By: Dennis Cook
Working rock 'n' roll bands are the salt of the earth. It's the largely unknown folks that stuff themselves and their battered gear into near-death vans and wobbly trailers to run with the sputtering torch lit by Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and the other snot-nosed pioneers in what became rock. These bands might not be on TV or cutting sponsorship deals with energy drinks but you can be damn sure Buddy Holly, Joey Ramone and Ronnie Lane are looking down on them with ear-to-ear grins. It ain't a pretty or secure life but for the ones that kneel at this roughshod church it's the only life.
"We've been out in that van for YEARS! We're always happy to just get out there in front of people, maybe win a few new fans for the next time through, sell a few records. We're not gonna stop and just hope there's a few more folks with us each year," says Ed Anderson, singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleader of Backyard Tire Fire, who are very much a torchbearer for the good stuff. "There's a lot of people playing music that haven't gone back to see who influenced their influences. All of us are deeply rooted in the history of rock 'n' roll and where it's come from. Tim is really educated in old blues, and we've all done our homework. I've learned how to make records from a few people personally but also from the records I love, reading about how those records were made and incorporating that into our albums. I love reading studio diaries!"
"There is a lot of shitty music out there labeled 'rock & roll' [laughs]. There are people that have a real fuckin' idea of what this music should sound like, should feel like, where it came from, but they often get fuckin' ignored," bluntly states drummer Tim Kramp, highlighting BTF's genuine appreciation for what's come before them. While it's great to be a total innovator there's something to be said for inspired traditionalists. Tire Fire straddles these two worlds, tweaking their rootsy tunes with real subtlety but perhaps inching a bit more into the '50s, '60s and '70s in their sensibilities than many peers in 2008. Their new album, The Places We Lived (released August 26 on Hyena Records), polishes up their virtues on the tightest, most instantly likeable collection yet from these Bloomington, Illinois rock stalwarts.
Steadily releasing great music since 2002, BTF touched down in indie meccas Asheville, NC and Athens, GA before settling outside Chicago, and it's not surprising to pick up echoes of R.E.M., Gov't Mule, Drive-By Truckers and other meat 'n' taters groups from those parts in their sound occasionally. What the new album reveals is their core. While they can stretch out Neil Young fuzz guitar style, especially in concert, Places condenses their many charms into carefully honed bursts. While every cut here hums with live potential, there's a lot of small touches that show the band's growing maturity in every aspect of their craft.
"There's some rockin', dirty, gritty nasty stuff, and there's some light, fun stuff. It does kinda run the gamut, but it's not fragmented. I'm proud of the mixes, sounds and tones we pulled together. We love being in the studio and just making sounds happen. There's a lot of little things on this record that you have to really listen for to see how deeply we got into this record," offers Anderson. "On 'Welcome To The Factory' there's a loop that we created from a drill bit being tapped on a brake drum, a gooseneck mic stand being scraped up against an empty reel of tape and more random, non-musical objects we put together to make a loop that made you feel like you were on an assembly line. It's used throughout the song but it breaks out in the sections where the drums go away. We just really get deep into the production and enjoy making analog records, doing it the old fashioned way. This was done, not unlike our earlier stuff, with old school amps, old school mics, old school tape machines – no computer trickery, no auto-tune, no cutting and pasting. We try to remain true to the art form of recording – recording an event of people actually playing music together in a room. We really try to keep it organic, try to get a good take with all of us playing at the same time. We just thoroughly enjoy it."
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