Drinks With: The Greenhornes
Skip Matheny— currently a songwriter in the band Roman Candle and former bartender in a retirement community — caught up with Craig Fox, Patrick Keeler, and Jack Lawrence of The Greenhornes in Nashville recently. Their latest LP, * * * * is out now on Third Man Records.
What’s your favorite drink?
Patrick: If you mean alcoholic drinks then I am definitely a beer guy. Well I like tequila and Guinness, and Mexican beer. I’ve gotten into dark tequilas, like the Añejo tequilas.
Craig: Jack and Coca-Cola. Gatorade.
Jack: It’s hard to say. I really like them all. I guess it’s more mood maybe. I mean if it’s summer, a good beer tastes pretty good. I like wine at dinner… but probably beer.
When you all writing songs on a guitar or a piano, how much if any, of the production ideas are already in place? For example, would you ever think while you are writing a song, “On this chorus we are gonna have, layered vocals, or record the drums with this or that effect?” Does that tend to come all at once, or later?
Craig: I think, production-wise, it comes later, as we are recording.
Patrick: Most of the recordings that we normally do we [start] on our native instruments, like I’m on drums, and that way..and most of the keyboard stuff happens afterwards.
Jack: Some of that stuff is in your mind. I always think like, in notes. I think you hear something or have some ideas and you kind of put it in the back of your head, “Maybe we should do… split a reverb on one side” or whatever is in your head like “big timpani” on something or “more percussive” . And then it always will find its way into the studio on to a certain song after you start recording.
You all are from Ohio, more or less I think. Do you all tend to write better with a lot of things going on around you, or do you all turn off the TV and isolate yourself to .
Craig: No I mean, if I am like playing my guitar I have the TV on. But when we practice we don’t have anything like that going on.
Patrick: We have a “no TV” policy (laughs).
Right. I’d like to have a “no TV” policy in all of the bars that you can end up playing in.
Patrick: Oh Yeah.
Jack: Or in any bars, all bars.
(Laughs) Yeah in all bars. It’s the worst if you can see it from the stage.
Patrick: If there is a TV on I’ll look at it.
Jack: Yeah. We were playing in NY one time when the Subway Series was going on. So there would be cheers and you’d look up and somebody had hit a home run.
Patrick: I don’t know, it’s weird. I do a lot of the artwork for the band and doing that I have to kind of shut myself off from everything. It’s usually the wee hours or anytime I can work on it by myself.
Jack: Well we did all of the LPs in Cincinnati in a studio called Ultrasuede Studio. And I guess it feels kind of isolated there because it is in this weird old industrial part of town and there are a lot of train yards and factories around there. It is kind of like a lonely part of town, I always feel.
Was there a time when you were a kid, when you heard some music and you said, “I want to try and make that. I want to try and create a song?” Was there any time, or stretch of time, that is carved out in your memory as kind of an odd or mysterious moment, connecting with music?
Patrick: It was my Dad’s record collection that kind of got me into music. My dad was definitely into rock and roll. He always took me to concerts and stuff like that. But I mean playing music and everything, it was pretty clinical. I mean, I got dropped off at drum lessons, I would practice. And I was doing that pretty early on. But it wasn’t until I was probably 16 hears old, hearing Mitch Mitchell or something. Just hearing what that was. And not trying not to emulate it or anything, but I really felt it. And I kind of started using all of those things that I learned, and then dropping all of the other shit that I didn’t need to know. And thinking, “Wow, you can just play rock and roll like this..” And I liked a lot of jazz growing up. That’s what really got me into playing the way I play. It was just never about the rock beat or anything like that. It was just very musical the way [Mitch Mitchell] played. It’s all over the map. I mean honestly, to this day, I still have a hard time repeating what I just did. (laughs) It’s hard for me I suppose. It’s like ‘the moment” is gone.
Craig: My parent’s records and stuff like that. Really early on. Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. I don’t remember a moment though, like a specific moment. When Nirvana came out I remember that was kind of big. I was just always into 60′s music and I thought that that was pretty similar. Maybe that put the idea in my head to be in bands I think. ‘Cause I kind of played guitar but the stuff I was into, I just didn’t think that I could do anything with it — that anything would happen. Then they kind of came along (laughs). I guess that could be like a moment. They came out when I was 15 or 16, right when I started playing.
Jack: I think it was Hank Williams for me. I learned a lot of those songs. It was really fed to me, early. That’s all my grandfather would listen to. It was just always there. It sort of had a way of putting you in a situation. It was simple and you understood it right away. And to go ahead and try to do that… it is really hard. To make something so simple and how you would sing over such poetry, it is hard to do. It’s much harder than I thought, so then I went back to The Kingsmen records.
(laughs) That’s great. I used to work at an old persons’ home, and one of the members had hung out a lot with Hank Williams when he was starting to write his first songs. He said he would go listen to the latest Eddy Arnold record in the store, and go home and try to imitate it or top it.
[to Jack] You used to work at an old person’s home?
Jack: Yeah It was really of a shame, I worked in the kitchen. They had all these great brochures that they hand people to get them in there, but once they were in, it is all run down. They had this cracked tennis court out back, there was no net. It was pretty bad.
Sounds like You all had parents that were handing you great music.
Craig: Yeah. They had great records. A lot of the English stuff. My dad had the harder English blues bands like Cream and stuff like that. My mom had pop, like Herman’s Hermits, The Beatles.
Yeah. My mom still names Herman’s Hermits as her favorite.
Craig: I love Herman’s Hermits. Museum. That’s a great record.
Jack: I still have my Mom’s 45′s down here [Nashville]. I still listen to those. That’s where I learned how to play guitar. Just listening to those. Cause it was hard to do on a tape, cause you’d have to keep going back looking for something. But the records were a lot easier. You could try to pick out a chord or something. I remember “Louie Louie”. “Green Onions” was the one I listened to a lot. I think all of our parents listened to music. It’s a good thing to be around. I think Patrick’s Dad might be the only one who ever played music.
Craig: Yeah, my Dad kind of played but didn’t play. He had a guitar but I don’t even remember him playing it. But he had guitar in the house. That’s how I got into it.
How long did you guys know each other before you were in a band?
Patrick: Craig and I went to High school together and that’s where we met. We probably started hanging out when we were 16.
Craig: Yeah, when I was 16 or so.
Patrick: Yeah, the town Craig and I grew up in, the population was like what?
Craig: 300 or something.
Patrick: Yeah (laughs), tiny. the High School was pretty big because it included the surrounding counties.
Do you all three typically collaborate on song structures or lyrics? How does that typically work?
Patrick: Not the lyrics so much. Generally how it tends to work is that Craig will have a really good structure or part of the song structure, like the chorus or a verse and then we sort of work out what will come next. Then Craig or Jack will write the lyrics. This is the first record where we kind of [arranged the songs] that way, on the spot. With a lot of the other records we have had tons of practices or played a lot of the songs live before we recorded them. But this one we kind of showed up with a pile of songs and went through them.
So, lyrically when you are working, do you usually have an idea going into a song? Or does a story develop out of bits of words that sound good with the melody? Like on the new record “Jacob’s Ladder” is more of portrait of a person. Is any of that planned or is it just what comes out naturally?
Patrick Laughs)[To Craig] You had a particular portrait in mind right?
Craig: (laughs) Well, that song in particular I had a couple portraits in mind. There was this bar called Jacob’s. That’s where it gets the title . It was just a lot of stupid college girls just doing stupid shit. And I just got disgusted and thought I’m going to go home and make a song. I was playing a ukulele. I was into ukulele at that point, and so I wrote a ukulele song about some stupid girl at a bar. (laughs) That came pretty quick.
Are there times in the practice space where you are playing around and you come up with particular tone and it leads into a song, or do songs usually arrive separately and then get ‘fleshed out’ in the studio…
Jack: It comes a lot kind of how Craig was just saying like “I was playing a ukulele.” I think things come if you are playing are writing on an instrument outside of what you usually play in the band… on piano or a bass is pretty good to start writing. Because it is just the root, and then you can kind of get the melody out of that. [The melody] is just kind of free. Getting a new instrument can inspire you. Or a good tone like you were saying. With and amp, or a pedal, even.
It’s funny to kind of thing that there might be good songs in a pedal. At a Guitar Center. Which is one of the least-inspiring places in the world.
Jack: (laugs) Yeah.
Who are some lyricists that you all admire?
Craig: I always liked Bob Dylan, but I don’t do anything like that. The Zombies. I always liked The Zombies.
Jack: Yeah, me too, they are kind of my favorite.
Craig: Yeah, I don’t know who wrote the most Rod Argent or Chris White.
Jack: Yeah, Odyssey and Oracle. I think that is a great album. It can put you in a real mood.
Craig: Yeah. Smokey Robinson wrote some great lyrics. I think Bob Dylan was really into Smokey Robinson. But I like both of them.
Jack: Like I said earlier, Hank Williams.
Patrick: I always like Willie Nelson. That’s some pretty powerful stuff. And Neil Young.
Craig: Yeah, Neil Young.
Jack: Ray Davies.
Craig: Ray Davies, yeah.
Patrick: I think Captain Beefheart is always able to get his point across pretty clearly (laughs).
Craig: I’ve been into Rod Stewart early records lately.
Yeah. I like a lot of those.
Craig: Right after The Faces. The song “True Blue” I think is really good. Which I never thought I’d be into Rod Stewart either (laughs).
Patrick: You’re going to get really into him.
Craig: Not like the ‘Do You Want My Body’ records. It basically sounds like The Faces, those first two solo albums.
Yeah. I have a friend who has a really good music-ear and is a songwriter, and he listens to a lot of records they used to play where my Mom would get her haircut. Taylor Dane, etc. He’s all about them. And he’s managed to get me out of my kind of “high school cool brain” that I used to live in, for what that’s worth. He’s obviously way cooler than me, out of the gates, for “not having a “high school cool brain” I suppose. Anyway he was one of the first people to tell me, “Those Rod Stewart Records…” And he doesn’t stop at the second solo record. He’s carries it straight on through.
Craig: (laughs) I mean, somebody told me, when I was in the record store, “You should get this record. It was Never a Dull Moment. And I was like “really?” And I got it and, well…
Jack: My friend Mark talks about Huey Lewis like that. (laughs) He’s like, “Well, if you take the actual song, and you break it down…” He’s like, “there’s some really good songs in there.”
(laughs) Yeah. I probably agree with him.
Patrick: (laughs) I loved Huey Lewis when I was growing up. Maybe that’s why.
That’s all my mom gave us in the car was either Huey Lewis or Wilson Phillips. When you are like 11 years old, you’re like, “not Wilson Phillips today Mom. Let’s have the Huey Lewis again.” I was actually thinking about that on the drive over because I was trying to think of where I’d heard another song called “Jacob’s Ladder.” And believe it or not, Huey Lewis and The News, have a song with that title on the Fore! Record.
Patrick: They have song called that?
Yeah, I think it’s “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”
Patrick: Oddly enough our record is based off of Fore!. (laughs)
Completely. I think most people pick that up on first listen.
Jack: You know I heard “The Power of Love” the other night before I fell asleep and when I woke up it was still in my head. There must be something to it.
Patrick: And you know what about Huey Lewis, if you hear him today? He sounds fucking awesome man. He’s like one of those guys that has always maintained the same age, the same voice sound, the whole thing, nothing changed.
Craig: I saw a thing of his story and childhood. He had a strange childhood thing, like his parent’s were beatniks or something. It was really not what you would expect.
Patrick: I love it that we have somehow got around to seriously talking about it. (laughs)
Actually, all the way to Huey Lewis’s origins. Which is where we want to end up with him.
Patrick: Oddly, that was a big part of my growing up was listening to that. It was huge. Maybe Joan Jett and Huey Lewis.
We actually got a Huey Lewis CD for my mom for Christmas a few years back and about a month later we got a call from my Dad, who is a jazz guy, saying, “Thanks a lot kids. This is all we listen to in the car.”
Patrick: Get in there Dad! There is a lot of good stuff. Deconstruct! We started with Huey Lewis and we worked backwards. And we beat him to the end (laughs).
Lastly I am going to name a couple of songwriters and if you can say whatever the first song or thing that comes to mind is.
Craig: Parking lots.
Patrick: Riding in a car, maybe.
Craig: I picture those ruffle-y shirts. Telecasters.
Patrick: Union Jacks.
Jack: The color green.
Jack: Adobe. Because she has that Mexican compound down on 12th.
(laughs) Yeah that adds some nice mystery to the neighborhood.
Townes Van Zandt
Patrick: I think of the Gold Rush Bar.
Patrick: Car-sick (pauses) — But in the best possible way