By: Dennis Cook
Ridin' down the highway/ Goin' to a show
Stop in all the byways/ Playin' rock 'n' roll
Gettin' robbed/ Gettin' stoned
Gettin' beat up/ Broken boned
Gettin' had/ Gettin' took
I tell you folks/ It's harder than it looks
AC/DC's Bon Scott might have been writing about Backyard Tire Fire in his detailing of the long road ahead of aspiring rockers. These Midwestern survivors have endured all manner of flotsam and hiccups over the past 10 years, including their trusty tour van recently breaking down on the road to San Francisco. Most groups might have considered hanging it up but there's something inside Tire Fire that simply won't let them. BTF has distilled this enduring mojo on their fifth studio release, Good To Be (released February 16 on Kelsey Street/Thirty Tigers and potently produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin), which wrestles with life's struggles, offers inspiration for surmounting them and still rolls with their usual gruff-smooth savoir faire.
"I'm trying to be, uh, more positive, I guess, in my thinking," says bandleader-guitarist-singer-songwriter Ed Anderson, expressing the difficulty and ambivalence of someone who's spent some time scraping and struggling in the real world. "It's a strange thing to even bring up, but when they yanked the carpet out from underneath Conan [O'Brien] – who I think is a genius – on the last night he said something to the effect of, 'Don't be cynical. I hate cynicism. It's one of my least favorite qualities,' even though he'd been the most cynical asshole for weeks leading up to this night – which I loved [laughs]. And it got me thinking about how nobody likes a cynic; I sure don't like cynics. But, I turn into the ultimate cynic of all-time - the judgmental musician asshole - at the drop of a hat. With friends, I'll tear somebody apart that I don't think is doing it from the heart. But, you know what? Some of my favorite people are musicians that will find the best quality in the worst piece of shit. It makes me realize there's a better way to be in this world."
As complicated as we make our lives, it's sometimes a simple shift in perspective, a resolve to grin rather than grimace, that tilts our axis towards the positive. This notion is central to music's intrinsic value and purpose. A song can turn our whole world upside down or right side up through the intersection of melody, lyric, our emotions and countless other, interwoven factors. Backyard Tire Fire – Ed Anderson, Tim Kramp (drums) and Ed's brother Matt Anderson (bass, vocals) - grasps this notion with unforced flair on Good To Be, a series of succinct reminders that life isn't so bad, especially with quality rock 'n' roll like this.
"One of the things that keeps coming up with [Good To Be] is it has this sort of conceptual 'glass half full' quality," says Ed Anderson. "When you write a tune it's obviously influenced by how you were feeling when you wrote it. Clearly, it's not always just 'good to be,' but it was at the moment I wrote that song. Then, I started to think, 'Maybe I should start taking my own advice a bit more.' I talk positivity in these tunes but then I can be this surly fucking sarcastic, cynical asshole, and I don't really want to be that. Spend enough time in this business and it's easy to turn into that, but I'd like to just have fun and enjoy the moment, even if it's just in front of a hundred people and not a thousand."
|Ed Anderson by Dan Videtich|
"I can be a very fucking mean person, if I want to. I was raised by wonderful people and generally try to be good to everybody, but it can get bad some days [laughs]. I try not to get to that place, and in general I'm trying to enjoy the moment more," says Anderson. "It's not easy to just lay back and enjoy the ride with all the debt and things we owe, but we're sure as hell trying."
If program directors everywhere had half a clue and a little courage to go outside the prescribed mainstream offerings they all slot in, well, they'd find a treasure trove of classic American rock waiting in Backyard Tire Fire – something that's never been clearer than on the hook-heavy, highly focused Good To Be. Not so long ago ditties like "Piss and Moan" and the title track were the yardstick for airplay not the exception. BTF cranks out rock with the sturdiness and potential universality of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who'd likely have the same kind of uphill climb Tire Fire faces if they'd come up today instead of the 1970s. Backyard Tire Fire is solid gold for all the cranky motherfuckers complaining about how "they don't make rock like they used to," or the people smitten with the Drive-By Truckers or The Hold Steady, kindred spirits who've picked up sizeable core audiences in recent years. What they're laying down resonates with the sturdiest, most endearing stuff rock has ever produced, and one senses that folks just need to hear BTF in order to fall hard.
"I was sitting around late one night recently, drinking beer alone on my couch and playing 'Piss and Moan,' and I realized – I felt it inside - that EVERYBODY has something they can't let go of, that thing that keeps them up at night. There isn't one person in any crowd that doesn't have something, and if we can get together and forget about all this shit for just that moment, just the length of a song, then we're doing something worthwhile," says Anderson, who respects and understands the power of music that gets a lot of people off at once. "If you're up on a stage, what the fuck are you doing up there if not shooting for that? If you have some stage presence and try to leave it all out there [with the intensity of your performance] and add subject matter that people can really relate to, then that's the whole package. That's what makes people pump their fist in the air and think, 'This song is about me!' That's how I feel when I've seen Alejandro Escovedo. It's the whole package; he's the real deal. I can identify with every word he says, and sometimes I feel like some of his songs are about me."
|Backyard Tire Fire by Dan Videtich|
One of Anderson's virtues as a songwriter is his ability to encapsulate what it's like to be near money but never really get a couple ugly handfuls for yourself. His lyrics reflect the wisdom and challenges of working class people, i.e. the vast majority of us who will never know the fantasy world the top one-percent live in. Anderson's catalog is a place where even small choices matter, the alarm clock rings too soon and there's almost always a debt collector chasing us down. Grasped with understanding arms by Kramp and his brother Matt, BTF's music is rib-sticking sustenance for anyone with a blue-collar soul.
"I'm the son of a plumber for crissakes!" exclaims Anderson. "What was around me growing up was the idea, 'You can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it.' That's the kind of advice all of us got as kids."
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