The Jayhawks: Just Like Old Times The band helped create alt-country in the early '90s, but it's been 16 years since its principal members, Mark Olson and Gary Louris, recorded together. The two songwriters discuss breaking that streak on their new album, Mockingbird Time.
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The Jayhawks: Just Like Old Times

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The Jayhawks: Just Like Old Times

The Jayhawks: Just Like Old Times

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THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) I was waiting for the sun...


In 1992, this song launched the careers of the Minnesota band The Jayhawks. They quickly became seminal forces in the burgeoning sound known as alternative country. Co-founders Mark Olson and Gary Louris found their harmonies and their songwriting styles fit together like few others: a perfect match.


THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) It was not lost on me.

ROBERTS: But by the end of 1995, Mark Olson left the band. Gary Louris kept the name and the spirit alive with three more Jayhawks albums without Olson, but it never quite sounded like this.


THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) She walks in so many ways. She wanders alone in the shade. She shakes herself in the dust, whispers all things will be silence.

ROBERTS: This is "She Walks in So Many Ways" from the new Jayhawks album "Mockingbird Time," featuring Gary Louris and Mark Olson for the first time in 16 years. When I spoke with them yesterday, Mark told me he left the band not because of any animosity but just to find out what else he could do with his life.

MARK OLSON: I found a - basically an abandoned house in the Mojave Desert and an old man that was very excited about working on it, and I threw myself into that for a year, and then played music with Victoria Williams and the Creekdippers for many years and toured and made albums and went all over Europe. And that only went on for really seven, eight years, and then Gary and I got back together and started playing music again. But I think part of the strangeness of the story is that we didn't make an album then for about eight years. We just kind of went around playing music. And I don't know if you want to add something to that, Gary.

GARY LOURIS: You know, we'd meet up and play. We started by playing some Jayhawks songs, and then we said, well, let's play some new stuff. And then from there, it just got to the point where we listened to the people. And what they said was, we want to hear the band. When's the band getting back together?


THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) She walks in so many ways. She wanders alone in the shade. She shakes herself in the dust, whispers all things will be silence.

ROBERTS: What was the first song on this new album that you wrote together?

OLSON: Well, "Hey Mr. Man." Gary came out...

LOURIS: That's true.

OLSON: Gary came out to my house in California, and we came up with this song called "Hey Mr. Man." I had a cousin there. He wasn't working at the time, and hadn't worked, and had used the notion that there weren't any jobs anymore as a great base to launch his nonworking career.



THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) Sleeping in the morning light, in the morning light, in the morning light. All these alibis, thinking I could stay a while and watch the grass grow high.

OLSON: But of all things, we kind of ganged up on him. And now, he's actually working for the Merchant Marines. He went to the academy, and he's on a ship right now, so the song isn't really true anymore.

LOURIS: If you're listening out there.

OLSON: So if you listen to the song, it's about someone who doesn't want to work.


THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) Go back to the farm.

ROBERTS: My guests are Gary Louris and Mark Olson of the band The Jayhawks. Their new album is called "Mockingbird Time." One of the sort of signature sounds of the Jayhawks is the harmony you two have together - a lot of comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel and the way your voices fit. Did you find when you came back together that your voices still fit? Had they changed? Did they fit in a new way?

LOURIS: It's one of those things that it's a combination of chemistry. Obviously, we just - even when we talk, you can hear - I hear the high part - my voice is high and Mark's lower - and he hears the low parts. And something about our tonal quality, when they fit together just right, they resonate and become kind of a third voice. But the basic blueprint of the two of us and how our voices fit were there from the very beginning.

ROBERTS: But it is true that when you two resonate, it does become its own sound. It is a third thing entirely. You must be able to hear it and feel it when you hit it.

OLSON: It's vibration. That's what harmony is.

LOURIS: And if you just get the right blend, you can't tell who's singing, you know, just like, you don't hear Mark, you don't hear Gary. You can hear...

ROBERTS: Jayhawks.

LOURIS: Whatever it is (unintelligible)...

OLSON: Well, that's how people break glass. And then the theory goes you can break down a building by vibrating it at the right frequency, so we're careful with it.

LOURIS: Yeah. (Unintelligible).

OLSON: We try not to use it too much.

ROBERTS: You use that power for good, not evil.

OLSON: Yeah. That's right. We try to, whatever.

LOURIS: We definitely lock it up.

OLSON: Yeah, we keep it under lock and key.


THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) You'll find different things on your own. Take me down to the river tonight and let me stand out in the rain.

ROBERTS: About 10 years ago, The New York Times wrote an article about the Jayhawks, and the headline said: What If You Made a Classic and No One Cared? And they were referring to the album "Smile," but it kind of could have been written about any number of Jayhawks albums. I mean, you weren't anonymous, but you weren't massively famous. Back then in the '90s, did you feel pressure to be bigger than you were? Were you always sort of waiting for your great big break?

LOURIS: I certainly wanted to be bigger. And I think Mark just wanted to be good. And it just shows you how shallow I am and how deep he is.


OLSON: I think that you're making that up now.

LOURIS: But we, you know, I knew people who would say, oh, you're going to, you know, be the next big thing. I say, I don't think we ever felt that. We never felt pressure. We always felt like we've worked in a bubble in a way, kind of the fact that we were not part of any particular scene or we never had one big radio hit or whatever has kind of worked to our advantage in that we have the thing called longevity going for us.

ROBERTS: Does the fact that you weren't superstars give you freedom to experiment a little bit more, that you don't have this massive screaming fan base that wants you to do the same thing over and over again?

OLSON: Exactly.

LOURIS: Yes. Our failure has worked to our advantage.


ROBERTS: That's not quite what I meant, but OK.

OLSON: I wouldn't call it failure, though, because we have had a fan base all these years. We've all been able to tour in various countries. When you think about the Jayhawks and then Gary Louris, Mark Olson, we've toured in maybe 20 different countries over the past 10 years.

LOURIS: That's why I think that we need to have our own show on NPR, the Mark and Gary, you know, song - singer-songwriter show. And we're going to get some funding, but I think it's going to happen. We'll have people call in, and we'll start a song, and then they can call in and tell us which direction it should go or...

OLSON: And they can witness it and process how...


OLSON: ...we turn the ideas up or we turn them down. And, you know, it's not pretty sometimes.

LOURIS: No, it isn't pretty.

OLSON: Gary and I really - there's some laughter, but it's laughter with pain, you know?


OLSON: Tears of a clown.

LOURIS: (Unintelligible).

ROBERTS: With live ideas from the audience.

OLSON: Yeah. But they have to sign something so that, you know, at the end of the day...

LOURIS: We can use the songs.

OLSON: Yeah. Yeah. Then we take it and use it and don't pay them anything.

ROBERTS: Please disregard the comments you just heard...


ROBERTS: ...and pledge to your local public radio station immediately.

OLSON: But that's the way it's going. Exactly. We all need pledges. Pledge, pledge, pledge.

LOURIS: I want you to know that I donate every month directly out of my own credit card. You, too, out there can also.

ROBERTS: Mark Olson and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks. Their first album together in 16 years is out now. It's called "Mockingbird Time." And apparently soon, you'll be able to hear them on a public radio station near you and participate in their songwriting process with them. Mark and Gary, thank you both so much.

OLSON: Thank you.

LOURIS: You're welcome.


THE JAYHAWKS: (Singing) Please let me be the one to see you in the day, to know you in the night, I'd run to your side but know that you're from another side of town along the way. You, my heart, I can give it to, my soul I can make it with, you. It's all I can do, my soul. Closer to your side, I'll walk with you...

ROBERTS: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcast. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at We post a new episode on Sunday nights. We're back with a whole new hour of radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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