Music interview: The Jayhawks

'Well, you know, you change but the basic DNA is the same,' says Gary Louris, reflecting on Paging Mr Proust, The Jayhawks' ninth album in career that goes back to the mid-1980s.

The Jayhawks

Co-founder Mark Olson may have left the veteran Americana band’s set-up for a second time but the emphasis on melody, ringing harmonies and soaring choruses that has characterised their work for 30 years remains very much intact.

“I have some different ways that I go about songwriting than I used to maybe but I think in general it’s still the same person that wrote songs back on Tomorrow The Green Grass or Hollywood Town Hall,” says Louris, now 61.

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“At the time I was writing songs I didn’t think it would be for The Jayhawks, I thought I’d just write them then figure out where they’d go later. Somehow it just broke down a few barriers and allowed me to explore some types of music that we touched on before but maybe we pushed it a little bit further. There are songs that sound like they’re from the Sound of Lies period and some that sound like they’re from Tomorrow The Green Grass – all territory that we’ve touched on before because at this point in my life I am who I am but because I wrote these songs with no idea where they were going or who they would end up with it did change a bit of my thinking.

The Jayhawks

“Later on when I decided we were doing a Jayhawks’ record we started jamming and collaborating and I wrote some songs knowing they would be for a Jayhawks’ record, so it was kind of different songs with different approaches.”

When it comes to his earliest musical tastes, Louris admits to being a bit of an Anglophile. “I didn’t grow up listening to roots and traditional music, that came later in my life and it was kind of a small period that kind of affected me in the way that it took the pop songs that I wrote and added something that I thought was a little more soulful. But if you strip the songs down they’re rarely country songs or folk songs, they’re pop songs.

“I grew up listening to British music as what I would call an Anglophile and still to this day I kind of am. My first band I was ever in was a British rock cover band but one day somebody played me some Elvis and I was like ‘Oh, this is cool’ and that influenced me in that way. But yes, there are British moments on this record, definitely.”

Following a spell in rehab for addiction to painkillers, Louris seems appreciative of the current set-up within The Jayhawks with long-time associates Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg and Marc Pearlman. “We’ve been together through the wars and we’ve come out the other side,” he says.

The Jayhawks

“I went through rehab four years ago and one thing it really does is it brings clarity but it also brings acceptance and appreciation for what you have instead of always looking at what you don’t have. I think it opened my eyes and I realised how great the musicians are in this band and how lucky I am to be able to play with them.

“I certainly have a new appreciation for everyone in the band and then with this new guy, Chet Lyster, he’s kind of raised our game, he’s ambitious, he works hard, he’s got lots of ideas, he’s great off stage and on stage and it’s created this chemistry that we haven’t had in a while and it translates off stage and on stage.”

Paging Mr Proust has a consistent theme of a need for taking stock in a noisy world. “I do have issues with the world and the noisy and the overcrowded. I think as I’ve got older I have felt my claustrophobic with the world and I am somewhat befuddled by the messages you see on every TV commercial or magazine ad about the values today that time is the most important thing, I don’t think that is true, I think love and understanding and those kinds of things are more important.

“Slowing down to me is more important than speeding up. Everything about today’s world is about faster and smarter, better updates, upgrades, if we get smarter we’re going to figure everything out and I think really it’s the opposite.

“For me if I can be more reflective and be where I am at in the moment, not always thinking about where I’m going to get, then you’re actually living. It’s something I try to live by, I don’t totally succeed, but that is kind of the concept of the record.”

The Jayhawks play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Friday September 2. For details CLICK HERE