For most bands, whenever they cut a few records without a founding member, those records are almost forgotten about when that founding member returns to the band. Whether it's Van Halen, Iron Maiden or Bad Religion, this happens all the time.
With the Jayhawks, they cut three albums without founding guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mark Olson between 1996 and 2003: Sound of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music. As great as those albums were, in the eyes of certain longtime fans, they were thought of as Albums Without Mark Olson and considered lesser works.
With a new generation of fans finding the band, though, they've reformed that era's lineup and will play the Granada Theater tonight. We spoke to frontman Gary Louris at his home in Minneapolis about reforming this line-up, having more songs to pick from for a live set and how the Jayhawks continue to have a dedicated following.
DC9 at Night: Smile was the album that got me into the Jayhawks. Do you come across people who have a similar story, or is it more, Hollywood Town Hall or Tomorrow the Green Grass as introductions?
Louris: There were a lot of people that got in with Smile and Rainy Day Music. I think Rainy Day Music was our biggest seller. It's a different breed, really. There's the older roots rockers that got into Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. With Smile, we got a younger, more diverse crowd than what we had before, gender-wise and age-wise.
Was there a demand to hear the material live from 1997 to 2003 when Mark Olson rejoined the band a few years ago for a tour and the Mockingbird Time album?
There was some of that, but I think people realized early on that it just didn't fit. There really wasn't a place for Mark in those songs. I think we tried some in rehearsals and it just didn't feel right. You couldn't force that chemistry, so it was a weird dynamic to find a place for him in those records' songs. We tried to balance it with doing some of the Creekdippers songs, and then some newer Jayhawks stuff. It was an eclectic stew and it didn't work so. That made all of the sets from almost two records and this is so much fun now.
It must broaden the song selections considerably to draw on these records.
A lot of these songs have never been performed. Many haven't been performed in 15 years or so. We didn't tour much with Sound of Lies because there was a legal battle within the record company. Warner/Reprise and Def American were at odds, so we got no promotion and touring came to a standstill. That wasn't the easiest record to promote, either.
Do you ever run into people that say they didn't get Sound of Lies at first, but it later became their favorite album?
Yeah. That record seems to be a favorite with real die-hards. It's just got a vibe from start to finish that's so desperate. It was like our last record at the time and we put everything out there that we had been holding back a bit. There's people who prefer the old stuff. There's people who prefer the newer stuff. There's people who love it all. For people who thought it wasn't a full band without Olson, when Sound of Lies came out, I said I don't care. We all believe in this music and people could hate us or take us or leave us.
I don't think of the Jayhawks as making the same record twice. With every record, there will be some rock elements, there will be some roots elements, and there will be some country elements.
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Yeah, I have that weird envy and sympathy for those one-hit wonders who had one big record. They made a lot of money and people sit around and wait for those hit songs. What's really driven home for how different our records are is when we split the sets up between Sound of Lies selections, went into Smile, then went into Rainy Day Music and did an encore where it was a free-for-all with other stuff. It was cool. It was like a trip through time. They were like severe, jarring transitions. At this point, I've abandoned that concept and being a little freer with the setlists.
What do you have coming up next after this touring cycle? Do you have another solo album in the works?
I have a solo album and two different side projects with other people. We've written a record and recorded it. I've been dabbling in my home studio and playing with electronics to things. That's where my heart is from way back: Eno, prog rock. I'm toying with the idea of putting out a regular song record and something more experimental. I've written songs. I've finally got them to the point where I feel I have a record. It took me a long time because I went to rehab and it took me a long time to come back to music. I had to go through that and get to the point where I felt like I was clicking. Just in the last three or four months, I felt like I had something to put out and now I just have to figure how to put it out.