The city of Bloomington, Ill., that the rustic trio known as Backyard Tire Fire calls home is down a stretch of four-lane interstate that takes you diagonally through the state into accent country and the states where a four-wheel drive truck and a canister of chewing tobacco are practically birth rights.
It’s a city that supports one major university, one smaller liberal arts college, all-American visions as far as the eye can see, a standard of living that isn’t all too complicated and used to support David Foster Wallace, the master of the unnecessary footnote, as he lived there for 10 years as an English professor completing a masterpiece in Infinite Jest.
The city itself sounds like a footnote, neither here nor there—just like the here that we know, just a functioning Midwestern city that one can expect the lights from dozens of slow-pitch softball games to glow strongly enough to read by every night. It’s a place where you could expect one in every third motorist that should drive past you on the side of the street, stranded with a flat tire, to not only be capable of changing that mess, but willing to take the time to do it.
Backyard Tire Fire members Ed and Matt Anderson and Tim Kramp have all likely performed such an act of Good Samaritan-ism, perhaps even in cruddy weather. Ed has shoulders that one could swear were worked into shape by tossing hay bales during those days of the aforementioned sticky softball nights. The beards aren’t ironical. The friendliness isn’t a game of kiss-ass the way the boys from Brooklyn sometimes do it. Their integrity is woven into the country twang that they bring to life with the kinds of gentle country instruments you bring around a campfire—the acoustics, the banjos, the pianos, the friendly bass and the drums with brushes. Within the perimeters of their songs, the band finds time to explore personal aging hardships, aging dilemmas, common afflictions and more than enough of the bright lights, big city sorts of questions that come from big eyes as well as worn ones.
There’s really little that you could do to these boys that could extract the values, flair and feel of the Midwest from their prairie rock and roll. Ed writes songs about he and Matt’s formerly sick/now healthy mother and contemplates the frequency of his crying jags. They’re few and far between, but his ill mother can do it. It’s not a Midwestern thing, but maybe, just maybe writing a song about it somewhat is. It’s what we’d expect out of Greg Brown, some of the Mississippi River rats or even the long stretch of those of the delta bluesy-south.
Backyard Tire Fire are the choice we make when the extremes always sound too extreme, the bright lights feel too foreign, the money’s not important, the beer’s on ice and the clothes we like most are the ones that we’ve had on our bodies for decades, and we know what made all of the holes and rough patches in them.