Singer/songwriter Gary Louris on the band's 'uphill battle' and backing the Kinks' Ray Davies
There was a point when Gary Louris believed Mockingbird Time, from 2011, would be the Jayhawks' last album. Of course, he thought the same thing when the roots-tinged Minneapolis pop-rockers released Sound ofLies in 1997. And then again when Rainy Day Music surfaced in 2003.
“Each one is kind of like, ‘Well, we'll see,'” said Louris, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Stuart's Opera House in Nelsonville on Wednesday, April 12. “It's always an uphill battle. We're in that funny spot where we have just enough [interest] to make it viable. We have people who want to put the records out and people who want to book us, but we're not exactly living in country manors and walking our greyhounds around, either. It's always a bit of a battle, so you have to question if you can do it each time.”
The process repeated itself when Louris started assembling material for what would become last year's Paging Mr. Proust. “I spent a long time writing and demoing without the knowledge there was going to be a Jayhawks record,” said the singer, who penned more than 50 songs before regrouping with his bandmates. “Then once it became clear it was going to be a Jayhawks record, there was more collaboration … and people would twist them and put their stamp on them.”
Musically, Proust is a more sonically adventurous affair, flirting with Velvet Underground-style rock on the dreamy “Lovers of the Sun” and even expanding into the electronic realm on the glitch-ridden “Ace.” Regardless, the songs are all anchored by Louris' appreciation for pop songcraft and the three-part harmonies that arrive courtesy of Louris and bandmates Karen Grotberg and Tim O'Reagan (Marc Perlman completes the ever-shuffling group's current lineup) — traits that most recently attracted the attention of Kinks frontman Ray Davies, who invited the band to back him on his forthcoming solo album, Americana (due April 21).
“We were on tour in Spain [in the fall of 2015], and instead of flying home we flew to London and basically auditioned, and Ray liked it,” said Louris, who was brought to Davies' attention by John Jackson, an executive at Sony Legacy who moonlights on mandolin, violin and guitar with the Jayhawks. “It wasn't one of those things where we went in and redefined his material. … There's a lot going on in those songs, and there's not a lot of ad-libbing. It's more taking instruction and trying to be respectful of the material than it was, ‘Hey, let's try this out.'”
In addition to Americana — Davies' first solo album in 10 years — the Jayhawks recorded a second, still-untitled album alongside the Kinks singer that Louris described as “in the pipeline.” Following that, it's likely the band will reconvene to record that “final” Jayhawks album one more time, though with a different mindset than the one the players adopted in those earlier days.
“There was a time where I certainly wanted to light the world on fire and be the biggest thing in the world,” Louris said. “Now … I just want to express myself. You can keep pushing and yearning, but at a certain point you have to take what the world gives you, and that's sort of where we are now.”