The Jayhawks Return To Their Roots

Excerpted from the magazine for

Like so many artists, Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris doesn't spend much time listening to his own albums after they're finished. Yet, as the father of a 3-and-a-half year-old boy -- who, as Louris laughingly puts it, is "totally into me" -- he says Jayhawks music has proved a bit difficult to avoid of late.

And it's not the band's 1995 alt-country classic, "Tomorrow the Green Grass" -- or even that album's celebrated precursor, "Hollywood Town Hall" -- that's getting airplay in the Louris household. Rather, it's mostly the 2000 set "Smile," which took a bit of a beating from critics for its slickness and its brief use of a drum machine.

"I hear ['Smile'] all the time, and I've been listening to it like I've never listened to it," Louris says. "And I've been thinking, 'This is a cool record -- take four songs off of it, and it's great.'"

Louris has called the band's new album, "Rainy Day Music" -- released April 8 on American/Lost Highway -- a reaction to "Smile." But, he emphasizes, in no way is it a reaction to the criticism of that set. "It's not like we're trying to repair anything or that we thought we did anything wrong," he says. Instead, after making an exceptionally poppy album by Jayhawks standards, the Minneapolis-based group was merely looking for something different this time around.

And what the Jayhawks have done with this album will surely spark a return of those who were disappointed by "Smile" and the somewhat heavier direction taken on the 1997, Beatles- and Neil Young & Crazy Horse-inflected set "Sound of Lies." The group has revisited what some may argue it does best-folk-rock, something it really hasn't focused on since "Tomorrow the Green Grass."

Louris explains that after "Sound of Lies" -- marked by longer, somewhat less accessible songs -- and a turn at pop on "Smile," re-embracing rootsy songs built and based on an acoustic guitar finally felt right, interesting, and fun again as he, bassist Marc Perlman, and drummer Tim O'Reagan were starting work on "Rainy Day Music."

"Now," he continues, "it feels new again. With 'Smile,' we made a record that was very poppy and had a lot of things going on underneath the surface. With this record, we wanted to play it as simple as possible. We just said, 'Let's write songs that sound good on an acoustic guitar and a vocal, and if it sounds good like that, it's going to sound great with everything else on top.'"

Though the band has recorded for his American label for more than a decade, "Rainy Day Music" is the first Jayhawks set with which producer Rick Rubin got intimately involved. While the final product was produced by Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams), at the band's request, Rubin helped Louris mold the songs during pre-production.

Like Louris, Rubin says that once he's finished with an album, he doesn't usually revisit it all that much. Yet "Rainy Day" has proved an exception, he says, noting that he listens to it "all the time. For some reason, this one has really stuck with me," he says, adding with a laugh, "I actually went to the dentist [the other day], and I listened to it through my whole dentist appointment."

Previewed by the single "Save It for a Rainy Day," 75,000 copies of the new album are being packaged with a six-track bonus disc boasting extra songs, demos, and a live take on the fan fave "Waiting for the Sun."

Excerpted from the April 26, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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