Green River Ordinance‘s sharp new EP, Chasing Down the Wind, offers narratives both edgy (“It Ain’t Love”) and elegant (“Cannery River”).
“For us, it always comes back to telling a good story about something that matters to us,” says lead singer Josh Jenkins, a Fort Worth, Texas, native now transplanted in Nashville. “Sometimes that’s just having a good time and a fun song, and sometimes it’s more serious and personal. I would hope that people would be able to listen to this new material and really get a grasp on who we are as people and where we’re at and where we’ve been.”
CMT Edge: How did Chasing Down the Wind take shape?
Jenkins: We had been touring pretty heavily after [2012’s] Under Fire, and the fall came around and we had the idea of really wanting to write some more. … So we went to a cabin in the middle of Tennessee. We spent a little over a week there with all of our instruments. We were like, “Hey, let’s try to write and see what comes out.” These seven songs were born there.
Explain the band’s songwriting process.
We would write a little bit, and if we hit a wall, we’d go jump on a jet ski and drive down the river and hang out, and it really provided an environment for these songs to develop and grow. It wasn’t something that was forced for us. It just happened naturally. Over the next few months, we were able to get into the studio to record them. I think the biggest song for us is “Dancing Shoes,” and we didn’t really have anything to follow that up with after Under Fire. So this EP allowed us to dive more into that side of Green River Ordinance.
Tell the story behind writing the opening track, “Cannery River.”
The actual river that we were on is called Caney Fork River, but “Caney Fork River” doesn’t sing as good as “Cannery River.” We were sitting in the screened-in patio area one morning and we were pulling out ideas from the last year or so. Geoff [Ice, the band’s bassist] had this instrumentation that he had written when we were writing Under Fire, and I was like, “Hey, man, play that thing.” The lines came out of my mouth in like 20 seconds: “Meet me down on Cannery River/Set your heart free for a while/Me and you and the man in the moon/Girl, it’s good to see you smile.” It was like, “There’s something there that sounds right,” so we chased that down. That was one of the first ones on the EP that happened.
How collaborative is your writing process?
I think the place we like to live in is that there’s really no one way a song can come about. Sometimes it starts with one person, and sometimes it starts with five people. I think over the years, we’ve tried to do it just one way, and one way never really works. We allow ourselves to have multiple ways of working now. Sometimes we’ll get together and we won’t be able to come up with anything, and sometimes songs start separately. The whole thing for us is to allow things to be open and fluid.
Who do you draw from as a lyricist?
Oh, my gosh, there are so many of them. The Lyle Lovetts of the world. Ryan Adams. The Eagles have a tremendous way of telling a good story. I grew up listening to country music, and it’s always built around a story and “three chords and the truth.” I think we’ve lived a little bit in the pop world and have had some freedoms to explore creativity. We grew up listening Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind and Collective Soul and all the way to growing up in Texas listening to Pat Green and Gene Watson and George Jones.
We have an eclectic base of inspiration that’s allowed us to see different ways. I think you look up to all those artists and you look at how they’ve created content that matters and lasts. The thing for us is creating content in songs that aren’t defined by a period of time but will continue to have legs.
How did “It Ain’t Love” come together?
Yeah, “It Ain’t Love” probably was the last one written for the EP. That song wasn’t planned. It just showed up. It was like the surprise birth of something cool and exciting. … The idea started at the river and finished up at my house in Nashville. I didn’t even have the hook for it, but it was a story that was compelling to me — the idea of not being able to experience really knowing or loving someone without allowing yourself the potential of getting hurt.
It was an idea that was tossed around in my head for a long time, and I didn’t know how to say it. “It ain’t love if it can’t break your heart” just rolled out, and we were there to grab it and put it in the song. It’s fun when it happens like that. It was a very natural process. Sometimes you have to work for those songs, and sometimes you have a great idea you can’t really take credit for.
The best songs usually fall out of the sky.
Yes. It’s such a frustrating but amazing process. You could spend eight hours working on something, and it’ll still be a pile of crap. I can sit in a room for eight hours with every bit of my ability and try to write something good, and it’ll be crap. Then there are days when you spend two hours on something, and it’ll be infinitely better than anything you’ve ever written. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve heard it referred to as fishing. As the writer, all you can do is put your line in the water and prepare yourself to catch the idea. Patience is the key.
How essential has music placement on TV and in movies been to your success?
Extremely. Any form of media that can get your music out into the world is super helpful. We’re always excited about that. On our last record, we got to play The Young and the Restless, which is something we would never dream of getting to do, but that opens you up to a whole other demographic that might otherwise not hear you. We love opportunities like that. They allow you to broaden your fan base.
Did that Young and the Restless gig spread your music most?
Young and the Restless did, and we got a song on So You Think You Can Dance, which was pretty amazing. That was a few years back, but they had a pretty amazing reach. That was pretty stinking cool. We’ve had our song on MTV one time and The Vampire Diaries and other shows, but I’d say our actual appearance on The Young and the Restless is one of the bigger things we’ve done as far as placement.
Was being on a major label (for 2009’s Out of My Hands) key for those spots?
It was super helpful. When we started out, our goal was to make music, and we had to figure out how to do that and turn it into a career. The label was an amazing experience. Being on Capitol Records was a dream, and there were a lot of people there that we loved who did an amazing job. They really provide the ammunition to get your music out to the masses. I definitely think it was instrumental in our career.
I mean, we definitely had to walk away because there were some things we needed to do for our band that were the best decision, but we don’t regret ever being on the label, and we understand the importance of something that size helping push you into the mainstream. We are our own label at this point, and we’re definitely not opposed to labels in the future, but that’s where we are now.
Self-releasing’s definitely a trend now.
Yeah, I think iTunes and the digital world level the playing field. I think there are advantages to being with someone who can put a good amount of money behind you. But I think, for us, we’ve really established and built a fan base and a family that can purchase our music, and we can take on a lot of that responsibility ourselves. To reach out to them, make them aware of the record, to include content on social media and videos and release a record on iTunes and Amazon can make some noise. It’s an exciting time. There’s a lot of room for independent artists to create a buzz.