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Backyard Tire Fire Goes Pop

Backyard Tire Fire's latest album, The Places We've Lived, on the New York indie label, HYENA Records, is taking the roots rockin' Bloomington, Ill., band in a new direction. Who could have guessed Ed Anderson, the band's songwriter and chief creative force, has turned out to be "the premier pop balladeer of America's heartland?" But it's true. Anderson and BTF are quickly becoming the most interesting and innovative guitar-based rock band in the Midwest, and because of their very extensive touring schedule, hopefully beyond.

The album really expands on corners of Anderson's songwriting capabilities only hinted at on their previous disc Vagabonds and Hooligans, in which his piano-driven, and, dare I say it, beautiful pop-rock sensibilities come to the fore.

Ed recently did a great interview with Tim Von Cloedt of St. Louis, otherwise known as "Von" and proprietor of a fine roots music podcast called Americana Rock Mix. Since I'm assuming you probably didn't catch Anderson's hour-plus interview with Von, in which he really gives an enlightening assessment of where BTF is coming from in all aspects of their onstage and offstage lives, I've taken the liberty of transcribing a small portion of it. Be sure to download the whole thing and subscribe to Von's podcast for consistently interesting takes on the Americana scene.

On BTF's headlining gig at Metro on Sept. 5:
Metro is just one of those places in Chicago where . . . I think the first band that ever played in that room as The Metro was R.E.M., who were just coming out of Athens. And on their 15th anniversary Bob Dylan played it two nights in a row. It's kind of a legend of urban Chicago. We've played it before but it was our first time headlining. We love the city of Chicago. It's always treated us well.

On BTF's writing process:
Right now, I've got a whole album or two's worth of sings written. A lot of times when it's cold out and there's nothing else to do, I will hole up and just write. I don't have a day job, which I'm very lucky to not have one. It's not really like "trying" to write because then it becomes forced. It's just being open and having instruments nearby. I try to keep pretty disciplined when I am around and I've got an idea. A lot of them get tested on the road. Places is a 35-minute record and we play a 90-minute set. There's at least a dozen brand new ones that we'll play, we'll mix 'em and match 'em.

On being a notorious analog recording stickler:
There's a sound to it. There's a reason why my favorite records were made on analog. It's a real actual tape that's rolling. It's a different feel, it feels warmer, it feels more real. I like a little bit of tape hiss. Digital will enable you to do things you couldn't do otherwise, like if the drummer's dragging and the bass drum isn't exactly on the beat, you can go in and cut and paste, or making sure every snare hit is on the beat, or using autovocals to make sure the singer is just right.

There's a lot of tricks you can do that you can't do with a tape machine. It really makes things sound non-human and robotic and stale. We all play together in the same room and there isn't any of that shit. We're human beings, so let's rock and roll. We've always wanted to avoid that digital feel. I have friends who like it, and that's cool, but that's not the way we want to do it. We just happened to prefer making it the old-fashioned way with old mikes and pre-amps. There are new bands like the Flaming Lips or Beck, they're recording on analog machines with their initial signals before using their digital effects, and you can tell. Anyone who says there's no difference . . . in my opinion, that's bullshit.

On the album's lead-off song, "The Places We've Lived":
As the title suggests, it's definitely nostalgic. I've lived in basements, attics, dodging leases with different roommates, there's maybe a couple dozen places I've laid my head down on a regular basis, some have been torn down, others not. It's really strange. You think about all the different people who have lived there before and after you, it's really weird. We're always moving forward not looking back. You've experienced so many good and bad things, it's hard to believe it all gets swept under the rug and forgotten. That's where we're coming from on that song.

On the song "Welcome to the Factory":
I said, let's do something like Pink Floyd did on "Money." Let's use non-musical, random things we can find in the studio . . . empty reels of tape scraping up against a mike stand. We're emulating that Floyd kind of feel and also what it feels like sitting on an assembly line, hearing repetitive sounds. At one point, the percussion goes away and we get a strange, falling sound, and you get the feeling of falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of doing something you don't want to do.

My brother (Matt Anderson), who plays bass in the band, and I grew up the sons of a plumber, and I don't think my dad really wanted to be a plumber. He was plumber because he had four kids and a wife to take care. He did it because he had to. I could identify with that. I'm familiar with that. You have a pissed-off dad who's commuting from Chicago for the billionth day in a row . . . Most people end up doing stuff that they don't want to do day after day. People get into positions where there's nowhere else to go. I feel for them, and I feel very lucky that I can do what I love do to playing music. It's certainly not making me rich, but I'm not materialistic and don't really care about those kinds of things. We get to play rock and roll, and travel and see the country. It's a good gig and I'm not complaining.

On the song "How In the Hell Did You Get Back Here?":
When I left Bloomington (in 2000) I vowed I'd never came back. I moved to Asheville, N.C., and started this band up down there. Enough had gone down in this town that I was intent on not returning, at least not to live. It's not just me. You leave a place and claim, "That's it, you're never gonna see my ass again." How many people end up back there and liking it and leading a good life there? How many who say they're going to leave their hometown end up settling down there? It's classic. Everybody believes it when they say it. And you've got to believe it, that's what gets you to get out and see new places.

But we found that Chicago is just way too expensive to live there, we've got a lot of friends here, you can survive on the little I make here. I realized the grass isn't always greener. Sometimes you think there are some magic places were all the gigs are packed. There's no place like that, man. You just have to try your hardest in wherever you're at. Going somewhere and trying to start over from scratch, that was an eye-opener. As well as we're liked around here, we couldn't get gigs down there (in Asheville and later in Athens, Ga.). Nobody knew who we were and nobody cared. We had some good gigs, but things only started really happening when we came back up here and my brother joined us on bass.

There's no place like home. Those weren't places that we grew up. There are dozens and dozens of other bands who have been there longer and will get those gigs we were trying for. Coming back to the Midwest, that was big for us. I like Bloomington - and it's not tiny. There are 100,000 people in the city. It's the right size for us. And there are three major interstates that run right through here, so for road work, it works out nice.

On the songwriting evolution evident on The Places We've Lived:
I've noticed there are some people out there who really don't understand what we're doing on this album. They like their Backyard Tire Fire rock 'n' roll and that's about it. There are certain people, even critics, that don't get this direction. And really, there's isn't anything to "get." It's just me sitting at a piano a little bit more than I have in the past. And those songs got written and I liked 'em and we put them out as a collection as an album. There was no conscious effort to write "poppy" music or something. There are still some loud guitars on the album, and there's still a lot of that live.

*

Backyard Tire Fire live recording session at Sun Studios in Memphis

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BTF doing an acoustic version of "Shoulda Shut It" from the new album

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Previously in the Beachwood:
* Smoke, Mirrors and Backyard Tire Fires

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From the Beachwood Country All-Stars to Dylan's Grammy Museum, the finest bones of rock 'n' roll are rattlin' 'round Don's Root Cellar.



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Posted on September 22, 2008


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