The Jayhawks' Gary Louris talks about 'XOXO' and the importance of new music in times like these

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The Jayhawks' frontman Gary Louris talks about the band's new album, 'XOXO,' in an interview with The Current's Jim McGuinn. (The Current)

The Jayhawks' new album, 'XOXO,' releases July 10, 2020, and The Current's Jim McGuinn connected with frontman Gary Louris to talk about the new record. Watch their full conversation in the video above, and read a transcript of the interview below.

Interview Transcript

JIM McGUINN: It's Jim McGuinn from The Current, and we've been having a lot of conversations over the last couple of months with musicians, some putting out new music, some in the middle of whatever is going on in their lives, and right now, I'm very excited to be joined by Gary Louris from the Jayhawks, our old friend. Welcome, Gary. How are you today?

GARY LOURIS: I'm good, thank you. It's a pleasure to speak with you, Jim.

So you guys just recently announced a new record that is going to come out in July. Now is it — is it "X-O-X-O," "Hugs and Kisses," or "zockso"?

"X-O-X-O." Elliot Smith times two.

There you go.

Yeah, XOXO. And why it's called that — I guess we're sending our love. What can I say?

That makes a lot of sense. Now you've worked on the record throughout the fall and the big thing that you notice right away from the first single, "This Forgotten Town," is that it feels very much like a group effort in terms of vocals and songwriting being shared and divided up among the band.

Well that is the story line I think — you know — it — and where — why now I'm not sure; just right now. I think it began with just over a course of time I realized when we play our shows — this is like I'm singing 98 percent of the material and I just loved the other people's voices and their songwriting and I'm not particularly good at writing songs for Karen or Tim. So — and I know they're songwriters and I just kind of pushed them to express themselves more, and I'd worked on a solo record that'll come out afterwards. So — you know — I didn't have a huge backlog of stuff and it just seemed like the stars aligned — you know — to — to have it more of a collaborative effort.

And did they come prepared with their own songs and have material to offer into the mix that just kind of felt right for this album and where you guys are at at this point?

Well yeah. We started recording in I think it was November or September — November, I think, at Pachyderm — and then we finished up in December in — at Flowers Studio — Flowers in Minneapolis. But I had been flying in from North Carolina every month since April and spending a week at a time with the band and writing and jamming, and so it was kind of a — it was a process, and then whittling it all down was difficult. But yeah — so it's been a work in progress for quite a while.

What was it like going to two really classic Minnesota studios for you in particular being — coming in from out of town — not being local at the time but coming back to go to those studios? And what do those two different studios mean to you?

Well I'm still — even though I wasn't — I'm not one of you — I wasn't born and raised in Minnesota. I lived in Minnesota since 1973 so — you know — it still always feels like home and it's going to be my home again, but — you know — I had worked down at Pachyderm for various things including some b-sides and a couple — one or two songs from Hollywood Town Hall proper and did some things with The Golden Smog, did some things with other bands that I sat in with whether it was — Soul Asylum for one. So I was familiar with it but I know it had kind of gone down a bit and then it was purchased and it — they've really done a great job getting it back to where it was. And what we liked about that was that we could kind of be out of town and away from the day-to-day errands and things — distractions and yet still be close enough.

Karen has a 20-year-old daughter. Tim has a dog. Mark has — I'm not sure what Mark has but he — he has a life is what he has. And so they could still kind of — if there was an emergency they could go, but what it did was kind of like a retreat — a band retreat where we ate together, drank together, fixed meals, listened to music, hung out as like a family, and it really kind of brought us — we were already tight but I think it just took it up a notch, and I think with everybody being — having a little more ownership to certain songs everybody felt a little bit more invested in the — invested in it.

And then of course Ed's studio, Flowers, is one of the great studios I've worked in, and Ashley and Annika were nice enough to have us there and we worked with K.J., who is so perfect for us. And so that place was — it's just like a little playground — all this great equipment. And that was great because then people could go home and if they weren't overdubbing they didn't have to sit there the whole time. So it worked really well, the two different sides of the — of the coin worked really well.

It's a long way from the dream to be in someplace like L.A. making a record that probably was more prevalent in the early '90s. So now it's about being closer to the family and — you know — you're talking about those two great studios — Pachyderm, the place where most famously I guess Nirvana recorded "In Utero," P.J.Harvey worked there; tons of records have been made out of there for 30 years, and Ed Ackerson, the former owner of Flowers Studio, who passed away back in October — a friend of all of ours and so many in our music community. And you guys were really the first band to go back in there and start working after Ed had passed away, and his long-time engineer, Kris Johnson, working on that record with you. And I know that you had worked a lot with Ed over the years on Golden Smog and on Jayhawks records in the past. Was it hard to be there in that studio at that time?

It was — it was beautiful but strange. Strangely beautiful in that — not to get cliche but I felt — we felt his presence all the time there. And it felt like — I know — we — I had talked to Ed before he passed away about working there and doing the record there and then that became somewhat impossible for a while. But I think it was just all around a good thing for us. It was a good thing for Ashley. It was just the right thing to do. Yeah, I love working in L.A.; don't get me wrong. Those studios — we worked in some of the best studios in the world — Oceanway, Sound City, Sunset Sound, Village Recorders, all those, and there's nothing quite like those L.A. studios.

But times are different now where you can't just go out and spend four months in L.A. and make a record and so yeah, we're lucky was have great studios in Minneapolis and that's right nearby.

Yeah, absolutely. So I don't know if you've been like most of the world and fallen down any YouTube rabbit holes lately, but I got on a whole Kinks binge the other day and that led me to some of the collaborative stuff that you got to do with Ray Davies on those Americana solo records that he put out. What did you pick up from that experience that you've brought to the Jayhawks since that opportunity to work with a guy like him?

It was an honor to work with him. He was always one of my heroes — it's right, the old joke. Who's greater, the Beatles or the Stones? And the answer is The Kinks, but — you know — I was a huge — I still tour — ever I'm a Kinks fan — I still can't believe that I — that we got to record with him and got to be friends with him and say in touch. But — you know — I think mostly his attention to detail and his theatrical side — his theatrical instructions of how to do things were not so much musical but more emotional. His direction was very much like a — more like a theatre than music.

So how's it been for you being off the road? Because the Jayhawks have been super busy and between your solo work and your other collaborations you guys have been doing a lot of touring over the last few years. Is this one of the more extended absences you've had from live gigs? What are you doing to fill up your time right now?

Well, um, painting. You can see this beautiful painting I've been working — no, I'm kidding. Um, that's right, you can paint by numbers at this little cabin I'm staying in. Um, well I don't mean to correct you, but we actually haven't toured that much over the last few years by design. After Paging Mr. Proust, we kind of looked at the bottom line and said you know, we're doing a lot of gigs for — to get to the next weekend, and it wasn't — we didn't — we didn't — we're not 21 and yeah, it's nice to be on a tour bus, but people always go, "Why would you not wanna get on a tour bus?" But if you're doing it every day — and we were at that level where you don't a hotel and a tour bus. You get a tour bus and on your nights off you get a hotel. And you start living on the bus; you can start going a little nutty. But we didn't tour very much and we started just — and I found — we all found we missed it.

And so we had planned on at least doubling if not more the amount of shows we were going to play this year vs. the last couple years. So I mean, we were geared up to do more and then of course COVID happened and everything's been put on hold. Everything's in limbo. I — you know — I'm like a lot of people, just trying to catch up on things that I haven't done that have been sitting there. I've been in the process of moving and things so I have a lot of ducks I have to get in a row, but um — and then I have my — my streaming show, which I will plug, called the S-H-*-T Show, which you can see on Facebook live most Wednesdays. We're doing one on Wednesday. My son's going to join me. That'll be on at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central. They're also archived on YouTube and I kind of resisted doing that.

I thought eh, I don't know if I want to do those and everybody's doing them. But I started doing them and I have to tell you, I look so forward to it because it's, um — it feels — I feel connected to the outside world. People react and it seems to be helping people or they enjoy it. It brightens their day a bit. And — you know — it's loose and I can be more intimate as far as — you know — I've never been the big rock-and-roll shouter onstage so this is like I can play quietly and play deeper cuts or requests. So I've been doing that and walking a lot. I'm living out here in the country right now and this — West Saugerties/Woodstock/Bearsville area is — you know — is gorgeous. So I've been exercising a lot and playing and that's about it. Reading and not much else.

Sounds kind of like what everyone else is doing, getting involved in, so—

Yeah. Well, Jim, I have been in touch with my other musician friends because — although I don't just hang out with musicians. But they — we all say kind of the same thing. Now granted, it's a tragedy out there; people dying and compromised or can't work or worried about this, but for a lot of musicians, our life isn't that much different than it was pre-virus because we were born isolators. Most artists — musicians in particular — can tend to be isolators. So for us — I'm not a big social animal, so this, other than the difficulties of — you know — cancelled shows and how to go somewhere without feeling like you're going to catch something — my life isn't that much different.

I did see your bandmates here at a show in the Twin Cities when John Wesley Harding played the Hook and Ladder just a couple of weeks before we all went into isolation and it was great to see all of them out, just as it's great to hear them now even on this — the first single, "This Forgotten Town," hearing Karen's voice and Tim's voice and — you know — it's still got the classic things that I think people love about the Jayhawks music but it's sort of expanded into including all their works and it's probably a good sign that someone that's been in a band with their bandmates for 30-some years can still go out on a Wednesday night to see a show together.

Well, Wesley will do that too because Wesley is a — is a magnet, yeah, I mean yeah it's funny to think about that. I'm thinking also about our last shows that we played live were in Brooklyn on March 6th and 7th and then we played a show in Northampton, Massachusetts, on the 8th and that was — I remember going out and it was just starting where you started to feel like you're not supposed to touch and people were elbow-bumping for the first time, but people were still out. I remember even the first night I went out and kind of slapped everybody's hand on the front of the stage after the — before we got off, and looking back it's amazing that — it's hard to believe — it's so sad to watch shows or things where you see people all together and you're like, "When is that going to happen again?" But it will.

Yeah. Well hopefully you guys will be back out and able to play shows. The record's coming out July 10. Was there any thought of postponing that because of the difficulties touring? Or is it full steam ahead and hopefully you'll be ready when the time is right?

No. Full steam ahead. I think the — I think our fans would like to hear new music, especially at this time. Music is pretty much a salve. So no, we — I mean we weren't planning on hopping on a bus and going on an eight-month tour anyway, so we will be playing. We'll be maybe making up these dates. We're looking at possibly doing some live shows for the venues we were going to play and maybe not charge for it. It wouldn't be in lieu of the show we would play, but — you know — we're trying to find creative ways to do it once I'm back in town, which will be — make it easier for us to do things as a group. And so we will figure it out but we will be releasing the record as planned.

It's Gary Louris from the Jayhawks. Thanks for spending some time today and look forward to you being back in the Twin Cities fairly soon, and good luck with the move and then can't wait to see the Jayhawks back together. Marc Perlman, Tim O'Reagan, Karen Grotberg — great band for so long and with a really great sounding new record, XOXO, and the first single, "This Forgotten Town."

And the cover of our record is done by a guy named Duncan Hannah, who is a New York — fabulous New York artist; was really a mainstay in especially the '70s and '80s rock scene but he's from Minneapolis and a new friend of mine. And yeah, so very proud of the cover and look him up. He's amazing.

All roads lead to "This Forgotten Town" apparently.

I guess so.

Are you — do you ever run into Tommy Stinson? I know he's up in that neck of the woods as well.

I have. I ran into him way back a few months ago when he went up to Hudson, New York, and just — we were talking about him and then went in to get some lunch and there he was with his girlfriend and yeah, small world.

I think that sounds like Tommy. That's sort of how he rolls. He just sort of appears, yeah. Gary Louris of the Jayhawks.

Thanks again for hanging out with The Current and hopefully soon we'll have you on. Perhaps maybe we'll have a band doing a virtual session with us in the weeks or months to come, but if not we look forward to hearing more music off the new record, so thank you.

Thanks, Jim. Thank you.

Interview engineered by Erik Stromstad; additional post-production by Luke Taylor; transcript by Rick Carlson.

External Link

The Jayhawks - official site

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2 Photos

  • The Jayhawks, 'XOXO'
    The Jayhawks, 'XOXO' (Sham/Thirty Tigers)
  • The Jayhawks 2018 press photo
    The Jayhawks (Sam Erickson)