Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires tell stories on the stage

Alabama transplants play songs till they feel them in their bones

For those who are unfamiliar with just how much energy Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires put on display on stage, the first-time experience resonates with one word: raucous. The band plugs in and gets straight to the point as frontman Bains erupts into a sweaty, fun-as-hell mess of poetic drawl over ear-splitting volumes. “For quite a while we were kind of going out Ramones-style, 1-2-3-4-go, 1-2-3-4-go,” Bains says. “Everything was wide open, full-force.”

While there’s a sense of humor eeking through in his words, anyone who’s witnessed his wild shows knows what he’s talking about. “Over the last few months we’ve been trying to play more with dynamics, thinking about the set as kind of a narrative over all with some kind of arc rather than just a battering ring,” he says.

Crafting narratives is familiar fare for Bains, who is voracious reader. A conversation with the Atlanta-based Birmingham native references anything from Flannery O’Connor to existential philosophy. Bains and the Glory Fires’ Sub Pop Records debut, Dereconstructed, caught attention in 2014 for articulating the internal conflict of the Southerner: Those who were “raised on ancient truths and ugly old lies,” as he puts it in the record’s title track. “There’s a difference, and an intersection, too, between art that might be completely topical, grounded in the present, like say a political situation, and those that have somewhat of a visionary bent. Sort of an eye toward the immaterial,” Bains says.

The depth of the Glory Fires’ lyrics and the decibel-defying uproar of their live shows aren’t mutually exclusive, and Bains’ banter regularly points to current events. Songs such as “Dirt Track,” which finds inspiration in the indie roots of car racing before NASCAR, point to the group’s DIY spirit, while barn-burner “The Company Man” is a more overt skewering of the establishment. “Being involved in art that has a performance angle or a social dimension, like shows, is unique,” Bains says. “If you write a book, then you might not have these moments to actively and physically engage with an audience. It gives musicians the opportunity to direct attention or energy to activist groups or to nonprofits.”

Much of the material the group plays live hasn’t been recorded yet. Performing it is a responsibility Bains takes seriously. “When a record’s done, then that song has been kind of enshrined and documented. Then it can be free again to take whatever form it takes from night to night,” Bains says. “It takes a lot of the heat off of it. Prior to the moment a song is recorded, that one performance, in the middle of it, is the only way in which that song exists.”

These performances are as much a part of their musical progression as are the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that Bains pour onto the page. “What we try to get to before recording songs is that feeling where it’s in our bones enough to where we don’t play it right or wrong,” he says. “You just play it the way you played it right then.”

Whether they have the new songs in their bones yet or not, it’s one hell of a ride watching them chase that feeling.