Mr. GARY LOURIS (Musician): Whenever you're ready then. Okay, it's rolling. Here we go.
(Soundbite of song, "Pretty Little Hairdo")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) Pretty little hairdo don't do what it used to, can't disguise the livin', all the miles that you've been through.
LIANE HANSEN, host:
After more than 20 years with the Jayhawks, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Gary Louris has spread his wings and is flying solo. His new recording "Vagabonds" is getting good reviews and airplay. Five years ago when he was still with the Jayhawks, the band came to NPR's studio 4A.
(Soundbite of song, "Save It for a Rainy Day")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) So sad, don't look so sad, Marina...
HANSEN: With the sound of the Jayhawks still echoing from the studio session, we invited Gary Louris and his guitar back to the show to talk about his new solo CD, "Vagabonds."
(Soundbite of song, "Vagabonds")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) Carry on you vagabonds, everyone's gone away. Carry on you vagabonds, everyone's gone away.
HANSEN: Gary Louris joins us from the studios of Minnesota public radio. Welcome back to the program.
Mr. LOURIS: It's my pleasure. Nice to talk to you again.
HANSEN: It's a little different. You did a performance in studio 4A for us last time. You were here with the Jayhawks, and now we've got you in the studio of Minnesota public radio. But I just want to ask you a couple of things about this new CD because it is a debut for you as a solo artist and are there advantages that you found that you didn't expect?
Mr. LOURIS: Well, there are advantages and disadvantages as always. I remember talking to an old friend of mine who was a solo guy years back and we, and he was always envious about how, you know, when you're in a band, oh man, you know, you don't - you got the camaraderie, you know who's going to play on your record, you know what it's going to sound like.
And then for a band guy I was kind of envious to say solo guy, you don't have to wait for the other five guys to show in the lobby, you know? To go to sound check and you can just hop on a train with your guitar and go wherever you want and everything's simpler. So you know, there's a tradeoff on both sides. I'm enjoying it just because I'm enjoying the power of the simple vocal and acoustic guitar.
HANSEN: Somehow I don't see you hopping a train, but you write about it. I mean the first cut on the CD, you're going to play this for us, and it's also the single. It's called "True Blue." It is about, or seems to be about the life of a troubadour.
Mr. LOURIS: Well, between that and Vagabonds I think the title is a little bit, it has a traveling kind of theme to it even if it's not physically traveling. Maybe you're traveling in your mind in some kind of out-of-body experience or you're just searching, you know, searching, traveling in that way, which I think was what this record is about.
It's about a person maybe who's now not 21 anymore and he, you know, is looking at his life and starting to see this is what life is, you know, it's not necessarily where - well, when I get to be such and such age, then I'm going to really be there. You kind of think this is it, you know, why are we here and all those kind of crazy big questions, and try to get into those without boring people to tears.
HANSEN: Well let's open the door with "True Blue" played by Gary Louris in the studios of Minnesota public radio.
(Soundbite of song "True Blue")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) Rusty wire bent to make a fence, rows and rows of houses, cold hands still until tomorrow. Rustling waters going by their stones some ungrateful morning. Kick the sand, stir up the powder. Step it down to what you can believe in. Pass it on what is right and true blue. True blue.
Today's the day my branches bear their fruit and all my labor will be rewarded. Then I await. It's like starting over. Strip it down to what you can rescue. Pass it on what is right and true blue. True blue.
Shifting stages and shapes. Picking up ground now, taking another's place, pass it on what is right and true blue. True blue. True blue. True blue.
HANSEN: "True Blue" played by Gary Louris in the studios of Minnesota public radio. This song's from his new recording, "Vagabonds." Lovely, stripped down, just an acoustic guitar. That's what you said last time we talked to you that whenever you write a song you always think about how it's going to sound with an acoustic guitar. Is this is a song that was written for this or is this a song that's been hanging around your head for awhile?
Mr. LOURIS: This one was more recent, you know, I - between the end of the Jayhawks and the time to record this record I kind of dabbled and been working, writing in my basement wherever I was and kind accumulating this kind of catalogue of, you know, like a lot of songs. And not all good. Definitely not all good songs.
But a lot of ideas. And eventually, you know, when I knew I was going in that last couple months, when you know you're going into the studio, it's a little bit like the gun at the head, you're all of sudden like, man, I really got to, I've got to pull it all out. And I had a kind of a last gasp kind of a creative burst of energy and wrote a lot of the songs right before I went in, actually.
HANSEN: I notice a lot of artists are releasing vinyl again. Why are you releasing a vinyl version?
Mr. LOURIS: It seems appropriate since my music has been termed as stuck in the '70s or whatever. You know, it sounds a little better. It's of course, if the record company says they want to do it, I always jump for it 'cause I buy vinyl and the artwork's bigger too. You can actually see the artwork.
HANSEN: I've always loved that part of it, actually.
Mr. LOURIS: The large print. Yeah, I supposed I should have at my age, got a Reader's Digest large print edition of my record. Comes with a magnifying glass.
(Soundbite of song, "Omaha Nights")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) Am I growing old in the arms of the wrong lover? Omaha nights going to make it all right. Omaha nights going to set me free.
HANSEN: You chose to record this time in Los Angeles. What did that add to it for you? And why did you decide you wanted to go there and Laurel Canyon as well? Just a mystical place?
Mr. LOURIS: It is, and you know, it's funny, the Jayhawks' music has always been equated to kind of that west coast southern California kind of vibe and yet it's like we can't get arrested out there. It's kind of a funny situation compared to other places in the world, we're kind of an afterthought. But I don't know, you know, it's, you know, it's just one of those places.
When we started making our first major label records, we always made them in L.A. and I got a little spoiled because it's, you know, it's where all these great records have been made. The studios are old and just have that sound stuck in the walls, and great reverb chambers, great gear, and the musicians. It's just set up, that town is just set up for recording.
(Soundbite of song, "To Die a Happy Man")
Mr. LOURIS: (Singing) It's not enough but then again it's more than what I have. And if I die today you know I'd die a happy man, torturous though it seems pouring forth the bittersweet. Wrestling with the good and evil in ourselves within our struggle, want to laugh or say a prayer, I never had a cross to bear, so beautiful. So beautiful.
HANSEN: In the music business there tends to be a really fine line between geyser and sage. I wonder if you've encountered that at all.
Mr. LOURIS: I have. And you know, I'm trying to, and maybe it's because I married a younger woman, but it's, she's always reminded me not to start feeling old. Don't start thinking that way, you know. But I've been around but I feel like I want to be one of those people who lays down a bit of a blueprint of maybe doing my best work as I go along here, as opposed to peaking at 20 or 30 and then kind of hanging on for the rest of your life.
I feel like I've still got a lot of things to do and I hopefully have not lost my sense of perspective and judgment. I think I have - I'm hopefully doing some of the better things I've ever done. So that's my hope is to continue that way.
HANSEN: What would you like your reward to be for your labor?
Mr. LOURIS: Well, you know, financial rewards are always nice, but you know, and of course I think the ideal thing is to have a bit of it all. I mean you want to have the artistic respect, you want the respect of your colleagues and feel like you can go out and play and reach an audience. So, you know, that, but otherwise I think just to be a good person, be a good family person, make music that's important, and to help people.
Because, you know, in life sometimes musicians are pretty much known as pretty self-centered people in general. They're wallowing about their problems and what's wrong with them. And I mean it's one way that I can help people and I've been told that in the past, your song really helped me. You know, my brother, you know passed away, or I went through this divorce, or whatever, and your song saved me.
And that's, I mean I think that's the, as corny as that sounds, is the ultimate reward.
HANSEN: Gary Louris, it's been a real treat. Thanks a lot. Good luck.
Mr. LOURIS: You're welcome, my pleasure, nice talking to you again.
HANSEN: "Vagabonds" is the name of the new solo CD by Gary Louris. Our thanks to engineer Sam Keenan at Minnesota Public Radio. You can hear and see Louris sing more songs from his new album at our Web site npr.org/music.