As leader of one of the foremost pioneers of Americana, Gary Louris has been fronting The Jayhawks, on and off, for more than 30 years. The continued existence of the Minneapolis band looked to be in jeopardy following 2012’s fractious reunion tour, after which co-founder Mark Olson quit abruptly and Louris underwent rehab.
But The Jayhawks have now returned in gloriously undimmed style with new album Paging Mr. Proust, co-produced in Portland with Peter Buck and Tucker Martine.
What made you decide to make another Jayhawks record?
I went through big changes with rehab and everything, then came out of it three-and-a-half years ago. I didn’t like music any more and I didn’t like myself. But I eventually started trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And in my mind I just kept coming back to The Jayhawks. I guess I had a tendency to always look at what I didn’t have instead of what I did have. And I realised that we were just a great band. It also gives me a structure. I need to have a rehearsal space and a band and be able to play with people I know. I guess we just kind of reacquainted ourselves and started jamming, which is something we never used to do.
So you needed that time away to fully appreciate it all?
I think that’s very true. I’ve sat and reassessed a lot of things, and one of them is that longevity is a beautiful thing, and it’s not uncool to be a mature band that’s been around the block. Maybe we can buck the rule that bands put out worse records as they get older. I mean, Wire are still one of my favourites and they’re really kicking it. I listen to that stuff more than I do roots or country. I don’t really listen to Americana bands at all.
Given the public falling-out between you and Mark Olson, do you regret getting the original band back together for 2011’s Mockingbird Time and the subsequent tour?
Everybody wasn’t in the same head space, and it was a failed experiment in trying to recapture something that had long gone away. People change, musically, and the chemistry just wasn’t there. That’s all I can say.
Does Lies In Black And White, one of the songs on the new album, address the Mark situation?
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I think we’re taking this record more seriously than we have since, probably, Rainy Day Music . So we’re just going to work really hard and tour. The attitude is to take it up a notch. For a long time The Jayhawks have done things with the attitude of, “Oh, that’ll do,” whereas now I have more clarity in my head and can spend more time on the details. I think we need to make another record sooner rather than later, and keep those juices flowing. But I know that Paging Mr. Proust is something that I’m going to be proud of for a long time.
So are you less self-critical these days?
I’m trying to be more of a positive guy. I’m definitely much better than I used to be, but I still tend to pick things apart more than I do pat myself on the back. I’m still pretty tough. Old habits die hard.