THE JAYHAWKS: DOING WHAT THEY LOVE
By PAUL FREEMAN [1995 Interview]
It's ironic that many music fans believe the Jayhawks to be one of today's hottest new bands. "We've been a new band for the past 10 years," quips lead guitarist Gary Louris.
The rock-folk-country group was formed in Minneapolis a decade ago by Louris, lead singer Mark Olson and bassist Marc Perlman. They are now joined by keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O'Reagan.
The Jayhawks' fourth album, Tomorrow the Green Grass, is propelling the band toward mainstream popularity. Triple A-format radio stations have embraced the ingratiating harmonies and the disarming melodies of such tunes as Blue, Ten Little Kids, Two Hearts and Miss Williams' Guitar, which was inspired by Olson's singer/song-writer wife Victoria.
Louris admits he's not quite sure how to react to the band's better-late-than-never breakthrough. "Are we going to be bitter because it took so long to get somewhere? Are we going to ask, `Where were you? Why are you being so nice to us now?' Or are we just going to be glad that it's happening at this point in time, when we have more of a sense of ourselves, when it's not as likely to change us?'' He is sure that he doesn't envy the 21-year-olds who hit it big right out of the gate. "They expect it to always be that way," Louris says, "but it doesn't last. In reality, a record or two down the line, they're not going to be selling double-platinum ... A few years later, they might be gone. That's hard to deal with."
Louris says that the Jayhawks should appreciate any degree of acceptance, because they have survived the three-sets-a-night bar scene. The group didn't take an easy route; the music has been compared to the vibrant '70s country-rock of Neil Young, the Eagles, the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Louris, who cites influences ranging from Bob Dylan to the Sex Pistols, says he never wished the band could have been launched in an earlier era. "That hasn't even crossed my mind. We don't think of ourselves as a retro band."
The Jayhawks, he said, do not fret about not matching the trends. "We don't waste time thinking about where our music might fit in. We just want to do what sounds good to our ears."
And the band resists being lumped into any generalizations about folk or country revivals. "Whether there's a resurgence of interest in those areas or not, we don't want to be categorized with anybody else. I certainly don't like all of that music. Each artist is an individual. But there's nothing worse than bad country or bad folk. Even bad rock is somehow less irritating."
The Jayhawks' music is anything but irritating. It ingrains itself in the listener's mind, deeper with each play. More and more people are becoming aware of the band, which has opened for Johnny Cash and the Black Crowes, as well as Tom Petty's recent tour.
Opening for major stars can be a debilitating task. "We've been getting standing ovations," Louris says. "In the big venues, you have to learn to emote a little more, because people like that. You don't want to get into the rock arena cliche thing of `Feel all right tonight? Ready to rock 'n' roll? All right!' But, when people are 10 miles away from the stage, you might want to walk around a little more than you would in a club.
"We're still the same band, though," he insists. "Maybe we shoot ourselves in the foot by not indulging in more self-promotion. But we believe that, ultimately, the music has to sell itself."
Though the Jayhawks have come a long way toward stardom, Louris points out that it still has miles to go. "I don't see us going platinum yet. We have a goal of getting a gold record. This record is doing a lot better than the last one, but I wouldn't say we were on easy street."
Louris has seen friends, including the members of Soul Asylum, reach the upper rungs of the industry. But halfway up the ladder isn't a bad place to be. "It's all relative," he says. "We're kings of the hill compared to people sweating it out and working day jobs. We've done that. But you compare us to people who sell 5 million records and we're still nobody."
Louris recalls, after a rough show not too long ago, the Jayhawks watched a documentary about hungry Minnesota bands. "They showed these struggling performers, dreaming of what we already have. We looked at each other and thought, `We've been sitting here whining for the last hour ... we're in a nice tour bus; we get our own hotel rooms; we play every night, and there are always people there who want to see us.
"We're making a living doing what we love. So I guess we're pretty lucky."
[After dissolving, The Jayhawks reunited and, in 2011, released the wonderful “Mockinbird Time,” a lucky event for their still fervent fans.]