The 2002 release of “Soma Holiday” marked the start of a somber downward spiral for alternative rock band Greenwheel. After a whirlwind courtship by Island Records, the band was dropped by the label and “Breathe,” the band’s would-be hit single, failed to chart. Two albums and one band member later, Greenwheel has become the humble, hardworking sort of band that sound-checks its own instruments, moonlights for its opening acts and professes an affinity for the Wendy’s 99-cent menu.
A lesser act might have been deterred by these circumstances, but the members of Greenwheel regard themselves as something more than a simple rock band.
“It’s a family instead of a band,” said Ryan Jordan, Greenwheel’s chain-smoking front-man, the ash from his cigarette creeping toward his fingers before he flicks the glowing butt away. “Writing songs with the four of us is just something that we love.”
Back to navigating the independent circuit, Greenwheel separated itself from the constraint of major label recording approaches and went through Pink Records to distribute the band’s new five-song EP, “Bridges for Burning.”
“It was like we were carrying bricks on our backs,” bassist Brandon Armstrong said. “It was always, ‘Do it better,’ and it kept adding weight.”
The album marks a stylistic evolution for the band, where freer musical forms and fragile vocals show evidence of Greenwheel’s new, less guarded approach.
“There was definitely a conscious effort made in redefining the band,” Jordan said. “More experience makes you more vulnerable. It’s just growing up.”
The members of Greenwheel take an uncharacteristically-thoughtful approach to their songwriting process, emphasizing the importance of artistic progression.
“Songwriting is the most beautiful thing to do, and yet one of the hardest things to do,” Jordan said. “Songwriters today are the only real poets. You don’t open your papers and see a poetry book on the top-seller list.”
Andrew Dwiggins, a somewhat enigmatic guitarist and a fellow who often seems lost in lassitude, agrees.
“There’s certain ways you can steer the song stylistically, but at the heart of it, if it’s not driving you in a certain direction, it’s just kind of masturbation,” he said. “If the music is right and everybody’s inspired, that’s when a song just kind of falls out of the sky.”
Greenwheel previewed its new material at the Basement April 20 as part of the band’s 16-date, “Bridges for Burning” tour. The acerbic set opened with “Overwhelmed,” an unreleased track, and included “Shelter,” the first single released off “Soma Holiday,” and “Dim Halo,” a crowd favorite. “Trigger” and “Knife,” incendiary releases from “Bridges for Burning,” closed the concert.
Greenwheel featured a tight live aesthetic, the result of the band’s core of Dwiggins, Armstrong and Jordan having played together more than eight years. Newcomer Drew Bailey manned the drums.
Whether the Greenwheel story ends happily, with the band ascending to the prominence for which they once were primed, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Greenwheel is glad to continue making music and content to have learned an invaluable lesson.
“You have to make yourself,” Dwiggins said. “You have to realize what’s important in your life and the people that mean the most to you.”
The “Bridges for Burning Tour” continues this weekend with dates in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Lansing, Mich. “Bridges for Burning” is available at greenwheel.net.