TAS In Session: The Greenhornes
An eight-year hiatus between studio albums sounds extreme, but The Greenhornes have been a bit preoccupied. Bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler ended up in The Raconteurs and Loretta Lynn's Do-Whaters, Lawrence is also in The Dead Weather and singer/guitarist Craig Fox has two other bands.
The spiky, garage-rocking trio, originally from Cincinnati but now straddling Nashville too, finally reconvened last year to record their new album Four Stars, represented by four cheeky asterisks on their album cover, as the long-awaited followup to 2002's Dual Mono. The band, currently in Australia, recently had to cancel a few gigs with The Black Keys down under, but they've hooked up with Wolfmother for several dates. Happily, they'll be returning to the States for a spring tour, kicking off March 20 in Dallas and reaching the New York area April 8 and 9 for shows at Brooklyn's The Bell House and Hoboken's Maxwell's.
Not long ago, Lawrence, Fox and Keller, accompanied by touring keyboardist/guitarist and alumnus of The Raconteurs, Mark Watrous, dropped by The Alternate Side to play us four songs from that new record, out now on pal Jack White's Third Man Records.
Alisa Ali: I understand that you named the album Four Stars, not so much to give yourselves a high critical rating, but to reference that it’s your fourth album.
Patrick Keeler: Yeah, well, I really like the record! (laughs).
Alisa: So you’ll give it four stars?
Patrick: I’ll give it four. Maybe four-and-a-half. Maybe three-and-a-half.
Jack Lawrence: Maybe four out of ten?
Alisa: It’s really about A, B, C or D.
Patrick: A-minus maybe.
Craig Fox: In the grand scheme of things, a thumbs up.
Alisa: This album is the first that you’ve released in eight years. And that’s cool. I’m not like, ‘what took you so long?’ I know everyone’s busy. You, Patrick and Jack, were in other bands like The Raconteurs and you also worked with Jack White on the Loretta Lynn album [Van Lear Rose]. And Jack, you were doing The Dead Weather thing. What else was going on?
Patrick: It’s kind of untrue, well, not untrue. We did release a few things, like the EP [East Grand Blues] that Brendan Benson produced for V2 Records around 2005, and at the same time we did a compilation album [Sewed Soles], a retrospective of all of our other albums. Not a greatest hits, but to tell the story about the band. And we were working on a new studio album at that point but then the record label folded on us. So blame them.
Alisa: But you guys were working on other things too?
Patrick: I actually have a t-shirt of the softball team.
Alisa: And that’s still going on?
Alisa: God forbid anyone’s in just one band these days. Do you have to put yourself in a different mind set when you’re in each of these different bands?
Craig: It’s only different for me if I’m just playing guitar. It’s a lot easier and I don’t have to worry about two things.
Alisa: Do you prefer just playing guitar?
Craig: I probably like playing guitar more than singing. But I guess because I was writing songs, I had to sing them. I’d rather just write the songs and have someone else do all of the work.
Alisa: The next Greenhornes album. Don’t you all write the songs together?
Patrick: We arrange a lot of the tunes together. Everybody individually brings their own songs and then we all work on them together.
Alisa: How did the song “Get Me Out Of Here” get started?
Craig: That was another ukulele song.
Alisa: Another ukulele song?
Craig: “Jacob’s Ladder” also uses ukulele.
Patrick: Craig was trying to write songs for ukulele.
Craig: Writing songs on ukulele.
Alisa: Did you bring one with you?
Craig: No, I haven’t played one in about five years (laughs). At that time it was really fun. It’s hard! Once I saw people who really knew how to play the ukulele, it’s pointless for me to try.
Alisa: How long have these songs been around?
Craig: Some of them for a while.
Alisa: What about ['Saying Goodbye"]?
Craig: Since 1983 probably (laughs).
Alisa: So you wrote that in high school?
Craig: When my dad left.
Alisa: Oh gosh. Sorry to bring that up.
Craig: I was eight. He said he was going to get cigarettes (laughs). No, he didn’t leave (laughs). It’s probably like 2003, that one. We played that one live for a while. “Get Me Out Of Here” wasn’t ever played when we recorded it.
Jack: That was in the studio, first time we played that one. Along with most of the album. There was just a few that we’d been playing live, which was different from the other albums that we’d done, where most of the album had been played out for a while.
Alisa: You guys have known each other for a while. Since high school, right?
Craig: Just me and Patrick.
Jack: I me them when I was 18. I was wandering around the streets lost and Craig found me. No, a mutual friend [introduced us]. We’ve been playing together for fourteen years.
Craig: [For this album] we didn’t record the music at the same time as the vocals.
Alisa: Are you cool with writing on the fly like that?
Craig: I took a bus to Nashville and procrastinated. Waited until the very last minute.
Jack: It helps. It lights a fire under you.
Craig: At a Taco Bell.
Alisa: Some of your best work comes out when you’re under the gun. But are some of the song, do you wish you’d put a better word in there?
Jack: You can always pick it apart, you can go back and mix it over and over. But [at some point] you have to walk away.
Craig: It can drive you crazy.
Jack: Some people can fiddle with it forever. Axl Rose might.
Craig: Or Brian Wilson.
Alisa: You guys get albums out a little more frequently than Guns N’ Roses.
Jack: (laughs) Almost.
Alisa: What song has changed a lot from the way you’ve recorded it to how you play it live.
Craig: It’s not like a big, drastic thing; it might just be the way it ends.
Patrick: Alternatively, the song “Need Your Love.” We used to play that song differently when we played it live, and then when we brought it into the studio, we tried something new. There were two or three songs on the record that we played prior to recording. That song in particular, we changed completely when we got to the studio so now we’re playing it as we do on the album.
Alisa: So what’s different then?
Patrick: Pretty much the whole riff.
Jack: Well, do you want to hear it?
Alisa: So how long did it take you to record this record? Was it quick?
Jack: Probably about three weeks total with mixing and everything.
Craig: Spread over three years.
Jack: We did the tracks in Cincinnati at Ultrasuede with John Curley. He’s recorded the first three albums that we did. Then we went to Nashville and mixed and did vocals with Brendan Benson.
Craig: We don’t have our practice space anymore.
Jack: We practice in Patrick’s basement.
Alisa: How often do you practice?
Patrick: Well Craig lives in Cincinnati and Jack and I live in Nashville. Usually when we get together it’s to practice.
Alisa: So how often? Craig: It depends on if we have to do something because it was six years (laughs).
Patrick: Between practices (laughs).
Alisa: What was that first practice like after six years?
Patrick: It was really good, actually.
Craig: It wasn’t six. It was maybe two, three years?
Patrick: It had been a while. But it was actually good. We knew more of the stuff we had played in 1996 then we knew in 2006. Over the years there’s probably 150 songs that we’ve played, so going back through those was really fun.
Jack: Surprisingly easy to remember.
Patrick: And really obscure stuff. That first practice we probably played four to six hours straight.
Alisa: Have you been out on the road a lot.
Patrick: In August we really began playing shows again and we’ve been pretty consistent. It was more [about] getting the record out and the timing of getting the record out, doing the bulk of these shows. We were in the UK for a few weeks. It was okay. We’ll do a broader US tour [this year].
Alisa: Is it more of an adjustment to be back at home than to being on tour?
Jack: I used to feel like that, but the older I get, the more I kind of want to stay at home. But before I’d get restless. I guess I still have that, when you get back.
Craig: I think when you’re out, you want to go home and when you’re home, you want to go out.
Alisa: What’s the best thing about being on tour?
Jack: It’s hard to say when you’re in the midst of it.
Alisa: What’s the best part about being home?
Craig: Doing whatever you want, whenever you want to. I’m a 35 year old guy. I don’t have a wife or kids. I can eat when I want.
Jack: That’s for another show ….