GARY LOURIS: On Record

Gary Louris
Gary Louris

Gary Louris has just released his first solo album, Vagabonds, but he’s better known as a founding member of alt-country pioneers the Jayhawks.  He’s also a pen for hire, having written for the Dixie Chicks, Nickel Creek, and others.

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Why did you make Vagabonds a solo record, as opposed to making it the next Jayhawks record?

People ask, oh, “Why don’t you do the Jayhawks again?” and I think, well, you know, watch Let It Be. The Beatles were only together for 10 years, and they were the greatest band in the world but they got tired of each other. You’d like it to all be fresh and new and exciting, but after awhile, you start needing something different.

But another factor with not keeping it the band, rekindling my friendship with Mark Olson kind of became complicated again. I really like Mark again, and I wouldn’t want to do the Jayhawks without him. And so, in certain ways, it felt wrong. And now, for all those people who always complain and said, “Oh you weren’t the Jayhawks since Olson left,” well now they can shut up, because now, there are no more Jayhawks. [Laughs]

I heard that there’s a Mark Olson solo record coming out that you worked on.
I appeared on it.  I was there for a day and sang a bit, and played guitar on a song. And then he and I made a record together, early last year, which hasn’t come out yet, which will be fabulous. It will be fierce, as they say.

In the song “Vagabonds,” there’s the lyric, “Sunday Morning, lying in my car, mustache warning, couldn’t get too far.”  What’s a mustache warning?
[Laughs] It’s a cop. Somebody sleeping in the car and gets the knock on the door, somebody gets displaced again: another metaphor for being displaced in life, whether you’re homeless or directionless.

You’ve got a song here called “I Wanna Get High.”  I like that one a lot.

Me too.

Are you familiar with the Lemonheads song “Style?”

I’m not. I like the Lemonheads and I’m a fan of Evan, but I’m not familiar with that song.  Is it on It’s A Shame About Ray?

No, it’s on 1993’s Come On Feel the Lemonheads.  Anyway, it’s got the same lyrical motif.

Oh, really [laughs]? What’s it say?
“I wanna get high, don’t wanna get high.”

Really???
Uh-huh.

You’re kidding me. I am not familiar with that. That’s news to me. I stole without knowing. I don’t know if that’s stealing.

You’ve said that you like to write from the subconscious. In the co-writing you’ve done, for the Dixie Chicks and others, are you able to write from the subconscious as well?

Well, that’s a good question.  I can’t write from the subconscious actually, because a lot of the time when I co-write with other people, I’m writing for them as opposed to for myself.  When it comes to lyrics, I tend to want to give them their voice, since it’s most likely going to be on their record, or somebody else’s record. And I find for more commercial-style music, people want simplicity, less vagueness, and less space to fill between the lines, so to speak. So I can’t be quite as ethereal and mystical.

What’s it like to be in Golden Smog?  They’re kind of like an alternate universe Traveling Wilburys.

Well, the Smog is kind of like being in a special kind of club. You’re with your friends, you’ve got members coming in and coming out of it, you’re serious, but only to a certain extent. It’s supposed to be more about fun than about career. So it’s a bit of an escape, and a way to hang out with friends, and make what we think is great music. We don’t take it lightly, but it is nice the way we go about it.

How do you decide what songs end up on the record?

That’s always been a bit of a tough call, because you usually like to save you’re A-material for the band you’re trying to make a career out of. On the other hand, you’re not always the best judge of your own material. A song like “Until You Came Along” is one of my favorite songs I ever wrote, and it’s on a Golden Smog record. I think that’s part of the reason on the last record, we tried to get together and write songs together, specifically for the project.

You guys just played an Obama benefit.  How was that?

It was really fun. I’ve never been wanded [by security] before I went on stage. We were joking around about how, “Wow, we finally made it. There’s like 22,000 people here,” not that they were really there for us. But we had a good time.

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