Where Are They Now? Gary Louris of The Jayhawks

Louris explains the band’s appeal after 40 years together

Forty years ago, the earliest iteration of The Jayhawks, one of Minnesota’s most beloved bands, began playing in clubs around the Twin Cities. The four-member band emerged from Minneapolis’ vibrant and diverse music scene of the mid-1980s. Like that scene, the band was tough to categorize, blending elements of country, pop, folk, and rock music with close harmonies and shimmering instrumental arrangements.

The Jayhawks live in 2021
The Jayhawks live in 2021

Photo by Ten Ten Creative

That trait remains one of the band’s defining features 11 studio albums in. Gary Louris, the band’s co-founder and principal singer and songwriter, attributes the band’s staying power to its commitment to music on its own terms. “Our music was never really trendy, so it never went out because it was never in,” Louris says. “Because of that, we built our audience pretty slowly. It gave us a pretty solid foundation. I think our music is not particular to an era, and the strength of the songs are what really carry the band.”

After nearly 20 years of performing and recording hits like “Blue” and “Save It for a Rainy Day,” the band took a hiatus in the aughts, which Louris says helped him appreciate everything the band had built even more.

“At the time, I thought, ‘OK, it’s time to bow out and step aside and try some other things.’ But after some time away, you realize you’ve worked hard to build up what you have and sometimes it’s stupid to walk away.”

For many younger fans of the Jayhawks, the 2009 compilation “Music from the North Country” served as a starting point for exploring the rest of the band’s catalog. The compilation’s release corresponded with a revival of folk music, inspired in part by bands like the Jayhawks that pioneered the eclectic sounds of Americana or “alt-country” music in the 1990s.

Among these bands, Louris and his bandmates take pride in their Minnesota roots. Their website is titled “The Jayhawks—A Band From Minnesota.” “When the band first started, [Minneapolis] was the place to be. We had more than one scene going,” Louris said, noting the likes of Husker Du, the Replacements, Prince, Soul Asylum, and Morris Day emerged from the city at roughly the same time.

The Jayhawks
The Jayhawks (L to R): Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, and Tim O’Reagan

Photo by Vivian Johnson

“It was a very fertile place to be musically, and I think we fed off each other,” Louris says. “There were a lot of positives to being from Minneapolis. It was the right-sized city where it was easy to be a band. It wasn’t super expensive to have a practice space. There was a good circuit of clubs and good club owners. There was a cool little record label [Twin Tone] and there were cool record stores. All those things add up.”

Louris credits P.D. Larson, the longtime Minneapolis music journalist who now works for the band, with curating the widely acclaimed 2009 compilation. “[Larson]’s one of those guys that doesn’t mind going through—in fact, he loves it—and archiving things. We handed him some big boxes of cassettes, CDs, and all kinds of materials, and he sifted through it.” Louris describes Larson as the band’s “Swiss Army Knife.”

In 2021, Louris released a solo album called “Jump for Joy,” which was a departure from even the varied sounds of the Jayhawks. “It was just me in a room playing everything either analog or with virtual instruments,” Louris says of the album, which includes more synth and sequencer than one is used to hearing on his other recordings. He plans to record another solo album in the near future.

The Jayhawks also have shows on the docket, including dates in Spain and the United States (but none announced in Minnesota—yet). After touring and more solo work, Louris thinks another Jayhawks record may be on the horizon.