When Gary Louris and Mark Olson reformed The Jayhawks two years ago they vowed never to become one of those reunited 1990s bands that tour indefinitely without new material. So in early November they entered Terrarium studios in Minneapolis to cut their first disc since 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass. "Our goal is to make the best Jayhawks album that's ever been done," Louris tells Rolling Stone. "Mark and I both feel that there is some business left undone and we got together and wrote some great songs."
The Jayhawks were one of the most acclaimed alt-country bands of the 1990s, but they never found much commercial success. "During grunge we were a little bit out there," says Olson. "We would watch musical waves come and go and we were stuck with this melody/harmony thing we've always done."
Olson left the group in late 1995 to spend more time with his family. Louris continued under the Jayhawks banner for three more albums, but he soon realized their best work was done together. "There's something that happens when Mark and I get together," says Louris. "We look at each other and realize there's a chemistry. We balance each other out and make something completely different than when we do something separately."
Louris and Olson began touring as a duo five years ago, and last year they reformed the lineup from the Tomorrow the Green Grass album for some shows. "The chemistry was still there so Olson and I decided to write some new songs," says Louris. "We went up to his sister's cabin up north and later I went out to the desert in Joshua Tree to write some more songs."
The tracks are reminiscent of their mid-1990s work. "This is a record for a true Jayhawks fan who loves Tomorrow The Green Grass," says Louris. "It's not a mirror image, but it has a lot of the same elements." One track is called "Mockingbird Time," and another is currently titled "Tiny Arrows." "That one is a bit of an odyssey, soundscape-y kind of song that starts off very desert-y," says Louris. "Then it evolves into many different parts that flow together naturally."
They plan on finishing it by the end of the month and mixing it before the end of the year; the pair hope to have it on shelves by the spring or early summer. Early next year Sony Legacy is going to re-release 1992's Hollywood Town Hall and 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass, and the group will do some shows to promote them.
They are also contemplating performing the discs straight through at the shows. "I'm mulling it over," says Louris. "It's been suggested that if we do two nights in a place to do one the first night and the other the second. We haven't agreed to it yet."
But Olson has some doubts about the idea. "It feels a little bit like a strict regimentation of presentation to me," he says. "But if that's what people said we should do and they really wanted us to then I'd be open to it."
Unlike many reformed bands, they don't have a massive sales history to live up to — which suits them just fine. "Lots of groups are trapped by their own success," Olson says. "They have huge, mega-selling albums and it's hard for them to come up with new songs that'll override the old songs. But we're gonna try to override the old songs. We've stuck with this kind of music and stuck with it and stuck with it. I've decided that I want to continue to play with Gary for the rest of my life and I think this is gonna be our time. Wish us luck."