Formed in 1985 in Minneapolis, The Jayhawks weren't exactly an overnight success, but over the years their influence has grown steadily, and 1989's Hollywood Town Hall is considered a classic in the alt-country genre. When founding member Mark Olson decided to leave the band in 1995, The Jayhawks went on without him, continuing to record and add to their loyal fan base. Still, longtime fans have always missed that special chemistry – and the magical harmonies -- between Olson and fellow front-man Gary Louris. That's why there is a good deal of excitement that Louris and Olson have reunited their early lineup, including third founding member, bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O'Reagan, and keyboardist Karen Grotberg, who first joined the band in 1992.
The Jayhawks officially release their first "reunion" album, Mockingbird Time, today and the tour stops at the Brown Theater in Louisville this Friday night, October 14 at 8pm. I had the chance to ask Gary Louris a handful of questions about the new record and how the idea to reconnect came about.
After you and Mark made Ready for the Flood (2009) together, when did the idea of reuniting the entire band come about?
Gary: Mark and I had been struck by the outpouring of our fan's requests for getting the band back together during our duo tour. When the whole wave of reissues came about [The Jayhawks Anthology and re-releases of original earlier albums], it just seemed like it was a 'now or never' call for plugging in and being The Jayhawks again. Besides, I really missed playing electric guitar and my SG was calling out to me saying "Play Me!!"
Since everyone had played over the years in different configurations or solo, how did that collective experience combine in the studio? Did it make it easier or more difficult to build a new Jayhawks record together?
Gary: I think having gone off to do our own thing over the years made things more interesting...sometimes more difficult but in the end worth it. We had to learn to be a collective, a band again....we still are in the process of doing that. But our time away from each other meant we were able to bring new and varied experiences into the Jayhawks blueprint and expand instead of just repeat.
What was the most surprising thing to come out of making Mockingbird Time? Did you go in to the project with one idea and come out with something that was very different?
Gary: The most surprising thing may have been how we were able to create and develop the songs in the studio environment. One must remember that we were not really a working band at the time. We had no rehearsal space, no practice PA, we had sold a lot of our gear when we thought the band was over. So when we brought the songs to the band it was in the living room of my apartment. We strummed acoustics, Marc Perlman played out of a little baby bass amp, Tim was playing on a stripped down little practice kit, Karen was learning the songs on a less than ideal electric keyboard. It was only when we entered the recording studio were we able to plug in, get on a real kit, play a real piano, and start to develop and layer the songs. And then we became a band again...we became The Jayhawks again.
Labels on your music like "Americana" or "alt-country" give people a kind of shorthand to describe and categorize your music -- at the same time it can also be limiting or inaccurate. Is there any one label that people have put on you over the years that you really wanted to buck -- that you thought, that's not really what we do or that's not what I want to be associated with?
Gary: There is not one particular label we dislike...we just don't like labels period. I think we sound like no other band and we don't fit any category...they are all misleading to the potential listener. Last night some guy told me after our show that we sounded like a mix of Radiohead, Kansas, and Buffalo Springfield!!!
I kind of liked that one.
Is there a particular song on Mockingbird Time that stands out for you as *the* song that helped you pull the whole record together -- a theme or a sound that feels like the core of the record?
Gary: "Tiny Arrows" is a song that shows a development in our songwriting...it has many different scene changes, almost cinematic in its shifts. I think that song along with a few others on the record show a new side of us that says we are still the Jayhawks but we want to try something that pushes the blueprint a bit.
When you write songs together, do you think you have share certain perspectives that help you collaborate or do you see yourselves as having complementary qualities that just happen to work together? Is one more poetic and one more narrative, for example?
Gary: I think it is a little bit of both. Mark Olson and I are very different people but share certain sensibilities about what makes a song a great song. We agree more than we disagree on songwriting. But I think we have complementary qualities that balance the songwriting....I am a bit more structured and symmetrical, maybe the former architect in me, and Mark tends to be a bit more unconventional and offbeat about his writing. Together I tighten him up a bit and he loosens me up a bit.
He tends to lead a bit more with the lyric and I tend to lead a bit more with melody, but those are gross generalizations and it isn't that black and white. Mark has written some of the better pop songs, and I have written my fair share of weird folk songs in the Jayhawks canon.
Tickets for Friday's all-ages show at the Brown Theatre are $25. Tickets can be purchased at The Kentucky Center box office or by calling (502) 584-7777.
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