Backyard Tire Fire from the heart

btf1.jpg“Today was the first day in my life I was able to listen to anything I have ever recorded on vinyl."

With unrestrained excitement in his voice, Ed Anderson singer/guitarist from Backyard Tire Fire, describes what for him was almost a perfect day.  “It (Backyard Tire Fire’s new album The Places We Lived) actually arrived in the mail a few hours ago.  I drank a Budweiser at like noon, dropped the needle on my own record and listened to what we sound like on my turntable.” 

For a band that seems to echo back to a time long gone with its gritty straightforward honest rock, and a songwriter who openly expresses his love of classic 70’s rock, the chance to hear your brand new album in all its vinyl-analog glory must be a pure high-water mark in your life.

“It was phenomenal, it was way cool man!”  Anderson declares, “It sounded like it was recorded in 1970.” With that, you could actually hear the smile growing across his face.

Backyard Tire Fire, (Anderson with his brother Matt on bass and Tim Kramp on drums), have been scrapping the surface of greatness since they first burst onto the scene in 2002.  The release of last year’s highly acclaimed (though at times overlooked) Vagabonds and Hooligans – an alt-country-indie rocker – left the musical world salivating for more of Backyard Tire Fire’s boisterous-guitar take on Americana. The release of the intensely gorgeous The Places We Lived early this year should help satiate that hunger and further cement their claim to greatness.

btf3.jpgThey again recorded at what Anderson calls their “home away from home,” Oxide Lounge in Bloomington, Illinois. The studio provided a stable and comfortable surrounding for the band, and also allowed them to be able to “drink twelve beers and stumble the few blocks home” after a long night of working.  This familiar environment provided the perfect setting for the band to craft The Places We Lived, which as the days grows shorter and colder, and the year draws to an end should soon start appearing on any number of Year-End Best of Lists. 

It is an album in the truest sense of the word, that will, as Anderson says, “take you on a roller coaster ride with its ups and downs.”  Those albums that take you on an emotional journey that can move from a “heavy rocking two guitar thing to a waltz on piano with brushes” are the kind of albums Anderson professes to love, and the kind of album he has just crafted with his band. 

“A lot of it is done in the winter months when there is just nothing else to do.  It is just cold outside.  I have a studio in the basement and I just try to stay really busy,” says Anderson as he explains his song writing process.

“I heard Neil Young once say ‘You just have to be open when it comes.’  When you get struck with an idea it is best to get it down.  To stop what you are doing and run down to the basement and record it.  It may be a line or a melody that jumps into your head; you have to just roll with it.  It may not be there if you don’t. 

"I am not one to say ‘ok today I am going to write a song,’ and then head down to the basement and punch my time clock and write a song," Anderson says.  "That doesn’t work for me, it seems more job-like.  If I ever try to force it or start pressing it, I have written some of the worst shit I have ever done{Laughs}.”

As they have done in the past, Backyard Tire Fire toured up until the end of the year and then came home to start work on the new album.  That is when Anderson began his sojourn to the basement. 

So while Anderson, who serves as the band’s primary songwriter, went about his usually pattern of writing songs he did change one thing.  He began to write many of those new songs on piano, something he had not done before and that he admits he is not as comfortable on.  But there was something about his unease at the piano that brought out an album's worth of songs that seemed to resonate on a very basic emotional level. Anderson recognized the uncertainty this caused among some.

 

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“There are a lot of people who are starting to know about us and they seem to think ‘Backyard Tire Fire, that means we are going to hear some kick-butt loud ripping guitar and have a really good time’, then they hear the first couple of tracks off the new album and they have to ask themselves, ‘Which band is this again {Laughs}?’ We have gotten some of that with people telling us, ‘I like my Tire Fire rocking!”       

The band also tackled the recording process slightly different this time around.  They attacked each song individually, working on them in their entirety from beginning to end before starting another one.  Anderson described the process, “In the past we would get all the bass and drums done at one time on all the songs, then all the keyboards, then all the vocals, etc.  This time we took each song as a separate project and would work on each from start to finish – vocals and everything – before moving on, and I liked that a bit more.”  This approach allowed the band to, as Anderson says, “think about each song on a number of levels.”  It was this ability to take time to think deeply about each song, to approach each as a mini-project that has helped shaped The Places We Lived into a special record. In conversation Anderson becomes noticeably more excited as he begins talking about the new album and all the subtle nuances hidden within each tune, all with a distinct personality that make the album more than just songs pieced together. It is a collection of stories and emotions, tied together to reflect the feelings that are within all of us.  Drummer Kramp clarifies, “It’s not a concept record, but all the songs revolve around the same idea, being at home and coming back.” Some songwriters seem hesitant to divulge the meaning of their songs to listeners, but Anderson seems almost excited to include them so listeners can appreciate every noise and note and understand the deeper meaning behind each of them.  Some of these stories are of a very personal nature to Anderson and involve very personal feelings. 

As he talks about the inspiration behind “Time With You,” a song written about a conversation he had with his wife while on the road, a song in which he sings “Sometimes I get to missin’ you and days are hard/ Keep myself busy, but all I really wanna do/ Is spend some time with you,” you begin to get a knot in your stomach and you are not sure why.

Then he explains that the song is written, “From her point of view because I had been gone for a long time.  There is a middle section that becomes very chaotic and dissident and catches people asking, ‘What the hell was that?’  But that chaotic sound is representative of the feeling I had in my stomach after that conversation.”

btf4.jpgAnderson says that, “musically, we are trying to reflect emotions and feelings through sounds, not just words.”  The band latches onto those feelings in each song and then attempts to create it not only with lyrics and music, but with the random sounds and arrangements they incorporate. 

On “One Wrong Turn” Anderson sings through a hollowed out leg of table to provide a sense of distant and isolation.  For “Welcome to the Factory” a look at the daily grind of a working man who can not escape, they went a step further and incorporated everyday objects into their musical world.  “We made a loop of non-musical random objects – like a drill bit banging on a brake drum, or a mic stand scrapping up against a tape reel, to create this almost Pink Floyd “Money” rhythm thing, that becomes an almost robotic sound,”  Anderson says.

“I have worked in a factory and that is what it sounds like.”  It is in those moments that The Places We Live gains its power, and makes it an intimate look into the heart and soul of small-town America and the people who live there.

For Anderson, when asked for his assessment of how the record turned out, he is naturally a bit hesitant to share.  “I like the songs and I like this record,” he says after a pause, “I think there is a nice thematic thing going on and it is very warm-sounding and nicely recorded, and that honestly is what matters to us, that we like it.  Everyone is going to have their own opinion about it, and if you want to be in this business you have to deal with that.  My way of dealing with that is to not put too much into it, because while we have gotten like 98% positive feedback on this album, if you believe all the good, you also have to believe all the bad.”  

After another pause you can hear the smile return to Anderson’s face as he finishes, “This album is all from the heart man.  It is all old school.”

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