Premiere: Wes Tirey – ‘Bang The Drum Slowly’: haunting, beautiful Americana with plains dust under its nails

Wes Tirey, photographed by Bow Smith

WES TIREY comes to us from the arty city of Asheville, North Carolina, out in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he’s been plying a trade in well-crafted Americana for nearly a decade with a whole clutch of releases under his belt in that time for labels such as Scissor Tail, Full Spectrum, and Noumenal Loom.

For his tenth album he’s signed on the dotted for Dear Life Records, movin’ in metaphorically alongside Josh Halper, whose lovely “Honest Feeling” we premiered here in early March.

Midwest Book Of The Dead is the title of that tenth album, a hugely ambitious investigation of the Midwestern condition, steeped in myth and tradition and place; of silos like places of worship, pointing to the sky; drunks, saints, fugitives, wild geese, the good life, the darker end of the street, too. A Faulkner of the Midwest, a Nick Cave of the corn. A fully realised, sprawling country vision, it all comes communicated in Wes’s rich, haunting timbre – a voice that’s lived, a voice you’ll not forget.

And today we’re so pleased to be premiering the latest single from Wes’s album, “Bang The Drum Slowly” – come gather round. A slow burn of stray dogs in your dreams, sawdust in your seams, this song comes baptised in dust whipping off the plains; in the rust of that old pickup you got a lift into town in. It absolutely resonates with guitar glimmer, a lonely blues harp, the roomsound, as Califone would have it, of the recording space. It’s an absolute vision of Wes’s world, communicated with haunting vibrato and a bluegrassy cast. Beautiful and eerie all together.

Wes calls his style rustic minimalism; he was raised in Farmersville, Ohio, a village 20 minutes southwest of Dayton, where, he says, the landscape of corn and wheat and wide skies “has always been something that’s been part
of me.” A move to the Old North State a decade back saw him really focus on documenting the landscape of his adolescence and his dreams, and he’s since played out with names such as Steve Gunn, Daniel Bachman, Ryley Walker.

Wes says: “I find it generally difficult to analyze my own work, and, to be completely honest, I find it generally boring to listen to songwriters talk about their own work, as well. For anyone who writes – songs, poems, or otherwise – they know that it’s impossible to locate where the inspiration comes from. 

“You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

“Nonetheless, since I was asked to reflect on my song ‘Bang The Drum Slowly’, and since I’m lucky enough to have a home here to share it with folks, I’ll do my best to offer some thoughts:

  1. The Gospel of Midwest Geography: Sunoco, OH. Beauty parlor, meat market, church, school, mechanic. No streetlights. God walks on the water.
  2. Baseball players in a field of locusts rolling cigarettes with cornhusks. 
  3. Winter “Zero” Zellar Swartsel was born in 1876 in Farmersville, OH. He bicycled to New York City with his brother. He played ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ on loudspeakers every Sunday. On his land was a bottle farm. It is now a public park.
  4. Somewhere in Ohio there is a graveyard of Chevy Cavaliers. 
  5. Johnny Appleseed in the image of St. Francis. He befriends a blue heron in the creek bed. Crawdads cling to his shirt. His dog is named Troubadour. He calls him Buddy. 
  6. Surviving evidence suggests followers worshipped inside an abandoned silo. Songs could be heard coming through the cornfields at night: Red corn, yellow corn.
  7. This train is hellbent for glory.

“All performers on the track are currently located in western North Carolina.”

The Midwest Book of the Dead takes 18 potent snapshots of lives lived, lives dreamt, lives mythologised, collated together like “the book of photographs that you find at a Goodwill”.

“I think it’s up to the listener to decide who these characters are,” he says. “And what they’re doing. And what’s happening to them.”

Wes Tirey’s Midwest Book Of The Dead will be released by Dear Life Records digitally, on limited double CD and limited double cassette on April 30th; there’s also bundling options to include a 65-page lyrical chapbook, which looks rather lush. You can place your orders over at Bandcamp right now.

Follow Wes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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