The Jayhawks

Few bands can survive the loss of a founding member,let alone one that was writing half of the material. But a few years after being crowned "the only country rock band that matters" by the Village Voice, the Jayhawks bitterly watched Mark Olson walk away from the group at what was arguably the apex of their career. Three albums and seven years later, even the old-school fans have to admit that the Jayhawks have never sounded better. Singer/guitar player Gary Louris recently sat down with CL to discuss the band's latest, Rainy Day Music.

Creative Loafing: A lot of people have referenced Crosby, Stills and Nash with this album. Are you a fan?

I appreciate certain things about them, though I wouldn't call myself their biggest fan. For example, I don't remember the last time I put on a Crosby, Stills and Nash record. I appreciate what they do, and there was certainly a period that I listened to them when I was younger, but I think I'm not a huge fan. I think at the time [we recorded], I was listening a little to them because I'd read a big article about them. I was interested in using a more complex vocal arrangement, with three-part and two-part harmonies. There are a few songs that sound a bit like Crosby, Stills and Nash but 80-90 percent of it doesn't. I think the Thorns sound more like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

With songs like "Tampa to Tulsa," given the same sparse treatment on the bonus disc, were there thoughts that the whole album was going to be a minimal affair?

No, but for us, I think it was a step forward in getting even a part of the album that way. Even back when [former songwriting partner] Olson was in the band, we were always trying to get songs sans drums. I think that an album should strive to achieve a variety of songs, and that every song doesn't have to have the same instrumentation. So, we've succeeded somewhat on this record more than others in that respect.

You've toured as a three-piece while working on this album and then did a short tour in Europe recently as well.

That is finished. I'm bored and I'm ready to play some electric guitar. We may incorporate some of the lessons we learned; some songs are better in the acoustic format. Plus, our fourth member [Stephen McCarthy] is very versatile. He plays the banjo, the dobro, etc. [The Jayhawks lineup includes bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Tim O'Reagan.]

The album was done mostly live, right?

There was some minor overdubbing. But all the lead vocals were live, whether it was Tim or myself. Some of the songs were completely live, like "Madman" and "Tampa to Tulsa," where even the harmonies were all sung live.

There are some places on the album where your voice sounds a bit weathered; are those the kinds of things that you'd overdub in the past?

Yeah. But I also like the rougher vocal. I think in the past I was kind of encouraged to overdub everything to where it sounds, to me, a little one-dimensional. I like the vocals to have a little edge to them. I think my best vocals ever were on "What Led Me To This Town" [from 2000's Smile], and I actually had a polyp on my throat at the time. I personally like the tone of my vocals that way.

When you've been performing some of these songs in an acoustic manner, have you ever thought about the impact that some of your past members would have had on the sound?

I haven't, but now that you mention it, I do. I have been missing some of the violin aspect of Sound of Lies and of course the piano parts, but it's hard because Karen [Grotberg, the band's former keyboard player] was kind of irreplaceable. And we tried, but it was just too hard. We were going to try to get her to play a gig recently here, but her mother had just passed away so she couldn't do it.

What have you learned most about the band from doing a record like this?

Well, I think I've learned that we should always sing live when we record. I think that's the biggest thing. For composition, I think it was effective because we couldn't hide anything and the song had to be strong enough to live on the bare bones. It's one way to make a record and we learned many things, but will we make the same record twice? I doubt it. Have we ever before? I don't think so.