Featured Music: Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Still GRO-ing

The young men of Green River Ordinance make mature music for the rock crowd.


It’s 100 degrees outside, not yet hot enough to make your eyeballs feel as if they’re about to explode, but still the kind of day when you sweat into your shoes. In drummer Cooper Hefley’s parents’ garage near downtown, it’s probably a good 20 degrees hotter. No matter to the five guys of Green River Ordinance, who are still here, running through some songs that singer-guitarist Josh Jenkins just wrote.

In spite of their youth — they range in age from 16 to 18 — the GRO boys are veterans of the stage, having shared bills with every noteworthy marquee act in the area “except Flickerstick.” But today, as bass player Geoff Ice says with a laugh, “We’re still a garage band.”

Here are the sounds coming from the hot box: The group starts on a new song. The feel at first is slow and moody, Audiophiles-like. Then there’s a dramatic break, and the band, intentionally, comes in just behind the beat, as Jenkins’ voice pours out emotion. This gives way to some U2-ish chiming notes from guitarist Josh Wilkerson that contrast nicely with the shimmering textures emanating from the amp of Geoff’s big brother, Jamey Ice. (And yes, that’s their real surname. I saw it myself on Jamey’s fifth grade ID, which he still carries to prove that he used to be “a fat kid.”) It’s all very mature for some very young dudes.

Newcomer Hefley’s drumming has greatly expanded the dynamic range of GRO’s music. At 16, he’s literally a drummer’s drummer, kicking the traps behind Jordan Richardson when the Soviet Space-man straps on a guitar and transforms himself into the frontman of the progressive outfit Horse. Hefley also fills the drum chair in an explosively punky pop combo called Jerry. No ordinary rock thumper, this kid. He has shared stages with jazzbos like guitarist Keith Wingate and trumpeter Brian Sharpe, as well as with his brother Zack, ace trumpeter for the UNT One O’Clock Lab Band. Oh, yeah, and Cooper also drums with the jazz band at Nolan High School.

At Hefley’s first Green River gig in early June, the band held the Ridglea Theater stage with an authority you’d expect from a crew of seasoned pros, not a bunch of high school kids. Then again, Green River Ordinance has been playing the Ridglea for about two years, since most of the band members were 15 and Geoff was 13.

“We were sending out press packs and crappy cassettes,” said Jamey, “and I called and asked [the Ridglea’s Wesley Hathaway] how much it’d cost to rent the theater. She asked what we wanted it for, and I told her we had a band.” The band and the theater owners came to a deal whereby GRO could have the theater for free if they brought in 100 people at $10 a head. The group wound up drawing 200, “and it was just us,” Jamey said. “There were no opening bands.” A couple of months later, GRO drew close to 300 fans. “A lot of times, we’re the moneymakers for the headliner,” said Jamey with a grin. “No headliner has brought more people than us.”

The secret: the high school connection. In the beginning, two of the GRO boys were attending Paschal, another went to Southwest, Jenkins went to Aledo, and Geoff Ice was in middle school. They had friends at All Saints and Trinity Valley. “When we have a show, we’ll make 2,000 flyers and plaster them all over town,” said Jamey. The boys plan to continue using this strategy after they graduate; all of them plan to attend Metroplex-area colleges.

Jenkins remembers his hands shaking as he drove to his first Ridglea gig. “Before that, it was always my dream to play there,” he said. Since he joined some months ago, the band has abandoned an earlier, “more hardcore” direction in favor of a sound centered on his singing and acoustic guitar.

His new songs are admittedly a far cry from the poppy rock of the recently released Green River Ordinance e.p., Breaking the Surface. That’s by design. “We made that c.d. more to get gigs than to have something to sell,” said Jamey. The disc was recorded during a transitional period. Original drummer Brandon Chicotsky had already departed to attend school in Austin, so fill-in Sam McKern played the parts Chicotsky had written for the songs. Producer Brian Kieta gave the band a big, full sound in the studio as well as contributing backing vocals, guitar, and percussion.

After the disc was completed last month, Josh Wilkerson joined to replace the band’s original guitarist. (These guys are definitely part of the 18-to-25 “Generation of J’s,” where every other fella you meet seems to be named Josh, Jason, Justin, Jared, or Jeremy.) The Wilkersons are another musical family affair; Josh’s dad plays in the Waltons, nominated as best cover band in the Fort Worth Weekly music awards.

As for the GRO boys, said Jamey, “We’re like a business. We’re very aggressive about getting our music out.” They fell about laughing as they told the story of the lady they met at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on West Berry one night when they were playing the Aardvark. She bought 150 copies of Breaking the Surface to give out at her son’s bar mitzvah on the band’s assurance that the music would appeal to “really dorky eighth-graders.”

As professional and ambitious as the GRO boys come across, though, they’re in no hurry to achieve success. “Right now, we’re concentrating on getting our press packs and c.d. out,” said Jamey. “We want people to know who we are.” The guitarist recalled a conversation with Pat Green when the Texas music phenom advised the younger musician, “Slow down. You have so much time.”

Underneath it all, they’re just kids having fun, and they recall with wonder nights like the one when they made $80 in tips in an hour of playing drums and dancing, a la Spoonfed Tribe, in Sundance Square, or the one when Jamey and Josh Jenkins played acoustic guitar inside the big rusting sculpture outside the Modern Art Museum for an audience of “two hippie girls.”

“We’re into positive energy,” said Geoff. “We’re not angry people.”

“Except in the morning,” his brother corrected him.

And oh, yeah — they do play birthday parties ... so long as they’re not in garages.

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