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Clip: Gary Louris and Mark Olson on tour

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  • Carl Z.
    So Long, Jayhawks Co-founders Gary Louris and Mark Olson say goodbye to their alt-country band with a duo reunion tour
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2006
      So Long, Jayhawks
      Co-founders Gary Louris and Mark Olson say goodbye to their
      alt-country band with a duo reunion tour

      Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate

      Thursday, May 4, 2006

      "The Jayhawks are definitely over." So said Gary Louris, who
      co-founded the seminal nouveau country-rock band 21 years ago and kept
      it going for a full decade after his original songwriting partner,
      Mark Olson, bailed on the project. But Louris, known also for his role
      in the alt supergroup Golden Smog, made that statement in a phone call
      from Los Angeles, where he and Olson were about to play another date
      on the reunion tour that brings them to the Great American Music Hall
      in San Francisco for two nights, Sunday and Monday, May 7 and 8.

      "I feel confident in saying there's not going to be a Jayhawks reunion
      in five or 10 years," he continued, "because we were together 20 years
      -- it's not like we were short lived. It doesn't mean that Olson and I
      might not make a record and people won't try to slap that name on it
      for promotion. But the Jayhawks have done their time."

      In doing their time, the Minneapolis, Minn.-bred Jayhawks got a good
      two-year jump on such No Depression/alt-country favorites as the
      Bottle Rockets and Uncle Tupelo (whose Jeff Tweedy went on to form
      Wilco and also collaborates with Louris in Golden Smog). Their Byrds-
      and Flying Burrito Brothers-inspired chiming guitars and soaring
      harmonies earned them critical acclaim, a devoted following and
      major-label status -- none of which significantly dissipated after
      Olson departed and Louris tightened his grip on the reins and guided
      the band in a more explicitly pop direction.

      Still, there was something especially infectious and compelling about
      the blend of Louris and Olson's voices -- not precisely reminiscent
      of, but in some ways paralleling that of Gram Parsons and Emmylou
      Harris, or David Crosby and Graham Nash -- on such songs as "Waiting
      for the Sun," "Crowded in the Wings," "I'd Run Away" and "Blue." The
      former bandmates obviously agree, for they got together for a tour
      (with a small band) early last year and have scaled things down to a
      simple acoustic duo for their current jaunt through a few Western

      Louris recently wrote a batch of songs for the Dixie Chicks and awaits
      the release of the new Golden Smog CD, Another Fine Day (Lost Highway
      Records) on July 18. Olson, who recorded five rootsy, homespun albums
      (including the widely distributed December's Child) with wife Victoria
      Williams as The (Original Harmony) Creekdippers, has spent much of the
      past 16 months touring Europe and "rambling," as he called it, and
      hopes to "figure out where I'm gonna live and get a piano and a
      bookshelf and a bed" after this tour is over. In separate phone
      conversations earlier this week, they talked about time spent with the
      Jayhawks, the impetus for the reunion and what the future might hold
      for them, individually and together.

      On New Year's Eve 2004 you played together in something of a reunion
      in Minneapolis. How did that come about?

      Gary Louris: That was Mark's show, and we just kind of stumbled
      onstage. In terms of the performance, it wasn't much to speak of. But
      the sentiment was there that we were open to a friendship again as
      well as a collaboration.

      What then inspired you to get together for that first tour last year
      and this one now?

      Mark Olson: What happened was somebody asked us to write a song for a
      movie, and Gary came out [to California from Minneapolis] and we did
      that, and it came out really nice and ended up going on the December's
      Child record. He hears high harmony and I hear low harmony just
      naturally. It's just a thing where we really don't have to work too
      much on those vocals -- they just flip together nice. We played so
      much together over the years, it's just good. I know I was interested
      in doing it and found out he was, too, so we just went ahead and did

      Louris: It's kind of like asking, "Why did Golden Smog get back
      together, when we didn't know if that would ever happen?" Life is just
      funny that way. The stars align and something that didn't seem right
      seems right again. I guess anything that was keeping us from being
      together in the past -- any issues or distance -- just seemed to go
      away. I can't remember who called who, it just became apparent that
      Mark and I were interested in reconnecting, and so we did. It's kind
      of the way we always worked. People ask, "Do you sit down and work out
      those harmonies?" Mark and I never had a vocal practice or worked out
      anything with much thought, and that's what happened here.

      Mark, what made you leave the Jayhawks in '95?

      Olson: I'd been in the band a long time, and I'd just gotten married
      and bought a house, and I just kind of flipped a wig. I'd say that's
      about it -- I flipped a wig. I probably just needed some time off. I'd
      been going really hard for a long time, I was really burnt out and I
      needed a break but I couldn't admit it, and flipping out was the
      easiest way to get one.

      How is it different for the two of you together now?

      Olson: It's totally different. When we were in the band together,
      there was this push-to-the-next-level thing. You're always looking
      forward. And this is more like, "OK, we've written these songs and now
      were performing them, and we're actually making a living doing it."
      When I was in the band, we never saw very much of the touring money
      because of all the expenses, and we actually did a lot of warm-up
      shows -- we were on that conveyor belt of trying to make it. Now we've
      made it, to a certain extent, and we're doing long shows of our own
      songs. This is really nice. I'm enjoying this even better than last
      year because it's just the two of us, with less hectic stuff going on.
      On a personal level, it means a lot to me, it really does. It is ... I
      can't ... it's hard for me to talk about it in public.

      Louris: Musically, nothing's really different. We always had a certain
      vocal chemistry that wasn't real planned out, and it's as easy now as
      it was then. We both have lived a lot between then and now. We've both
      seen the world and maybe bring a little bit of that to the stage. But
      it's like the old cliche about riding a bike. You just hop back on.
      Musically and logistically, the simplicity factor is great. It's just
      the two of us in a car. I've never been a big bus fan. It's fun to
      just throw the guitars in the trunk and hop in the car and drive to
      the next show. It's a beautiful way to tour.

      What are you playing in the current shows?

      Olson: We're going through the main three records we did together --
      Blue Earth, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. On top
      of that we're adding a few post-Mark Olson Jayhawks songs and a few
      Creekdippers songs, and then we're adding a couple of old songs we
      wrote together but never recorded in the Jayhawks. There's this old
      one called "Cotton Dress" that Gary wrote and I added a few things.
      It's very bluegrass and it sounds really nice. We never really caught
      our bluegrass vibe on vinyl.

      Louris: We're not writing songs together again yet, but we are talking
      about it. We will do it at some point. This tour is not done out of
      desperation, like, "Oh God, we gotta make money." Mark and I both have
      lots of plans for ourselves individually, but it seemed like we had
      some unfinished business. When he walked in '95 there was a lot more
      music to be made, and I think we both missed singing with each other.
      Right now, we're just enjoying playing the songs a lot of people
      haven't heard us perform together in 11 years, and never in this kind
      of format.

      Do you have any plans for a solo record?

      Olson: As it turns out, I'm supposed to meet somebody today to talk
      about it. I recorded a bunch of songs in Europe as demos. I'm looking
      at it like a new track to be on -- kind of "Come home from Europe,
      Mark!" I'm not gonna be an expatriate.

      Louris: I would love to do one. I certainly have the material in the
      works. But I'm not in a hurry, which sometimes can be a problem,
      because I can sit there and think up about a million different ways to
      do it. There's the possibility of making something myself, down in my
      basement studio. I'd prefer to go to a real studio with a great reverb
      chamber, like some of these out in L.A. But then you have to look at
      who's gonna produce it and who's gonna play with me -- that's the hard
      part, and those are real issues for me. And when I decide to start
      making records, my goal is to make a number of them and not spend an
      entire three years on one record, touring and promoting it. I prefer
      the creative portion of my job over the entertainment side of my job.

      Now that it's over for the Jayhawks, what's your sense of the band's
      place in the history and landscape of American pop?

      Louris: We were a funny bird, excuse the bad pun. To some people, I
      think we were one of the best bands ever, and with other people we
      register as a footnote. As time goes on, the music stills sounds
      great. I can't think of another band quite like the Jayhawks, and I
      think that says something.

      Olson: It's more personal for me. It was my life. So it's hard for me
      to say. My feeling is, "Gosh, why didn't he and I just play acoustic
      guitars together way back when?" If anything, I think we may have been
      waylaid by the rock and roll a little bit. I like rock and roll, and
      at the time it was great. But still, I think we should have gone this
      way a little quicker. That would be my only thought on the "landscape"
      thing, other than our influence on people getting more focused on
      songs and singing harmonies.

      It's interesting that the Jayhawks lasted two decades, when so many of
      the first-generation country-rock bands -- the Byrds, Burritos,
      Buffalo Springfield -- had such short careers in comparison.

      Olson: They did a lot of drugs, though. We never really plowed the
      drug field too hard. We were more healthy Midwestern stock. We didn't
      get all psychedelic, so that's why we had a little more longevity. I
      hate to say that, but there might be some truth to it. I know if I was
      to go up on a psychedelic binge, I'd be out of Gary's life real quick.

      Louris: I always felt guilty for going on so long. The funny thing is,
      we could have kept going. We still had a major-label deal and people
      waiting to put out our next record. Our fans weren't dwindling, they
      were growing, especially in terms of live audience. It is odd when you
      see how short lived some of my favorite bands were. I'm a big Moby
      Grape fan -- if any of those guys still live in the Bay Area, put out
      the word that I'd love to meet them. They were hardly together at all.
      I love the almost-falling-apart quality of records by Skip Spence --
      Oar is one of my favorite records of all time -- and Syd Barrett and
      people like that. To me that's much more charming than a record that's
      ProTooled to death. But you can't just go out and say, "I wanna make a
      crazy record like that" -- you really have to feel it. You just have
      to make music that makes you feel like, if you were the only person to
      ever hear it, you'd be proud of it

      Gary Louris and Mark Olson perform Sunday and Monday, May 7 and 8, at
      the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., S.F.; showtime, 8
      p.m.; tickets, $25; for more information, call (415) 885-0750
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