Here Come the Greenhornes

After sidelining with Jack White, Cincinnati garage rockers return

Jack Lawrence does triple duty as the bassist for the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, and the Greenhornes, the garage-rock band he co-founded 15 years ago in Cincinnati. He never forgets which band he's playing with on any given day, but you can forgive him if he ever does.

Before they released their fourth album, ****, last year, it had been eight years since the last Greenhornes record. Shit like that happens when you're busy touring with your pal Jack White's two side bands. Still, it's not like they weren't recording, says Lawrence. They made an EP with Brendan Benson (another Raconteur) and added some new songs to the 2005 Greenhornes compilation Sewed Soles. "Then we decided to take a little break," he says.

It's been a busy decade for Lawrence (pictured left). In addition to playing in the aforementioned groups, plus getting married (at White's house, in a double ceremony that also included Jack's former White Stripes bandmate Meg White, no less), the 34-year-old multi-instrumentalist joined another band, Blanche; played on Loretta Lynn's 2004 comeback record Van Lear Rose, which was produced by Jack White; and was part of the Karen O & the Kids project that provided the soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are.

All those experiences come together on the new Greenhornes album, says Lawrence. "You pick up little things here and there when you're playing with other bands," he says. "You learn from who you're around. You get to see how other people do things and take it back."

Not that there was too much prep required for ****. After all, the Greenhornes are a garage-rock band. It's not like there's much involved in the primal bashing of three chords. Write songs, practice songs, record songs — that's about it. Lawrence says things moved quickly once he and his bandmates — singer and guitarist Craig Fox and drummer Patrick Keeler — reconvened.

"We had no plan at all," he says. "But this is the first album where almost all of it was written in the studio. That turned out to be great for us. We do what we do. There's not a lot of thought about it. It just happens."

The songs on **** don't stray too far from the template the band set with its 1999 debut, Gun for You. It's an album filled with kinda dippy, often trippy '60s-style psych-rock — the sort of guitar-driven retro-leaning rock & roll that the White Stripes grew out of around the same time Jack became a rock god.

"We're getting a younger crowd now," says Lawrence, who credits the audience's age shift to his higher-profile gigs in the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. "It's neat to have young kids who have heard about us. We didn't have that before. We were playing in bars."

After 2002's Dual Mono, the Greenhornes temporarily disappeared. They never meant to be away from each other for long, but various side projects kept the guys busy. (Keeler is also a member of the Raconteurs; Fox plays guitar in a handful of other Cincinnati bands.)

When they finally got back together a few years ago, they started pooling the songs that ended up on ****. "We didn't have much time, and we work kinda fast in the studio anyway," says Lawrence. "But that's where we can really get down and venture out more with the songs. Live, what you see is what you get: three guys playing."

You don't have to listen too hard to hear the Kinks, Who, or other classic guitar rockers in ****'s best songs (like "Saying Goodbye," "Better Off Without It," and "Song 13"). It's not the freshest record to come out in 2011, but it is the Greenhornes' best, and it's way more fun than the last Raconteurs album.

"The great thing about this band is that everything comes together so easily," says Lawrence. "Hopefully there won't be another eight-year break. None of these other projects got in the way of the Greenhornes, but things happen and just get away from you. But who knows? I could get a call in two months and be in another band."

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