There’s nothing green about
this young rock band

At 19, Ryan Jordan, lead vocalist of up-and-coming band Greenwheel, gave himself an ultimatum that if his rock band didn’t succeed or "if we’re in the same spot" by the next year, he would stop investing all his energy into playing music. Instead, he would concentrate on his studies, where he hoped to transfer from St. Charles Community College in suburban Missouri to DePaul University as a theater major.

Knowing all too well of the overwhelming odds against playing music for a living, Jordan and his bandmates, old high school friends from the St. Charles area, went for broke and played their hearts out in that time. The five members, including Jordan,Brandon Armstrong (bass), Andrew Dwiggins (guitar), Marc Wanniger (guitar) and Douglas Randall (drums), played shows at local clubs and high school graduation parties about once a month. In the process, they gained a loyal fanbase of about 300 who bought their T-shirts, vied for their autographs, and helped pass out fliers outside movie theaters. When Greenwheel put out a demo, the band drew 700 fans to their release party. All the while, the band hoped that their efforts would someday take them to venues beyond Missouri’s state line.

In the back of his mind, Jordan knew how far-fetched the whole dream was. "I couldn’t sit here in St. Charles and be in a band all my life because it’s so hard to get recognized," Jordan says. "There are a lot of bands that have been doing this a lot longer than we have, and they’re probably a lot better than we are, but they’ve never been noticed."

But Jordan never met his self-imposed deadline.

When producer Malcolm Springer, who’s worked with Spike 1000 and Full Devil Jacket, took one of Greenwheel’s demos, he called the then 20-year-old Jordan a week later showing interest. "I almost crapped in my pants," says Jordan two years later of that turning point. "My mom came and said there’s some guy on the phone with a real thick, heavy accent and he said his name is Malcolm, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god,’" Jordan recalls. "The next day, I was on the phone with this guy from a publishing company and a couple people from record labels, and I was flipping out, you know, like whoa, what the hell’s going on?"

From there, the grassroots effort of five teenage guys in a mid-western suburb suddenly ballooned into a major bid for music stardom. In a three-month period, Greenwheel was whisked away to Nashville to make a four-song demo; the trip was immediately followed by two industry showcases in New York City where Island Records signed the young band. Then for eight months out of 2001, the band wrote songs in a remote cabin in the Tennessee mountains.

Now, three months before the release of their debut album Soma Holiday, Jordan is fielding questions in his St. Charles home from publications around the country. At a time when most 22-year-olds are finishing college and facing tenuous futures, Greenwheel’s members, who are all 21 and 22, are getting ready to shoot a music video for their first single, "Shelter." They’ve already done the photo shoots in LA. "That was very, very exciting," Jordan says. "We just got the pictures back, and they came out phenomenal." And as for the interviews, "It’s kind of obnoxious, but you know, it’s part of the process."

Like the question, "So could you describe your music?"

"I hate it when people ask me, ‘What do you sound like?’" Jordan says. "We sound like Greenwheel; we’re a rock and roll band. We’re melodic, guitar-driven; as far as explaining it, that’s just going to jade somebody’s perspective."

While Greenwheel’s radio-friendly sound feels akin to the top-40 fare by Lifehouse and Linkin Park, Jordan sees Greenwheel’s music as a reflection of the band’s evolving tastes and life experiences.

"I think the feeling behind this record is of youthfulness, kind of a growing up, where am I, what’s going on. Everybody goes through that feeling when you graduate [from] high school," Jordan says. "For the next record, it might be different… As time goes on and we listen to more music, our music’s going to progress and that is the point behind our band, to always be changing. We don’t want to have two records sound the same, that would be like telling Dali to paint the same picture twice."

Perhaps the present experiences will influence their next album. And while the guys may have sacrificed a couple of years of college, their education on the road has exercised their critical eye more than any university course. More than just getting used to living in a tour bus with 15 other people, the band got a firsthand taste at reading the fine print in contracts, dealing with lawyers, producers and labels, and holding their ground when it was time to make the major marketing and musical decisions.

"When you get signed, you realize how much [record execs] try to sway you in your art," Jordan says. "We’ve just kind of blew all that out. I think we’ve established a really good rapport with our record label. At first, we were afraid that all these people are going to try to turn us into a corporate band and cut our hair and dress us up as pretty boys. That never happened, but there was a feeling that could have happened.

"It’s not that we could do everything we wanted to do," Jordan continues. "We have met in the middle in some things. You have to look at it like you’re a business partner with these people now. As far as being told what to do and completely changing something, no, it’s never happened.

"We’re very fortunate," Jordan says. It’s only fitting for five young musicians who never let themselves wander from the bottom line: working hard and making music.