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Jayhawks' Gary Louris talks new LP, sorta clears up 'Gary's Got a Boner' rumor

Gary Louris, pictured second from right, will get wild Friday at the zoo with his Jayhawks

Gary Louris, pictured second from right, will get wild Friday at the zoo with his Jayhawks

Hot on the heels of the release of their critically lauded new album, Paging Mr. Proust, local alt-country icons the Jayhawks will rock the Minnesota Zoo's Weesner Family Amphitheater on Friday.

City Pages scored an interview with frontman Gary Louris ahead of that sure-to-be wild gig. He talked about finding new clarity, unearthing inspiration in French literature, newfound band chemistry, and that one persistent Replacements-rooted rumor. 

CP: Paging Mr. Proust is a fantastic album. And not to pick sides, but I have always preferred the poppier side of the Jayhawks, the less twangy side. It seems like the least twangy Jayhawks albums come from a place of personal upheaval. Is that a fair assessment?

GL: Yeah, of my own doing. Having some skewed priorities, using drugs and coming clean, having a bit of an epiphany about what’s important. Singing some of those songs is very cathartic because of how I was or how I am now, and the characters along the way, too.

CP: As a fan, I see a connection between [1997’s] Sound of Lies and Paging Mr. Proust. Does that make any sense at all?

GL: Well, I think there are many sides to the band, and sometimes one peeks out more than another. But I don’t think our influences have changed, necessarily. Maybe our ability to integrate all of these currents has been more successful on this record than at any other time. There are definitely more left turns than on other records, and the previous record with a lot of left turns was Sound of Lies, so I can see that.

CP: I’m always looking for a “mission statement” for a band; trying to find a song that sort of sums it up. Is Paging Mr. Proust track “Comeback Kids” that song?

GL: I think it has multiple meanings. That song is a relationship song, but I was aware that it also has a lot to do with the band. In a certain way, I think this is a comeback record. We have a new clarity, focus that hasn’t been there since the early '90s.

There are a lot of mission statements on this record, and there seems to be two themes. One is standing still and being where you are, being aware of where you are, and not always wishing you were somewhere in the past or the future, but be in the present. There is also a sense of movement in a lot of the songs.

CP: What is the significance of Marcel Proust, involuntary memory, and Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time?

GL: I became a Proust fan a number of years ago. I was drawn to his attention to detail, and his message of digging past the clichés of life, and making your own thoughtful observations. That requires remaining in a place either mentally or physically.

That was on my mind. I also had a friend traveling through the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and she thought she heard Marcel Proust being paged. She told me about it, and I immediately latched onto that as the album title.

CP: The artwork is very retro-future, space-age Jetsons-looking. Where is that?

GL: That is the TWA terminal the old Idlewild Airport in New York, which became JFK. It was designed by Eero Saarinen, and it still exists. I think that shot is from the late '50s, early '60s. Once I heard about Marcel Proust being paged at an airport, we started looking at mid-century airport photos.

CP: Speaking of airports and travel, and I have little to base this on, but you seem to have a thing for Spain.

GL: There are many things I love about Spain. They have a Proustian flavor because they take their time. When they sit down for a meal, it can be hours. They are have a collective character about them of kindness. What’s not to love? Great food, beautiful country. The Jayhawks did well when we first went over there, and I bought a house there back in 2005.

CP: Any surprises we should be listening for Saturday at the zoo? 

GL: We will be focusing on the new record, but certainly will touch on other records as well. It is the last show of this leg of the tour, so we should be firing on all cylinders. We have a new guy in the band, Chet Lyster formerly of the Eels, and I couldn’t be happier with the onstage and offstage chemistry. That will be our summer show, and we’ll play another show this fall in Minneapolis.

CP: Do you have any preference between outdoor and indoor shows?

GL: I prefer indoor shows. The sound is more controllable. We’ve had great live shows outside, but as a musician it is better to have control over the environment, and that is easiest inside. Don’t want to discourage anyone from coming on Saturday ...

CP: It’s sold out!

GL: Yeah! It’s sold out, so I figure I can say what I wanna say.

CP: Last question, and it is a stupid one, there is a certain Replacements song on their record Let It Be, and as a Replacements fan I have heard that it is about you ...

GL: “Gary’s Got a Boner”?

CP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Is there anything to that stupid rumor?

GL: [Laughs]. You know what? I don’t know for a fact, and I doubt it. I asked ['Mats bassist] Tommy [Stinson] about it many years ago, and he said it was about me, but I think he was just kidding. I have no idea. I’ll take it, though.

The Jayhawks 

With: Folk Uke.

When: 7:30 p.m. p.m. Fri., July 1.

Where: Weesner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo. 

Tickets: $47-$59.50; more info here.