Reporter's Notebook: Gary Louris interview transcript

Photo by Steve Cohen

City Pages: What led to the decision to hunker down and write new songs with Mark Olson?

Gary Louris: It was baby steps. We started by, in 2001, we were asked by a music supervisor to write a -- they wanted a new Olson/Louris song. And Mark and I hadn't really been seeing each other, hanging out or even talking. That kind of was the impetus to get us together, and we talked out all our little issues and big issues and reconnected as friends, and put the past behind us. So we wrote a couple songs, one ended up on Mark's record, December's Child, I think it's called, "Say You'll Be Mine." And we never made it into the movie, but it was a good song, and I think that got the wheels rolling. From there, we started saying, well, we should go out and play an acoustic tour. So we did that, on the East Coast, and that was really fun, so we did it on the West Coast. After we were done we said, well, it's fun playing the old stuff, but we still write songs, and we're a team, and we should have new material next time we ever go out. That's what we did. We wrote songs and then we recorded them, and here we are. CP: What was the songwriting process like for the new album?

Louris: I think, more than any other record, we wrote them together from the very first germ of an idea through the completion. He was here for about five days, here being Minneapolis, and hanging over by the Seward Cafe area, and we -- we'd meet every day, and typically, I might have a little idea of a melody or something, or vice versa, and we'd just go from there. Just a little starter idea, you know. Nothing -- we wouldn't really call it a song. Then we would just finish it, you know. If we liked the idea, we'd just work off each other, no breaks, and we'd finish a song and do another one. We really -- probably one of the most intensive songwriting period I've ever had with anyone. We really wrote about 12 songs in five days. And I mean, finished them. Lyrically, everything. Not like, this will be cool someday. They were done. That's how it worked. Mark really took a little more of the wheel on the lyrics, but it was really both of us, lyrically and melodically. After that, I started going through the archives and finding a few old songs that I thought deserved to see the light of day. So we kind of polished up a few old ones, too.

CP: Can you give me a history of your relationship with Mark?

Louris: Let me start by saying that things have never been better with us. I think, we first met in the early '80s, in Minneapolis, we were both kicking around the scene, and I met him and I was pretty taken by his enthusiasm and his songs. So we eventually started playing together in the Jayhawks. I had met him way back when I was in a rockabilly band called Safety Last, and he was in a band called Stagger Lee, so we had some history there. Then we formed the band, we were pretty tight. Eventually, he started -- he really fell in love, and he moved away, and he lived in Joshua Tree, California, and that, I think, was a bit of the beginning of the end. Because then we weren't in the same town, we couldn't just go over to the practice space with the band anymore. That was around Tomorrow the Green Grass. I'm still very proud of the record, I think it's one of our best, but by then we were starting to be a little more -- we were separated more.

When he got pulled in that direction, and decided he really wanted to make music with his wife, really devote himself to his marriage, he left the band. Initially, I told him we wouldn't carry on with the band, at least under that name. After further discussion with the label and further discussion with the rest of the band members and the reality of the music business, we decided to carry on without him. And I think that caused a rift. Nobody wants to feel like they're replaceable. I think Mark took it very personally, and we really didn't speak for a number of years. From probably 1996 into 2001. And then, like I said, time heals all wounds almost. It really, we just realized how much we missed each other musically and as friends, and needed each other in a way. We're full stea