After releasing their first full-length, ****, in 8 years The Greenhornes returned to Chicago on March 25th at the Double Door. They were gracious enough to let us sit in during their sound check, drink some of their craft beers, and to chat with us about the record, their connection with Ben Folds, the real Rod Stewart, and what The Greenhornes future holds. (For reference, bassist Jack Lawrence had to leave after soundcheck and was unable to participate in the interview.)
TP: First off, welcome back to the Midwest from SXSW, how was it for the Greenhornes this year?
Patrick Keeler (Drummer): We actually played about four shows, and I can’t remember the last time we were there
Craig Fox (Guitarist): I think probably 2004
PK: It was a little different for us, because everytime we went before it seemed like we went for just one day, and this time we were there for four days.
TP: was it strange going back there? You’re there now as sort of…
PK: Old hat? (Laughs)
TP: Well it seems like a lot of up and coming bands use SXSW to get more publicity and you guys don’t seem to need the blog attention. You can just go play and people know your resume.
PK: I don’t know… (pauses) It was fun. There was a lot of people at all the shows which was great.
CF: I think last time we did some Agency thing right?
(Editor’s Note: The Agency Group is a massive booking agency that represents the Greenhornes amongst hundreds of other bands.)
PK: Yeah, it’s like a way for us to give back to the people who do so much for us.
TP: Last time the Greenhornes were in Chicago you guys played a string of sold out shows at the Aragon Ballroom with the Black Keys around New Years’ Eve. What was the reception like coming back to Chicago after not having played here in a number of years?
PK: It was great, you know? Thankfully we had a good closing band for us.
PK: It was a blast man. It’s always tough being an opening band and you know, sometimes with bands that we bring on tour with us, you just don’t know how the crowd’s gonna react. But for us it was pretty welcoming. The crowd was pretty raucous about it.
TP: The Greenhornes just put out your new record (****) last October on Third Man Records – What’s it like being on Third Man Records? Do you find the Greenhornes gaining more fans that are more familiar with bands like the White Stripes or the Raconteurs?
PK: It’s nice, it’s also kind of weird. We started this band in 1996, and a lot of the younger people coming to the shows now, like 18,19, 20, 21 year olds couldn’t see us when we were playing before. They were too young. And then we stopped playing for four years. We have some younger people in the crowd, but the people that could see us before are a little older…
CF:And we’re a littler older. (laughs) But whenever we played before it wasn’t just young people coming to see us, it was always a mix age wise. Even when it was only 10 people.
PK + CF: (Laughs)
TP: I know that Four Stars took a couple of years to really finish, but there were some songs that made the album that you guys had played live even before the Greenhornees took a break, “Better Off Without It” is one that comes to mind.
PK: Yeah we had played that live for awhile and we had actually recorded it. We recorded a couple of these songs back in maybe 2006. We just never put them out.
TP: So was the record a long time coming?
PK: Well, the last time we toured we all decided, ‘Hey, let’s take a break.’ We didn’t know if it’d be two weeks, a month, or two months or a year. But then everybody got busy and some people didn’t want to go tour, you know what I mean?
PK: It was whatever, we’d done it for a long time. So when we came back together to record it was kind of the same way it’s always been. We didn’t have a producer. We didn’t have money. We just had to find the time and people to help us do it for free (laughs).
TP: Ben Folds’ Studio is credited in the liner notes, can you talk about that?
PK: Sure. Ben has a studio that we used a bit, and I asked the engineer Joe Costa what Ben calls his studio and he didn’t know so I just went with ‘Ben Folds’ Studio’.
TP: Did you know Ben? How did that even come about?
PK: I met Ben a few times, he’s really nice. One of the guys who mixed our record, Jared Reynolds, played bass with Ben. It’s such a cool studio – it was originally RCA studio A in Nashville, which was like, their big orchestral room.
TP: Talk about the recording process. Did you have a set plan or did you write and alter material during your studio time?
CF: We worked out the songs in studio. We record live, or at least the music tracks when we’re all together. I like recording without headphones, personally. It’s as close to playing live as you can be. But sometimes you can’t do that. We kind of worked on some stuff before we hit the studio and we worked on them more as we recorded.
TP: I wanted to talk a bit about how you guys come up with lyrics. Both of you mentioned a couple of influences in a number of interviews. But Patrick, you mentioned sarcastically that Captain Beefheart was able to get everything he was trying to say out perfectly.
CF + PK: (Laugh)
PK: Nobody knows what he’s saying.
TP: But how do The Greenhornes formulate their lyrics – Craig are they up to you?
CF: I write them. Sometimes Jack will write them and we’ll kind of all collaborate.
PK: I write lyrics too… but we never use them.
TP: Rod Stewart also came up. Most people don’t think of Rod Stewart when they think of filthy garage rock, but you look at the Faces and early Rod Stewart and it comes out, I think, in the Greenhornes sound.
PK: He’s got a great voice that’s so different from anyone and he delivers it like nobody else– and I’m not talking about show tunes Rod Stewart. Early Rod Stewart is fucking rock ‘n’ roll, man.
TP: Obviously your influences seem to shine through in your records, but some of the stuff we’ve talked about had come out before the Greenhornes were making music. Are your parents responsible for a decent portion of your tastes?
PK: A lot of my taste came from my parents. Having listened to the music that they liked when they were young influenced me and then meeting Craig and Jack it seemed like we all just had the same kind of knowledge.
TP: After having been together and playing music professionally for 15 years, do you get the same rush performing each night? Is it still fun?
CF: It’s different. Obviously it’s not the same as when you first started out. You just have to get along with it, at least, that’s how I look at it. You just kind of see what happens every day.
PK: I think, too, that when you’re first starting you’re trying to save every dime possible and I think now I’d rather take less money at the end of the tour and travel a bit nicer. Maybe that sounds terrible (laughs), but if it feels good, do it.
TP: Finally, what’s next for the Greenhornes? You’re going to tour the record a bit more with Hacienda and JEFF the Brotherhood, but then what?
PK: We might go to Europe and maybe down to Mexico, Chile and the rest of South America. Then hopefully we’ll make another record and do some other stuff. We didn’t have a plan for the first 15 years (laughs) so we probably still won’t have one.