Green River Ordinance Celebrates Fifteen
Green River Ordinance’s new album, Fifteen, is a joyous celebration—of life, of love, of music, of the role music plays in making memories, of the hopes, losses, and joy of community, of the beauty of the natural world, of new life through birth, of home, and of family, among other things. In keeping with the spirit of joy, harmonies are the key to the group’s music; every song features the five members—Josh Jenkins (acoustic guitar), Jamey Ice (guitars, banjo, mandolin), Geoff Ice (bass), Joshua Wilkerson (guitars, mandolin, piano), Denton Hunker (drums, percussion)—joining voices in pure harmony that transports us to a different place, spiritually and physically, whether it’s dancing across the floor to the strains of “Red Fire Night,” or contemplating the comforts of home in “Simple Life.”
In this exclusive video, the band shares their thoughts about their music, about where they now see themselves as a band, and about the making of Fifteen. GRO guitarist and vocalist also chatted with me about a wide range of topics—including Leon Bridges, who this time last year was playing songs on the back porch of BREWED, the coffeehouse in Fort Worth that Ice and his wife co-own—from the new album to the relationship between spirituality and music.
HC: What’s the story of this record?
Jamey Ice: Well, we’ve had a band for fifteen years, and we started when we were fifteen-years-old—well, Geoff was thirteen—so this is a kind of anniversary record. We were with Capitol Records for about four years and left there in 2011. After we left, we put out a little played EP that had a song on it called “Dancing Shoes”; that single ended up selling 150,000 copies, and it confirmed for us that we could make the kind of music we wanted to make. And that’s what we’ve done with this new album; so, we recorded it independently, and then we signed with Residence Music, a label we really like. We love what we do; we didn’t have an agenda; we don’t feel like we have to prove ourselves anymore; we said, “let’s just have fun making this album,” and that’s what we did.
HC: And you recorded it live?
Ice: Yes; we were all the same room; so, we kind of jammed and recorded it all live to tape. We recorded it in three different places—Nashville, Dallas, and Atlanta—and with three different producers. We were listening to The Band, the Eagles, and The Stones while we were recording, so we were going for that vibe on this album; like, the looseness of Exile on Main Street, which was one we had on rotation a lot. We wanted it to be a band record.
HC: How did you choose the songs for the album?
Ice: We actually had over 50 songs; each producer picked his own songs, and we ended up with the ones we have on the album.
HC: Can you describe the qualities each producer brought to the sessions? Differences?
Ice: In Dallas, we worked with Jordan Critz (“Tallahassee,” “You, Me & the Sea,” “Endlessly”); Jordan has always been the sixth member of Green River Ordinance, and he often plays with the band. He sang background vocals and played electric guitar and lap steel on several songs on this album. One of the songs he produced, “Tallahassee,” sounds like a GRO song; he captured that usual GRO sound. Paul Moak (“Always Love Her,” “Simple Life,” “Keep My Heart Open,” “Keep Your Cool,” “Life in the Wind,” “Maybe It’s Time”) in Nashville; man, he has this great studio, and you can see it in the video; all these instruments plugged in and ready to go. He played on guitar and pedal steel on a few songs, too. Paul is all about the vibe and the atmosphere in the studio; he had incense burning and the light way down low. He encouraged us to “just feel it,” and the songs we recorded there were a little more introspective. In Atlanta, Rick Beato (“Red Fire Night,” “Only God Knows”), who plays piano and organ on a couple of songs, is the total opposite of Paul Moak. He’s not as much about the vibe; it’s bright lights and loud, and he’s more about finding that sound that will succeed as a single, which is just what he did so well with “Red Fire Night,” which became the first single from the album.
HC: You’ve been together 15 years; how did you get together?
Ice: We were, like, classic rock kids; my brother and I played “Sweet Home Alabama” all the time. We were friends in high school in Fort Worth, but we were pretty bad at sports (laughs). So, we started playing music together, and by our junior year of college we were playing three nights a week. At the end of that year, our mom [Geoff and Jamey’s mom] sent a tape of our music to DJ at our local radio station as part of a contest to pick a local band to open for Bon Jovi. We won, so we got to play in front of 20,000 people, and then we had class the next day. (laughs)
HC: How did you come up with the name of the band?
Ice: We once saw this road sign that read “Green River Ordinance” enforced here. We had no idea what the Green River ordinance was, but we were big fans of CCR and thought that GRO would sound pretty cool. We later found out that the Green River ordinance is a law that prohibits door-to-door solicitation in Green River, Wyoming. (laughs)
HC: Tell me a little about your approach to songwriting.
Ice: We write everything together. For instance, Josh Jenkins might have an idea or a melody, so we’ll start there; then we’ll pull it apart and put it back together again. We pull every song apart; that’s really hard, but each song gets better every time we do it. The biggest thing we’ve learned is how much environment plays a role in it. We wrote our EP Chasing Down the Wind at this cabin on Caney Fork River in the middle of Tennessee, and had a kind of writing retreat there; the songs that came to us in that beautiful place just kind of fell into place. A great song is one that makes you feel good, with a simple and singable tune; you recall the how it makes you feel and the experience you have every time you hear it. You know, we all have memories of albums in our past because of certain experiences that happened to us when we were listening to them—we fell in love or out of love, had our first kiss or first breakup. I hope people make great memories to this new record.
HC: What’s next for you?
Ice: We’ll be doing some touring. Mainly, though, we have discovered a new sound that we really like, and we want to do more music like this.