Lee Bains III lives in Atlanta now, but he’ll always consider Birmingham home. The native’s band is still based in the Magic City. The band is part of an Alabama scene making national waves. It’s Southern garage and blues rock sound follows in the footsteps of Drive-By Truckers,
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and Alabama Shakes, catching the attention of publications like
The band opens for Pujol on Thursday at BottleTree Cafe. Doors open at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10. I spoke to Lee about that scene, his other band, The Dexateens, and his obsession with water, which he can be seen carrying around in a gallon jug before each show.
Blake Ells for Birmingham Box Set:
How much water do you drink in a day?
Lee Bains III:
[laughs] At least a gallon. On tour, it’s probably two. I started it with the Dexateens because I’d smoke two packs a day. I’d wake up after a show and could barely speak, let alone sing. So I started doing it all day long so I could keep smoking at night. In the Dexateens, I was sort of in the background, so I could get away with sounding [terrible]. When we first went on the road, we did three shows in a row once, and at the end of the third, I couldn’t talk. I finally quit [smoking], partially because of that.
How was the tour with the [Alabama] Shakes?
That tour was really good. It was as good of an opening slot as you could ask for. I believe every show we played was sold out, and at almost every one, the entire crowd had arrived before we started. And [the Alabama Shakes] are great people. They were a lot busier than we were, though – they’d have to go do Letterman or get pulled away for a
What and where was your first gig? What band were you with?
My first real – like, playing a venue and not a talent show – gig was, I think in Anniston. Or maybe it was in Montevallo at a place called Barnstormer’s. Yeah, actually, I think that’s it. This was in high school. We were in a band called the Shut-Ins. They were all guys I had grown up with. They sounded like Hot Water Music or Small Brown Biker, but they got more metal and wanted another guitar, so they called me. It was this Judas Priest meets Thin Lizzy kind of thing. Yeah, it was definitely at Barnstormer’s.
Are the Dexateens really done?
I guess we’re not “done” done. We still play every once in a while, and that seems like the plan – play a show every three months or so. And we try to stay close, like, Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia, nothing too crazy. But, you know, I’ve been busy with The Glory Fires and [Matt] Patton’s been busy with the Drive-By Truckers. It’s just hard to find the time. We’re actually playing a show in November in Montgomery, and I’m sure we’ll do more here and there.
Brian [Gosdin, drummer] mentioned there may be some finished material out there. Or the beginnings of it. Will that ever see the light of day?
We have one entire record. It’s very close to a finished album that we probably did two years ago. I think Elliott [McPherson, vocals and guitar] likes the way some of it came out, but he wasn’t happy with others. He’s had time to rewrite and we’ve re-recorded some stuff. And there are new songs, too, that are in various stages of repair. In grand total, there are probably 30 songs that are close to done. But we’re taking our time with all of it. No one feels any sense of urgency. Elliott has ideas he wants to get out. Plus, we’re all so busy and scattered, it’s hard.
What do you think of the Birmingham scene right now?
Birmingham’s always had a strong community. I haven’t lived there in two years, so for the first time, I’m a little out of it. There’s this generation of bands that came a little behind mine. I don’t know the 24-25-year-olds there anymore. But there are so many folks making great music. Everybody knows each other. There’s an incestuous thing that can be problematic for sure, and that’s what sometimes causes people to leave. You just end up playing with the same bands.
But even though I live in Atlanta, I still consider myself a part of that crowd. The other guys are still there. Having that connection with so many people is good for checking yourself creatively and keeps you grounded. Those relationships where people have seen you develop and can better assess what you can do than anybody.
I’ll go to a show at BottleTree and find myself talking to someone I was in a band with when I was 16. Not even [kidding]. It’s wild.
I realize this may be premature because
There is a Bomb in Gilead
is still less than a year old. But when can we expect the next one?
We’re ready. I wish it were tomorrow. We’ve been trying to stay busy touring and working when we’re not touring. So I’d say we’ll try to record in Spring and have it out by Summer.
Are you playing any of the new tunes live?
Yeah, we’re playing some. But we haven’t had much time to practice them together. I’ll write a tune and I’ll do a demo and when we play a show, I’ll put it on in the van and we’ll kind of work it out while we’re on the road and during soundcheck. It’s fun because a song can change every couple of shows. “Well, that doesn’t work, so we’ll cut that in half and rewrite it.”
Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
What? Whaaaaaaaa? Dammit.
I’m going to have to come up with a thesis. I’ve got to explain myself. So what’s that [thesis] going to be? I can’t just do my five favorite. That won’t work. And I don’t want to do five influential or something like that.
Hmm. Let’s see here. I’ll rule out singers and singer/songwriters – so that takes care of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Otis Redding, they definitely don’t qualify.
A couple come to mind – whenever someone asks the great American rock band, you know, like the great American novel – it’s not necessarily my favorite, but this is America in rock form: The Ramones.
That’s distinctively America – a seminal band.
That’s going to be my representative from that era. And I guess I’ll say Skynyrd.
It’s killing me. I keep thinking of all of these bands. I guess I want to say The Replacements. The thing that’s weird to me about the question is that in the 70’s or the mid-70’s, the great bands totally lost all of their artistic validity. After that point, every band I’d mention was pretty much independent.
I keep thinking The Stooges. And I think I’m going to throw this in there just because, to me, they kind of blew the doors off and a lot of other bands. They influenced bands and forced them to rethink the way they thought about themselves: Fugazi.