How do you go from playing a dingy bar in Cincinnati in late July to opening two nights at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles two weeks later? It helps if you're pals with Jack White.
Though they're from Ohio's Queen City, the Greenhornes have gotten in good with the Detroit garage-rock music mafia, which helped the Cincinnati band land an opening spot on the White Stripes' current U.S. tour (see "Toreador Suits And Cherry-Danish Dreams: The White Stripes Storm Cincinnati"), an opportunity they're using to promote their new EP, East Grand Blues.
"We got started around the same time as the White Stripes did, and we were always doing shows together," said Greenhornes drummer Patrick Keeler. "It was easy to get up [to Detroit], and it seemed like our audience grew quickly. We just developed a friendship [with Jack] because we hung out there for a while and we liked the same kind of music."
Though early albums such as Gun for You and Dual Mono established the Greenhornes' place in the modern garage-rock movement, alongside pals like the Dirtbombs and the Mooney Suzuki, East Grand finds the group refining its sound with hints of late-'60s psychedelia and Byrds-inspired harmonies.
The EP, which includes the jangly "I'm Going Away" and the ominous blues tune "Shelter of Your Arms," was produced by Brendan Benson, a Detroit singer/songwriter who also has close ties to the Stripes (see "Jack White's Found A New Loretta: And It's A Guy Named Brendan Benson"). Benson and White formed a band earlier this year called the Raconteurs, which features Keeler and Greenhornes bassist Jack Lawrence, who, not coincidentally, also served as the rhythm section for last year's Jack White-produced Loretta Lynn album, Van Lear Rose.
"We started off making a full album with Brendan in his studio in Detroit and had nine or 10 songs done, then he got busy with his own record and we started talking to Jack and Meg about touring together," said Keeler. "So we decided to do something for the road, and it turned out that the five completed songs made a kind of cool record, with this dreamier, darker mood than some of our other stuff."
The Greenhornes can also be heard on the soundtrack to the recent Jim Jarmusch movie "Broken Flowers," which uses "There Is an End," their collaboration with Holly Golightly (who was featured on "It's True That We Love One Another" from the Stripes' 2003 album, Elephant), and "Unnatural Habitat."
"We don't feel like we've created something new," said singer/guitarist Craig Fox of songs like the Doorsy blues number "At Night" and the paisley rocker "Pattern Skies." "But there are a lot more bands now playing hard rock and blues, and we fit in with that."
Whether Fox thinks they're innovative or not, the band displays a flair for unique thinking on songs like "Skies." The track, which features Keeler banging on pots on the chorus, was inspired by a news story that might not have struck most people as fodder for a song.
"I read something about a weather surveyor in a balloon in Antarctica that broke free and drifted off and disappeared," Fox said of his inspiration for the song's trippy lyrics. "It seemed like a weird, scary idea to me. Kind of a bad way to go, but I think at some point I might start liking something about it."
The group plans to hit the studio again in November with Benson and former Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley to complete work on the album. Fox said they're planning to bring it home and work at Curley's Cincinnati studio, Ultrasuede. "I think it will be a combination of some of the songs we were going to record before and some newer songs we've written since then," he said.