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The Jayhawks: "We Were Never of the Moment and We May Never Be"

JPG: Now, I know as a writer I can look back at something I did and think, ‘Wow! I really had it that day…’ or ‘If I had one more edit I could have changed that sentence around or…’ Going back to these albums what is your view of them now?

GL: I guess I don’t have that feeling. I have a feeling of a magical time. It was difficult, it wasn’t easy. I think of Los Angeles. I think of [producer] George Drakoulias. I think of great studios and us rising to the occasion. I don’t look at anything and say, ‘God, I wish I would have done it differently with those records.’ I really don’t.

JPG: I guess you see film directors who have that mentality, putting out different editions or as one major example George Lucas who added things to his original Star Wars films.

GL: Well, maybe. I must say that I don’t sit and listen to my stuff at all. Maybe, it would be different if I sat around and listened to my own stuff and criticized…there’s certainly things that I would sing differently… But we had our moment and we seized it and I think we did the right thing. I’m a believer of this mentality is that was then and this is now. That was the moment and you don’t sit back and rework everything over and over again. You move on to the next thing. That’s always been our trait, especially me and Olson as far as songwriting. ‘Well, we wrote that let’s go to the next song and not think about how we can rewrite the last song.’ You shouldn’t pick apart things and go, ‘Oh, I wish we had done that slightly differently.’ In general, I look forward and I don’t look backwards.

JPG: The “Mystery Demos” disc on the “Tomorrow” expanded edition. Now, you could have just put a live performance on there, say the ’85 show that’s now available at your website, or something from the tour supporting Tomorrow the Green Grass, why put these particular tracks out?

GL: Well, for one thing we have a million of those live shows. I have everything. There’s practice, almost every radio show. There’s a treasure trove of things we did. There’s just something special about the “Mystery Demos.” It was just the purity of the two of us singing together and playing our songs. Most of ‘em are take one. I love that. We’re just trying to get things down so we can listen and evaluate what we had. Because we weren’t really thinking about it too much as a recording it became a beautiful recording just like the songwriting. When you come in the back door you don’t think about it too hard. Things happen. It’s when you start thinking about things that things start going wrong. There’s something about that it was like a record. It was nicely recorded, stripped down, and there’s a purity of what we were about — the songwriting and the two voices at the time.

JPG: When you originally got together with Mark…by the way I’m wondering if the story I read on the internet is true where it said that you attended an early Jayhawks show, which had Mark and Marc [Pearlman], and afterwards you and Mark Olson had a long discussion, which led to you being invited to join the band.

GL: You can go back further to when we were both in rockabilly bands. There was a bit of a rockabilly scene in the early ‘80s in Minneapolis. I was in the band called Safety Last, and Mark was in Stagger Lee. It’s kind of a boring story but our bass player wanted to move on to acoustic and be lead singer and Olson came stumbling down my steps with his giant standup bass and auditioned for my rockabilly band. And that’s how I met him.

From there I got to know Mark. The scene was pretty tight back then. I knew Olson and Olson knew me. I just ran into him late night at the Embers, a Perkins kind of place. He was having a coffee and an omelet, and he said, ‘My band’s playing down at the Uptown on Thursday. Do you wanna come down?’ I came down but I missed the show. They were packing up and coming off the stage. They came up to me and said, ‘We’re looking for a guitar player, do you know anybody…like you ?’ Well, they didn’t say that but it was kind of like looking at me. So, two weeks after the band started I joined the band.

JPG: Because everyone focuses on the harmonies between you and Mark, did you have any idea that your voices would link up that way or did it take a rehearsal or two or a particular song?

GL: No, it took a few years really. I remember my mentality back then was just like, ‘I just want to play guitar.’ I was kind of a seasoned touring dude even though I didn’t tour that much but compared to everyone else I had been out on the road. So, I was like, ‘I want to play guitar and kick back.’ Olson was on fire as far as cranking out songs. I just didn’t think in that duo vocal kind of thing. We did a little bit of it on the first record. But it was really after the first record that we fell into our own style. We started off as like a punk rock folk Woody Guthrie band, fast and loud folk songs and country songs. Then, our voices sounded good together and started writing together. So that was post-first record. “Blue Earth” started it, and then post-“Blue Earth” we really got into it.

JPG: At that time bands that were countryish punk, wasn’t that the cowpunk style of the late ‘80s?

GL: Yeah, we weren’t really cowpunk. There was some of that going on. We never really fit into any…We never fit in then, and we don’t fit in now in any particular style.

JPG: You’re on an island of your own making.

GL: I believe so. It works for longevity. It doesn’t work so much for the quick rise. The quicker the rise the quicker the fall down.

Comments

There are 8 comments associated with this post

Bhanu March 14, 2012, 21:39:01

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Ben March 15, 2011, 16:08:48

Great article. Just found out about The Jayhawks sometime last year and haven’t been able to stop listening to them. Some of the best harmonies and dare I say the most under rated band of the 90s

Ron April 8, 2011, 20:22:59

Learned about the Jayhawks in 2005 and have loved them ever since. This reunion is a dream.

Ron April 8, 2011, 20:23:53

Learned about the Jayhawks in 2005 and have loved them ever since. This reunion is a dream.

jimmyz March 8, 2011, 10:05:41

Best article I’ve read in such a long time. Not just ‘cause of Louris — who I love, but because this is textbook interviewing of the highest order. Not a strict and stilted Q & A, but a conversation that flowed thanks to the writer’s informed point of view and ease at knowing how to ask the right questions in the right order. Great job, man.

Gary March 8, 2011, 12:42:31

What a great treat to find this article. Thanks Gary & John.

Mike March 4, 2011, 20:04:30

Great article and so many of the quotes ring true. Unbelievable that the Olson/Louris Jayhawks have a new album coming. I couldn’t help but notice Gary’s comments about new fans and picking up people who were perhaps too young at the time. With this in mind, why aren’t the Jayhawks playing any festivals? Bonnaroo would seem to be an important showcase for the band to pick up new fans. I’m happy to hear that Gary is “plugged in” for parts of the album. His guitar playing was outstanding on Blue Earth, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass.

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