When The Greenhornes burst onto the Cincinnati music scene a decade ago, the band was not pie-eyed about their prospects. Their ambitions were modest, at best. Make a couple of CDs, book some local shows, maybe earn enough financially from both enterprises to require just one part-time job to make ends meet.
What a difference 10 years can make.
"I never expected it to get like this. It's more than my expectations; they've been met already," says guitarist Craig Fox as the band makes its way north to Minneapolis as the opener on the current White Stripes tour. "When we started there wasn't any big plan. We wanted to make an actual vinyl record. We thought it would be nice to have our band on a record. Then we just kept doing it.
It gets kind of addicting. You've got to do the next thing."
As The Greenhornes' achieved their next things relatively quickly, they continued to consistently garner great local press and earned the occasional national notice as well. The band might have turned the local corner in the fall of 2001 when they opened for the buzz band of that season, The Strokes, at the Southgate House and nearly stole the show from the NYC quintet. From then on, things were just a little different in The Greenhornes' camp as they experimented with their lineup (quartet to quintet to trio, now consisting of Fox on guitar and vocals, bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler) and honed their garage-chopped sound. Since then they've recorded their third and best album, Dual Mono, made a couple of SXSW appearances, toured relentlessly and played backing band for Holly Golightly on a couple of club tours. (In addition, Lawrence and Keeler served as the rhythm section for Loretta Lynn on her stunning return to the studio, last year's Van Lear Rose, they play with Jack White and Brendan Benson in a band called The Raconteurs and Lawrence plays banjo part-time with Detroit's Blanche.)
Still, none of them really expected the kind of year that they've had. The White Stripes tour The Greenhornes did four years ago was a considerably lower profile gig than the major circuit they're doing now (which garnered them a mention in Rolling Stone last month as an opener to show up early to see). The band was signed to V2 Records and given their own label imprint, Prize Brigade, for their latest EP, East Grand Blues (produced by Pop wunderkind Benson and nabbing radio play around the country). And they scored a sweet soundtrack appearance in the new Jim Jarmusch film, Broken Flowers (starring Bill Murray).
"It feels good, but I still haven't fully understood it or something," says Fox with a laugh. "I still feel just the same. It's like we were waiting around for 10 years."
For all of the great things that have gone The Greenhornes' way, there have been disappointments as well. East Grand Blues, for instance: The EP was intended to be a full album, but Benson's tight schedule forced him to abandon the production with just a handful of tracks in the can. Rather than wait, the band put out the EP as a stopgap release.
"Brendan was kind of doing it as a favor, then he got busy with his album," says Fox. "Then V2 helped us put it out on iTunes, and everybody liked it, so they helped us put out the hard copy."
The other great break that came The Greenhornes' way was getting the track "There's an End" from Dual Mono placed on the soundtrack of Broken Flowers.
"Jim Jarmusch would come to our shows in New York," says Fox. "Jack just started talking to him, and he said he wanted to use something of ours in a movie. We had no idea what kind of movie or anything. We know his movies; I didn't realize that Bill Murray was going to be in it or that the track was going to be the opening credit track. I haven't seen it yet, though."
As hard as it might seem for the band to process, The Greenhornes' greatest success could lie ahead. After the U.S. tour, they'll accompany the Stripes for a European stint this fall — their first full continental circuit — and then return to the studio in December to begin their first full album since 2002's Dual Mono. And Fox says the band has some ideas about how to proceed with Prize Brigade.
"I would like to put out bands," says Fox. "I don't know that much about it, but it would be nice to find bands that I like and help them out."
As for the new album, Fox says the EP is a hint at the direction The Greenhornes will be taking — lean, melodic and powerful. And there are hopes that they can finish the trip that they began with Benson on East Grand Blues.
"We're going to redo some of the (EP) songs for the new album, and there are some that we're working on (that are) similar," Fox notes. "It could all be an album with the EP. Brendan was real easy-going and we worked well together. He had a lot of ideas and we got a lot of good sounds. The idea is to do it with (local engineer/musician) John Curley and Brendan and probably at (Curley's) Ultrasuede. I'd like to record an album that I really love."
For the time being, The Greenhornes are just enjoying the attention, with the press constantly touting them as a band on the verge of breaking out.
"My mom collects every clipping that she finds and shows them to me," says Fox. "That feels good, you know? To get into Rolling Stone. There were periods where it was like, 'What the hell ... what are we doing?' Where you almost want to quit. But we didn't."
THE GREENHORNES play Music Hall with The White Stripes on Sept. 12.