A decade and a half has passed since five aspiring musicians, with an average age of 15, formed a band in a garage in their hometown of Fort Worth. They named it Green River Ordinance (GRO) after the Texas state law forbidding door-to-door sales. On this 15th anniversary, to mark the years that have passed from those humble beginnings, GRO will release a new full-length album aptly titled Fifteen. The album debuts in January 2016. Pre-order on iTunes, with four songs, comes out Sept. 25.
“What’s neat about this album in particular is it signifies 15 years of our history growing up together and also learning how to play music together,” says Jamey Ice, who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin. People in Fort Worth also know Ice as the co-owner of the eclectic gastropub/coffeehouse Brewed, which is located in the Fairmount District on Magnolia Avenue.
“There was a lot of comradery and a lot of fun making this album,” Ice says. “At this point in our career, it’s not like we have a lot to prove. We have the fans, and we have an established brand and company; we’re in a very good place and there’s freedom in that. So, we made something that’s fun. That was the attitude.”
Fifteen matches melodies and insightful lyrics with GRO’s familiar harmonies. Intimate numbers such as “Simple Life,” “Endlessly” and “Heart Open” and upbeat tunes such as “Always Love Her,” “Keep Your Cool” and “Red Fire Night” give balance of electric and acoustical experiences.
“If we could describe ourselves, I would want it to be ‘An American Band that captures Southern rock, country, but not super country, and Texicana. It’s also rock and roll,’ ” Ice says.
Every song is written as a collaborative effort, with no outside songs. “We’ve played together for 15 years, but we’ve never recorded on the same time,” Ice says. “Generally, when we record, we go in and record drums, then bass, then guitar. With this, we wanted it to be intentional and capture that energy in live sound with our vibe.”
The band cut tracks for Fifteen in separate sessions with three notable producers — Paul Moak, Rick Beato and longtime GRO collaborator Jordan Critz — in three different cities. “We recorded to tape, which is kind of old school,” Ice says. “We went back to the basics. That’s what music is supposed to be. Take away the machines and just go back to five guys who grew up in a garage playing together, and laying it down to tape. You have imperfections and bleed-over from playing at the same time, and that is where the magic is. The challenge is that it’s a lot harder to do. You know, you listen to the [Rolling] Stones, and it’s imperfect but perfect.”
Many of the songs were written in Tennessee on the Caney Fork River. “They were written from a very fun place; whereas before, we went to a rehearsal studio with no windows where we were cooped up inside. There’s something that comes out in music when you’re out in God’s country in a beautiful, inspiring place,” Ice says.
GRO recorded its first album in a church basement and was soon opening for Bon Jovi in Houston and playing gigs every weekend. In early 2009, in a mainstream breakthrough, the band released its first major label debut. Out of My Hands and the hit singles “Come On” and “On Your Own” earned GRO coveted spots on tours. The album garnered media attention by reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, and the songs appearing in more than 20 television shows.
After spending two years on the road supporting Out of My Hands, the band grew uncomfortable with the contradictions of a changing music industry and the compromises required by an outdated business model. They walked away from a deal with Capital Records and moved forward on their own terms.
In the early years, GRO music was generally described as organic, or a grass-roots band, says bassist Geoff Ice. “We didn’t really understand what that meant at the time. But, the meaning has become clear to us in the last few years,” he says. “We’ve realized that it’s one of our biggest strengths as a band.”
GRO self-released 2012 album Under Fire and the 2013 EP Chasing Down the Wind. Both were well-received by fans, with Chasing Down the Wind debuting at the top of the iTunes charts. The Under Fire track Dancing Shoes became a big radio hit and one of the most significant songs of the band’s career.
Josh Jenkins (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) says the songs in the band’s history that connected with the fans were the ones not overanalyzed. The challenge in making the new album was focusing on writing about things that matter to them, without overthinking it, he says. “All you can do is try and remain present in the songs and stay in touch with the things that inspire you and move you, and have faith that it will connect with people. Fifteen is a new chapter for us, and we’re gonna be out playing as many shows as we can.”
“I’m a big believer that if you’re doing it right, your next songs always beat your best songs,” says Jamey Ice. “You’re continuing to grow as a writer and as a musician and a band. I feel like this album is some of our best stuff.”
For more information, including tour dates, visit greenriverordinance.com.