas and all that," Bains told Rolling Stone. "But ironically, in doing that, in seeing people making art from all over the world with their own voices, what kept popping up in my mind was, 'What is my voice? What is my cultural context?'"
Bains continues to question his current cultural context. When he talked with BW, he expressed concerns about the popularity of a certain presidential candidate.
"When Donald Trump first threw his hat in the ring, I thought that this was just gonna be some weird appeal to the far fringe of American white society—you know, like George Wallace running for president. And the fact that he is as phenomenally popular as he is—and a lot of it being around some of the most divisive and potentially violent aspects of his rhetoric—it kind of blew my mind."
Bains isn't alone in his feelings but, as he showed with Dereconstructed, he isn't one to simply wallow.
"If I wasn't pissing somebody off or making somebody uncomfortable, then I probably wouldn't be pushing as hard as I should be," he said. "Particularly right now, with the vitriolic climate around the presidential election—I don't know, I guess I feel more called or emboldened to talk about some of that shit."