Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The Bloomington, Illinois, that Backyard Tire Fire call home is land-locked and stimulant-locked, resigned to a good 45-minute drive to get to something of a more exciting place, but really, just another place exactly like it - similar in size, stature and clientele. There are college towns equidistant from this town, where David Foster Wallace spent a number of years of his adult life teaching and writing, and yet all of the people are strikingly similar, not all too startling, of like-minded values and that's not all that horrible. Those of us from around here take this at face value and yet the seeming isolation of where we are tends to give us ample opportunity to get ourselves into trouble - those idle hands and minds that we sometimes allow to gather moss. We stick ourselves in those taverns and we make friends with the barkeeps. We do anything to avoid boredom, a task that's often impossible and this makes some troubled and takes them to points where they'd rather not be. It makes them into friends like the one that Ed Anderson sings about on this day in the song "No Sense At All" - on a day when he felt his voice was maxed out. Here, Anderson has a friend that he's writing for/to, whom he thought he might not see ever again. The thought is that this friend is knee-deep into abuse, killing himself either quickly or slowly, thinking that he's just making things easier, while making everyone else around him uncomfortable. Anderson sings, "If ignorance is blissful, I guess everything seems clear/Cotton balls and needles help to ease the fear/I'll get you out of here/He was white like a ghost/It was the last time I'd seen him/Fragile and frail, he was a fly on the wall," and it makes the man seem as if he's already gone, as if this was his greatest success - disappearing, albeit messily and destructively. Anderson is joined in the band by his brother Matt Anderson, Scott Tipping and Tim Kramp and these tales of Midwestern sadness and heartbreak - of people doing themselves in because they don't know what else to do - are fairly common on the band's records, a trait that works kindly for the band's version of Americana, as it does for the Drive-By Truckers version of Muscle Shoals area blues/bluegrass. Backyard Tire Fire take these folks, steeped in their own miseries, in their mounting familial problems and gives them a chance to be written out, displayed for more to see and hear. These are the problems that more people than not are faced with - the issues of not having enough money to live happily, of struggling against the house and people you were born into, of finally realizing that all of the people you've loved and who have loved you will be gone and are going, one-by-one whether you agree or disagree - and they make for tense drama. There is much sadness twisting around all of these songs, whether they've attached themselves to a more upbeat tempo and stomp or not. It's a sadness that kind of goes without saying and it's a sadness that is native to these open fields and these distances between meaningful connection. Anderson sings, "Sadness all around our door. Lay your head sweet darlin'/Sleep all through the night/Oh, you wake up to the sun, baby/The sun be shinin' bright," hoping that much of this sadness and despair can just quietly be blinked away - if sleep can be had and the night can do its tricks, but it doesn't go away and the songs keep coming.