Lonnie Holley & Lee Bains, III: Southern Storytellers

Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of five, Holley worked various jobs: picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking at Disney World. As a child, he lived in a whiskey house across from the state fairgrounds, a state run juvenile home, and finally was reunited with his natural born family at the age of 14. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.

Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound. Holley’s sculptures are constructed from found materials in the oldest tradition of African American sculpture. Objects, already imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, are combined into narrative sculptures that commemorate places, people, and events. His work is now in collections of major museums throughout the country, on permanent display in the United Nations, and been displayed in the White House Rose Garden. In January of 2014, Holley completed a one-month artist-in- residence with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva Island, Florida, site of the acclaimed artist’s studio.

Holley did not start making and performing music in a studio nor does his creative process mirror that of the typical musician. His music and lyrics are improvised on the spot and morph and evolve with every event, concert, and recording. In Holley’s original art environment, he would construct and deconstruct his visual works, repurposing their elements for new pieces. This often led to the transfer of individual narratives into the new work creating a cumulative composite image that has depth and purpose beyond its original singular meaning. The layers of sound in Holley’s music, likewise, are the result of decades of evolving experimentation. Holley’s music caught the attention of Matt Arnett, whose father has been Holley’s primary art patron since the 1980s. In 2006, Matt organized the first professional recordings of Holley’s music. In 2010, Arnett set up a performance by Holley at Grocery on Home. One of the people in attendance was Lance Ledbetter, founder and owner of the record label Dust-to- Digital. Deeply moved by Holley’s keyboard playing and singing, Ledbetter signed Holley to his record label. Soon after, Holley found himself in the studio again, and in 2010 and 2011, a number of studio sessions ensued. The result was the album “Just Before Music.” More recordings are continuing to be made to celebrate and to document one of America’s most compelling musicians. In 2013, “Keeping a Record of It,” Holley’s second record was released. In early 2014, Holley recorded again with Richard Swift, acclaimed musician and producer at his studio, National Freedom, in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

In addition to the studio sessions, Holley began touring as a musician. In August and September of 2013, Holley toured the West Coast with Deerhunter. That tour was followed by a tour of the East Coast with Bill Callahan, and in November and December of 2013, Holley had his first tour through Western Europe (Spain, Portugal, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, England, and France). Holley has been joined on stage by a variety of musicians, including members of Deerhunter, Black Lips, The War on Drugs, Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, Bon Iver, Gang Gang Dance, Julia Holter, Megafaun, as well as Ben Sollee, Steve Gunn, Jim White, Sinkane, Stevie Nistor, Jenny Hval, Marshall Ruffin, Daniel Lanois, Brian Blade, Mammane Sani, and Bill Callahan. In 2013, Holley’s first records were named to a number of critics’ Top Records of the Year lists, including The Washington Post (#4) and The Chicago Sun Times (#2).

In 2014, Holley continued to tour, completing another tour of Europe (Belgium, Norway, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, and France) and a USA/Canada tour with Daniel Lanois. Also in 2014, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that they had acquired three sculptures by the acclaimed artist and musician. His visual art has been displayed in numerous museums and galleries around the United States. In the late summer, 2015, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art opened Lonnie Holley: Something to Take My Place, accompanied by the first significant monograph of the artist’s work.

In 2015, Holley recorded music for the film Five Nights in Maine (David Oyelowo, Diane Wiest, Rosie Perez), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has its theatrical release in the summer of 2016. Holley continues to make visual art and music.

"He keeps people spellbound with his oratory, humor, and insights into art-making. Holley's art does the same. He makes the kind of sculpture–and produces the kind of music–that changes people. It gets into their emotional and intellectual core and forces them to rethink art and history, as well as their own assumptions about how the world works."
SF Weekly

"Lonnie Holley is the closest thing America has to a prophet."
Noisey (VICE)

"Despite undeniable sonic and aesthetic connections to Sun Ra and Arthur Russell, Lonnie Holley's music is a law unto itself, with the inimitable blues orator free-forming at its core."
Vinyl Factory

"Somebody does something a little different and plenty of folks are ready to dub them a 'self-made man' or
'self-made woman.' But what Lonnie Holley does, and what he has made of himself, demands a whole new
term. He truly is his own invention."
NPR Music

Lee Bains, III

Call it Youth Detention for short. A double LP spanning 17 songs, it
is the band’s most ambitious work to date — a sprawling and visceral
record given to both deep introspection and high-volume spiritual
Where The Glory Fires’ previous LP Dereconstructed (2014) sought to
dismantle one-dimensional notions of Southern identity and culture,
Youth Detention has a similar, but more personal intent. “It’s about
dismantling myself and the narratives that I’ve taken on,” explains
Bains. “It’s an examination of youth and the processes through which
we begin to consider ourselves, our identities, and what various
communities we belong to or are in tension with.” Often, the songs
detail moments in which cultural boundaries and biases become apparent
— scenes in which systems of privilege and oppression become visible,
particularly as they relate to race, class, and gender. Everyday
settings — a church, a ballpark, a cafeteria — are revisited again and
again, to explore these fleeting moments of revelation from different
perspectives and roles. It’s a record defined by accumulation.
Stories, images, and thoughts pile up to create confusion and
cacophony in the narrative.
Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at Battletapes with engineer Jeremy
Ferguson and producer Tim Kerr, Youth Detention captures the band in
raw form. Each song was cut live to tape, with the four performing in
the same room without headphones or baffling. The result is thoroughly
human, with Lynn Bridges’ mix retaining the band’s live energy and
looseness at the expense of a few out of tune strings. The Glory
Fires’ music draws deeply from punk, but also soul, power pop,
country, and gospel. It’s equal parts careful curation and geographic
inheritance. “It’s the sound of my place,” says Bains. “I want to know
it. I want to argue with it. I don’t want to be a band from anywhere
that could be doing anything. For me, that’s what punk is about —
figuring out who I am and how to be the best version of myself. I
can’t do that by pretending to be something I’m not.”
The songs are deeply rooted in Bains’ experience of his hometown,
Birmingham, AL. Youth Detention depicts a Southern city in the decades
surrounding the turn-of- the-millennium: in the throes of white flight,
urban disinvestment, racial tension, class struggle, gentrification,
gender policing, homophobia, xenophobia, religious fervor,
deindustrialization, and economic upheaval.
The lyrics could ring true anywhere, though. The South exists in the
world and, like the South, the world is increasingly beholden to many
of these same tensions and forces. The songs on Youth Detention are
meant as small acts of resistance to those systems. Documenting minor
moments — the refusal to sit quietly through a display of bigotry, the
act of quieting down and listening to somebody’s struggle, sticking up

for friends targeted for their difference — that, hopefully, serve as
the beginnings of a more profound awakening.

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