Ryan Jordan - Vocals
Brandom Armstrong - Bass
Andrew Dwiggins - Guitar
Marc Wanninger - Guitar
Douglas Randall - Drums
Surely there are coming-of-age novels and films, but who ever heard of a coming-of-age album? Well, you have… now.
St. Charles, Missouri’s Greenwheel, in constructing their profoundly rocking Island Records debut Soma Holiday (so christened to immortalize a former appellation), has made such a record. The viscerally melodic twelve-track collection documents Greenwheel’s swift metamorphosis from St. Charles local band to buzz band-in-waiting and, in the process, the human condition; a considerable achievement for a three-year-old band comprised of early twenty-somethings.
“All the way up from your childhood,” says singer Ryan Jordan, “you’ve had somebody there to pat your butt along and make sure everything’s going okay. As soon as you graduate high school, it’s like, ‘welcome to the real world.’ Who the hell am I? What am I going to do with myself?”
A definitive answer would come sooner than Jordan or his bandmates expected. Shortly after forming in November 1998, the band quickly discovered a collective knack for writing the consummate rock song, circa the new millennium: sweeping, hooky melodies, massive guitars and brutally earnest lyrics. They began playing local venues such as Mississippi Nights and The Pageant, building a devoted fan base and selling copies of a self-produced CD. One fortuitous night at a local club, Jordan would pass a copy to producer Malcolm Springer (Full Devil Jacket, Spike 1000, Liquid Gang). Impressed, Springer whisked them away to Memphis, Tennessee where they did preproduction on a four-song demo and then recorded it in Nashville.
Then, a quickening. The demo was done. Greenwheel’s van was aimed at New York City. They showcased. They signed. All in a scant three months since hooking up with Springer. The next order of business was to haul ass back to Tennessee to write their debut in…a storage shed?
“It was a carpeted box about 7’ x 21’,” reveals Armstrong. “It had dark gray carpet and we had a couple of mice that hung out with us and climbed the walls. It had one light switch and it was timed so it would only last for like 45 minutes, if that.”
The shed sessions were remarkably productive; isolation from friends and family -rodent pals discounted- a perfect catalyst for introspection and writing; more than half of Soma Holiday would be composed there. All told, after the shed, tracking sessions in Memphis and change-of-scenery jaunts to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Portageville, Missouri, Greenwheel would yield a whopping 25 songs, including the discordantly catchy anthem “Strong,” the lissome goodbye-to-romance number “Dim Halo” (another former moniker) and the ardent mid-tempo ballad “Breathe,” a tune the band wrote and tracked in a single day.
“That one came at the very end of tracking in Memphis,” says Jordan. “Andy had a verse and a chorus of that one and he’s just playing it, showing it to somebody and Malcolm was like, ‘What was that? What was that? Play that again. Let’s track that!’ It’s a song about being away. Counting the signs and cursing the miles in between.”
These songs, as well as the imperial first single, “Shelter,” showcase Greenwheel’s lyrical substance and black belt pop sensibilities, which seamlessly blend the best components of rock’s top shelf. Other songs, such as “Radiance” and “Faces,” demonstrate keen observational skills indicative of fine writers.
The latter was written in Portageville; the small town and one of its citizens, an erstwhile, but persevering prom queen, providing inspiration. Says Jordan, “One night at a bar, she was gloating about how she was the prom queen like, 20 years ago. That was her motivating force. She was still stuck on that feeling. She thought she was the greatest thing in the world because she was [once] the prom queen.”
He recites a lyric, “‘This place seems to have no face/there’s no one moving forward/now they’re just drowning in it all.’ Sometimes people get to caught up in a comfortable feeling and they don’t really want to move on.”
Similarly, it’s a song about Greenwheel; encapsulating their feelings as they prepare to embark on a journey which will remove them from their familiarities into the wonderful, terrifying unknown. “We don’t want to leave what we have right now because we’re so comfortable in it and now we’re having to move on and let go. The “trust me, I know” part is like your dad saying, ‘I know what it feels like.’“
Essentially, says Armstrong, the song confronts the hardship and rewards associated with change. Jordan elaborates, explaining it goes to growth, something Greenwheel embraces in their creative endeavors. “We’re always changing what we’re listening to. We’re trying to grow. We don’t want to make any record the same. We want to always be moving and growing and making different music all the time, you know? If Picasso painted the same picture each time, it’d be boring, you know?”
Greenwheel looks forward to the June 2002 release of Soma Holiday as well as the opportunity to bring their music to fans across the country. “We want to be continuously growing with each other and the music, always saying something,” says Dwiggins. “That’s what we’ll always strive for. Whether we sell a ton of records or not, the music always comes first.”
“We’re five individuals who learned to work well with each other and we’ve all embraced that,” concludes Ryan. “It’s tough at times, but it has turned into a really unique relationship. Everyone in this band is a leader. Each of us brings something unique to our music.”