Music Notes: The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris

An Americana legend comes home to his beloved band. 

The Jayhawks from L-R: Tim O'Reagan, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, Marc Perlman (Courtesy Photo)

The Jayhawks from L-R: Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, Marc Perlman (Courtesy Photo)

For a gifted guy like Gary Louris, writing seems effortless. He has been the frontman and driving force behind alt-rock legends The Jayhawks over many decades, and his talent is evident on every record the band has made since their stunning debut, Hollywood Town Hall, in 1985.

But life gets in the way of even virtuostic musicians. Addiction sidelined Louris for a while, threatening to deprive him of creating more incredible music, and us as loyal fans of hearing it. Luckily for all of us, Louris survived, and once again is thriving, as evidenced by The Jayhawks’ excellent new record, Paging Mr. Proust, and their highly anticipated current tour.

And Louris knows just how fortunate he is. “I’m very lucky, not everyone has made it,” he told me from Chicago, where the band was playing two shows. “I feel really good, especially considering I’m not 21 anymore. Clarity is a good thing. And my purpose on this tour among others is to show that even later in your life, you can still do some of your best work. There’s not a lot of examples of that in the rock world, so we’re trying to show that it can be done.”

And boy, was it ever done. 2016’s Paging Mr. Proust is one of the band’s strongest and boldest records ever. It is evidence that Louris’ quest to put out solid music in the latter end of his recording career has been successful, and shows how talented and continually innovative he remains. Louris brings his Jayhawks to play the Lincoln Theater  on Saturday, June 18th.

For Louris, life presented some major challenges a few years back, so writing music took a backseat to getting healthy. When he got over that hurdle, he found himself wondering what was next, and after a while he realized it was the comfort and familiarity of his beloved band that would guide him towards the next chapter.

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“The reality is that I went to rehab [for painkiller addiction] and when I got out three and a half years ago, I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and I had a lot of time to think,” Louris said candidly. “So I started writing music with no particular…maybe this is the key…no particular place that it was gonna land. I wasn’t writing for the Jayhawks, I was just writing music, and some of it was completely off the Jayhawks radar, some weird electronica sounds and some other a little less so, but some ended up being more like Jayhawks stuff. Once I realized I really needed this particular band and the structure of the band and the friendships, the history, I sifted through and found the songs that I felt fit the band, that still allowed us to push the envelope into different places, but still felt like the collective. Once I knew that was happening, I wrote songs specifically for the band and then we collaborated, so that’s how it kinda got going.”

The songs began to flow and soon it was off to record. An old buddy of the band with a Hall of Fame résumé jumped on board because he had wanted to work with the band for a while and this looked like a golden opportunity.

“[REM’s] Peter Buck knew of us and mentioned that if we make another record, he’d like to be involved,” Louris said. “So we kinda kept that in our brain, and when it came time to make a record, his name came up, and also Tucker Martine came about because Peter lives in Portland and he wanted to stick in Portland. It was a great balance, because Peter’s more big picture, he would have liked to have made the record in six days. Tucker is much more detail-oriented, so I think it worked out really well. They enjoyed working with each other. Not every record works this way, but everything kinda fell into place.”

After the many roads Gary Louris has gone down in his illustrious career, he always comes home. He seems to be happiest playing and collaborating with his original band. And he also understands that despite his past aversion to touring, it’s a necessary part of life for this latest version of his one and only Jayhawks.

“It is pretty cool what we’re doing, we have a good group, we all get along. It’s a real great chemistry, and I’m excited about how good we’re getting. And I want to take it out to the people. And it’s just a necessary thing, people don’t buy music anymore, touring is the only way to make a living really, for a musician. I like to work and it’s good to be able to do what I love and have people come out and tell you how great it is. What’s not to like?”

The Jayhawks perform Saturday, June 18th at the Lincoln Theater, 1215 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009. For tickets, please click  here

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