Birds On A Wire- THE JAYHAWKS

Minnesota's most beloved rock band sets out to reinvent itself--and discovers itself in the process

Louris speaks with a lot of qualifiers--"maybe," "probably," "I think," "I guess." He's a careful guy, friendly but not wide open, pleasant but with a bit of a dark cloud about him, easy-going but, as far as I can tell, not exceptionally spontaneous. In sum, very Minnesotan. In college he studied to be an architect, which makes sense--you can hear his taste for precision in his song structures and his guitar leads, which are exquisite but unvarying from night to night. It's this rigidness that, he feels, he was looking to undo somewhat with the new record, writing songs in the studio with bandmates rather than alone in his room, encouraging each other to experiment and "think Art," and exploring ways that alcohol can be used in the recording process besides cleaning tape heads.

Still, the strength of Sound of Lies, as well as the recent shows, has been this tension between the band the Jayhawks are and the band they want to be. In most ways, they still sound like the Jayhawks--just an edgier, moodier, less certain version of them. Some people, including critics, have a problem with that. But for a band whose critical response often seemed an echo of their own brand of Minnesota Nice, the response has been sobering. "We basically got the same review for 10 years--'Like a field of wildflowers after a spring shower.' It began sounding like a douche commercial," Louris carps. "Now, the negative reviews have been kinda fun to read. But people on the road have been really great and supportive. Most say they love the new record--I only had a couple people say they prefer the old stuff."

There is a thrill and a promise in all things new--new jobs, new lovers, new friends. Louris is currently flush with all of the above. And one might guess his life is something of an emotional roller coaster. For one thing, the band lineup is solid but not set in stone. Both Greene and Johnson are "temporary-permanent" members of the group, committed to other projects as well as the Jayhawks. There have yet to be any major career conflicts. But depending on how things develop, there may be. Furthermore, the crowds on some stops of their tour could have been better. Their label, American, is going through another round of "restructuring." Stardom beckons, and as Louris confesses, self-doubt threatens.

"Sometimes," he says, wrestling with a question about the band's future, "if you're not achieving a certain level of success, you ask yourself, 'Am I not good enough?' Or, 'Am I too good?'" The bustle on Clark Street has gotten louder and more chaotic; a truckdriver is leaning on his horn and yelling something indecipherable to a passerby. But for the moment, Louris, slumped back in his chair, seems comfortable with the uncertainty swirling around him. "For a band that's been together 12 years, it's like our blood is flowing," he says. "I still think we have something to prove. We haven't made a record we want to go to our graves with yet."

The Jayhawks perform Sunday, July 6 at the Taste of Minnesota in St. Paul.

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