The Jayhawks Album Of Clarity That Is Paging Mr. Proust

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Gary Louris of The Jayhawks

If ever there was a rock and roll cliché, it’s the idea that drugs and alcohol fuel the creative process. For those who’ve avoided the crash and burn of alcoholism and substance abuse that’s destroyed so many lives and careers, it’s oftentimes led to a greater and more productive creative lease on life. Sobriety has proven to be a boon for Gary Louris of the Jayhawks.

For the recently released Paging Mr. Proust, the Jayhawks’ ninth studio album, Louris found himself going in with a clearer purpose and better prepared on the pre-production side of things. It made the experience he and his band had with co-producers Tucker Martine (Neko Case, The Decemberists) and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck that much more pleasurable.

“This record came after I came out of rehab and getting clean and sober and reassessing everything. I took my time and tried to figure out what I wanted to do. I started writing music, with no apparent destination for the music. I was exploring all different sides of myself and I discovered that I needed the band. I needed a band and I needed structure and those particular people as part of that structure. With what comes with sobriety is an appreciation for what you have as opposed to what you don’t have,” Louris explained.

The Jayhawks
The Jayhawks

“I think I applied myself a lot more than I had in past years. I was more patient with the music and I was more appreciative of the band members, so there was a better chemistry within the band. We spent a lot of time going through my music and figuring out which ones sounded most like Jayhawks songs. A lot of time was also spent writing and jamming and in the recording studio, even more than I remember in the early 1990s. We just seemed to be making better decisions. We got a good business manager, lawyer and record label. We found the right producers and the right studio and it all kind of fell into place.”

JayhawksFeature_072216.MockingbirdTimeWhile the preceding album, 2011’s Mockingbird Time, featured fellow founding member Mark Olson, whose harmonizing with Louris gave the Jayhawks an Everly Brothers-like one-two punch throughout the band’s history, he subsequently departed the group for a second time.

As a result, Proust finds the Jayhawks coming up with the kind of songs that go beyond their y’alternative roots not unlike the trio of late 1990s/early 2000 releases the band put out after Olson’s initial departure (Sound of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music). While he acknowledged that longtime fans might be upset that Olson isn’t part of the current Jayhawks line-up, Louris is quite pleased with having former eels sideman Chet Lyster in the band.

Former Jayhawk Mark Olson
Former Jayhawk Mark Olson

“The band is fairly stable, but people never see that. Olson? People change. People move on. I think he likes control and wants to do his own thing. I think I talked him into being back in the band and I think he’s more comfortable doing his own thing. And you can’t recreate the past by bringing the same people back in, as much as people may want it,” he said. “We have a new guy named Chet Lyster and we couldn’t be happier. He’s doing so well chemistry-wise, onstage and off, which is really important because most of your time is spent offstage. He’s great and we love him. He’s played with the eels. He can sing, play keyboards and drums if you want him to. Mainly, he plays electric with us and pedal steel, e-bow and acoustic and sings. He’s kind of challenged us a bit to take it a notch up because he’s that type of player and he’s not afraid to make suggestions to push us a little bit. He’ll point out a different part here or a different arrangement there. Really, he’s a great influence. Right now, I’m really, really proud of the band.”

As for the new record, while Louris isn’t shy about letting his Neil Young freak flag fly here on songs like “Pretty Roses In Your Hair” or by using a wailing harp and loping cadence on “The Devil Is In Her Eyes,” there’s a fair amount of experimentation that goes on. It ranges from the psychedelic nuances of “Lost the Summer,” that include liberal applications of feedback and synthesizer, to the punk-like attack of the frenetic “The Dust of Long-Dead Stars.”

But the greatest example of the Jayhawks’ willingness to veer away from their insurgent country roots is “Ace,” a distaff number built on a simple beat that has layers of soundscaped atonal guitar piled on top of a looped beat in a way that will have you double-checking to see that this isn’t a Beck album. This analogy was one Louris was happy to hear.

Beck
Beck

“I’m a big Beck fan and one of the things I love about him that I always wanted to achieve in our band was that he can make one record and the next time he can make a completely different one,” the Minneapolis native said. “Most of his goal is to not be typecast but to be able to do a lot of different things. In reality, that’s who we are. We have many different sides to our band. We’d incorporated some of the instruments into the music, but a lot of the songs themselves stripped down are not really traditional.”

As for what concert-goers can expect from a band with nine albums to choose from, Louris is coolly confident while admitting that having so many song options can be challenging at times.

“I think we’re a little bit more revitalized and I think we know we made a good record. I don’t show up at a place hoping they like us because I just know we’re good and if you appreciate this kind of music, I think you’re going to be very happy,” he said. “I think we’re a little more sophisticated. With some of what we’re doing now because we have this new player, we can start to orchestrate things a little more than we have. The hardest part is trying to fit all the songs into the set because I want to give everybody a little bit of every record and focus on the new record. But it’s very hard for me to play less than two hours and get in even a couple of songs off each record. If anything, it’s going to be a long night of good music.”


Check out our record review of the Jayhawks’ Paging Mr. Proust.

https://liweekly.wpengine.com/jayhawks-continuing-rewrite-americana-playbook/

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