Tim O'Reagan: A Jayhawk Flies Solo The Jayhawks may have called it quits after two decades of pioneering alt-country music. But even as drummer and multi-dimensional musician Tim O'Reagan trots out a self-titled CD, he's joined by several Jayhawks alumni.
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Tim O'Reagan: A Jayhawk Flies Solo

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Tim O'Reagan: A Jayhawk Flies Solo

Tim O'Reagan: A Jayhawk Flies Solo

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(Soundbite of song)

THE JAYHAWKS (Musical Group): (Singing) You're in a (unintelligible), running in and out of your head.


The Jayhawks renowned for their memorable melodies and tight harmonies apparently called it quits last year after two decades of making alternative country music. Lead singer Gary Louris said, We haven't completely closed the door, but went onto say, I'd say it's dead.

The good news is this indefinite hiatus allows band members to explore other projects.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TIM O'REAGAN (Singer): (Singing) Bringing the sound together and think before you speak...

KAST: Jayhawks' drummer and multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Reagan has taken the opportunity to strike out on his own. His first solo CD is just released on Lost Highway Records and it's called simply, Tim O'Reagan. On it, he's joined by Jayhawks' alumni including Louris, Mark Olson, Karen Grotberg and Marc Perlman, and he even has some musical contributions from his mom and dad. Tim O'Reagan joins us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Hello, Tim.

Mr. O'REAGAN: Hi, thanks for having me.

KAST: Thanks for being with us. When did you know the time was right to do a solo project?

Mr. O'REAGAN: When I ran out of excuses to keep putting it off, like didn't have the time or the place or the songs.

KAST: You say you married a great woman with great health insurance. Was that a key condition?

Mr. O'REAGAN: Well, it's not a condition, but it's something that - you know, it helps to have those kinds of pressures kind of lifted a bit so I can focus on the music thing.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. O'REAGAN: (Singing) It's like (unintelligible), no affection when the clouds are low. I'm tired of giving you attention. I just can't get through for you, for you, for you. Can't get through for you, for you.

KAST: The Jayhawks had a great run and you've played with them for ten years, but was it liberating in a way when the group broke up?

Mr. O'REAGAN: It's feeling like that now because, you know, the record, it's gotten some interest from fans and the Lost Highway label, and so now that that's happening I feel somewhat liberated. But before that, you know, I was a little nervous, not knowing what was going to happen next.

KAST: When did - at what point in the process did it start to click in? When did you start to feel confident about it?

Mr. O'REAGAN: I think after we got to some - the mixing stage on a couple of songs and, you know, it started sounded really good. You know, I would play it for some friends to just get reactions and stuff and their reactions were really encouraging.

(Soundbite of song "Highway Flowers")

Mr. O'REAGAN: (Singing) I'm pulling in to Butterfield Station. A baby's looking by at the highway flowers.

KAST: Several Jayhawk bandmates joined you on this CD. How did you set this work apart from what the group had done?

Mr. O'REAGAN: I don't think I did anything consciously. I actually picked the songs to ask them to play on based on how close they were to like the Jayhawks kind of a sound, so I may be - because I think they're only on one - I think they're just on one song as a group.

KAST: Which song is that?

Mr. O'REAGAN: It's Highway Flowers.

(Soundbite of song "Highway Flowers")

Mr. O'REAGAN: (Singing) Highway flowers gave my pictures.

Mr. O'REAGAN: It had kind of a folky, thoughtful, somewhat melancholy sound that I think the Jayhawks are known for.

KAST: Folky, thoughtful, somewhat melancholy, I think would apply to quite a few tracks here.

Mr. O'REAGAN: Oh, maybe the Jayhawks had more influence than I'm aware, but I think - I suppose you're right. There's that flavor in more than just one song, probably in a few. I guess maybe that's what appeals to me.

KAST: Melancholy?

Mr. O'REAGAN: Yeah, melancholy or just trying to pull a feeling out the listener - that puts you in a kind of a suspended mood. The Highway Flowers would probably be a good example. You know that feeling you get when you're driving for a while and you get kind of in a contemplative, you know, state and you start thinking about the bigger picture, and it can be melancholy, but it's also, you know, it's a rich feeling.

(Soundbite of song "Highway Flowers")

Mr. O'REAGAN: (Singing) Highway always looks the same, but the mountains never seem so far away. Highway flowers...

KAST: But sometimes there seems to be almost a disjoint between really rich melodies and the sort of yearning lyrics. Were you deliberately sort of playing those two things off against each other?

Mr. O'REAGAN: I was in at least one case that I can think of, on the first song on the record, These Things. The feeling and the lyrical content is pretty achy, but the music is pretty lighthearted, I think, and novel.

(Soundbite of song "These Things")

Mr. O'REAGAN: (Singing) I'm looking still, sunshine, uphill. I'm looking still 'til I might find you these things will do.

KAST: Now, we also hear from your mom and dad on this CD. What are their contributions?

Mr. O'REAGAN: Well, my mom plays violin and she was on that first song, These Things, and then my dad added some whistling on that same song. That was their contribution.

(Soundbite of whistling)

KAST: Does your dad also whistle on the instrumental?

Mr. O'REAGAN: No, that's me, a couple of tracks of me. But the whole whistling thing is - he whistled a lot when we were kids and I think the whole whistling thing came from him, the fondness for it.

(Soundbite of music)

KAST: You recorded tracks for this CD over the course of a year and a half. The song River Bends went through, what, 50 different versions and tweaks? How did you know when a song was - the song was done?

Mr. O'REAGAN: I really don't. I don't even know if it's done, because I still like some of the other versions that I did. But I don't know if it was really 50. I didn't keep track. But you know, I'd line them up on a tape and just kind of really do kind of a process of elimination, and besides I just grew tired of screwing around with it, and that was the one that I ended up on.

(Soundbite of song "River Bends")

Mr. O'REAGAN: (Singing) A dream unending without you. Where the river goes, I'll find you.

KAST: When you have an idea that doesn't quite deliver, do you tuck that away and find yourself using it in some other song down the road?

Mr. O'REAGAN: Yeah, if the idea I feel is good and it - like it just doesn't fit anywhere yet, but if I feel that it is a good idea, I'll - I definitely hold onto it, and that was part of the reason this thing took so long, because I had all these ideas tucked away and I had to go unearth them and kind of put them in a - corral them and go through them all, and it's just a process, a huge process of elimination trying to piece together decent songs through this, you know, silly process. I don't have that ability to just sit down and write a song from beginning to end. Well, that happens sometimes, but not very readily. I think, you know, the best songs happen that way though, sort of all at once, and they happen pretty fast. Those usually end up being the best songs.

KAST: Tim O'Reagan, his new self-titled CD is on Lost Highway Records. He joined us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Thanks very much.

Mr. O'REAGAN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song)

KAST: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Sheilah Kast.

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