Posted October 16, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Gary Louris and His New Appreciation

Jayhawks © Vivian Johnson
Jayhawks © Vivian Johnson

Paging Mr. Proust, the latest offering from alt-country heroes the Jayhawks finds singer Gary Louris reuniting with the band’s celebrated late-1990s lineup. Recorded at Martine’s Flora Recording & Playback in Portland, Oregon, the album shows off the band’s psychedelic side as the group, which includes bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O’Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg, expands its sound. The album was co-produced by Louris, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket). We called Louris as he was running some errands before embarking on a fall tour.

Talk about what made you want to get the band back together for Paging Mr. Proust?
Well, I was writing a lot of songs and trying to find my footing. I found that I really missed the structure of the band and the people in the band themselves. I kind of have had a new appreciation for a lot of things in life, including the members of the band. When you’re a musician or an artist of some kind and you’re creating, it’s good to have some kind of structure. We have a musical vocabulary together so that drew me back to them.

What triggered the new appreciation?
I think it was going to rehab and almost dying and getting off the opiates and almost dying and coming back and getting out of my head and seeing the world for what it is instead of in a distorted way.

When did you first starting writing the tunes?
Mostly after over the course of a couple of years. I didn’t write right away after rehab. You have to be careful if you start writing too quickly. You can write about everything being rosy. I gave it some time and started writing with no particular destination for the songs. I didn’t know what they would be or how they would take form or with whom. I think that’s why it’s a little more diverse than other records. Some songs were written when I knew they would be with the Jayhawks and we collaborated and jammed a bit.

What did you want in terms of a sound?
I grew up listening to a lot of different things that weren’t necessarily rootsy. When I first started writing again, I played a lot with electronic sounds and more droning-ness. Then, once I figured out it would be Jayhawks record, I started picking through them to find the ones that would be most like a Jayhawks’ song. There are some things that just wouldn’t sound right with this band that I’ll do on my own. But the band is a very versatile bunch.

Talk about the meaning of the album’s title.
I’m a Proust fan and I had a friend and she was traveling in Europe at the Amsterdam airport and heard what she thought was a paging of Marcel Proust. She emailed me that information. I immediately thought it was an affirmation of what I think in that the world needs to reach out and connect with the ideas of someone who preached about slowing down and being where you’re at and not speeding everything up. It seemed to fit with some of the songs and took on a life of its own. I suppose she could have heard the announcement clearly, but it’s unlikely. I think it’s one of those misheard things which can work well for lyric writing too. You hear things and make them your own.

When you first started the Jayhawks, what motivated you to draw from country?
I don’t think we knew what we were doing. I don’t think anybody in the band grew up listening to traditional music. I listened to everything but, really. I was an Anglophile. I was a prog rock guy and an art rock guy and a punk and pop and rock fan. That influence came to me later in life. I don’t think of it as the foundation. I think of it as one of many influences within the band. At the time, I had stumbled upon American music and so had [cofounder Mark] Olson. We had a meeting of the minds and it felt like we had found something that nobody else was doing. It was a smaller part of where our hearts lay, which is in many different types of music.

Were you surprised by the favorable response?
Not really. We felt pretty full of ourselves and it seemed like were mining some interesting territory. We hit the ground running, and there were people in interested in what we were doing from an early time. It wasn’t’ shocking but it took a long time. We spun our wheels for six years and then got signed to American Recordings.

Did American Recordings’ Rick Rubin sign the band?
No. It was George Drakoulias who produced Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. He was Rick’s right hand man and had the cache to sign people. He had heard of us through a friend who we had worked with in the past. He had heard some of our stuff and flew out and signed us.

The label was known for heavier bands.
They had all these bands like Slayer and Danzig. Then, there were the Black Crowes. We were part of that subgroup. The two bands bonded. They felt like the Black Crowes could be the new Stones and the Jayhawks could be like the new Byrds or Eagles. I think that was in the back of their minds.

Thirty years down the road, what motivates you to keep going?
I think it’s the songs. It’s what I do is write songs. It’s what I feel like I’m best at. The fact that we have enough fans to keep us going helps too. We are something of a cult band. That also means that there are people who are rabid fans. We’re important to them. As long as there are songs coming out, I’m still interested. I don’t have any interest in just going around and telling the old stuff strictly.

Do you know what you’ll do next?
I want to continue touring. We’ve done the bulk of touring for this record. I need to make a solo record. I know I want to do one. I’m producing a little bit and trying to diversify what I do. There should be another Jayhawks record sometime next year. I also have the side project, Au Pair. There are a number of things I’m doing.

Upcoming 2016 Shows

October 25

October 26

October 27

October 28

October 29

October 30

November 1

November 2

November 3

November 4

Columbia, MO – The Blue Note

Tulsa, OK – The Vanguard Theater

Austin, TX – Scoot Inn

New Orleans, LA – Tipitina’s

Houston, TX – Heights Theater

Dallas, TX – The Kessler Theater

Covington, KY (Cincinnati) – Madison Theater

Kent, OH – The Kent Stage

Detroit, MI – Saint Andrews Hall

Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall

PHOTO: Jayhawks © Vivian Johnson


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].