Jayhawks' Road Show Making Stop in Ventura : Minnesota band has evolved from pure country rock beginnings. Good songwriting is the secret to its success.


The Jayhawks are as serious as being caught in a blizzard wearing nothing but a frown and a Pepsi Generation T-shirt. They are a folk-country-pop rock quartet out of Minneapolis who don't do any Bob Dylan, Soul Asylum, Prince or Husker Du songs. If you have or have had a relationship that will not work, there is a song for you. And the Jayhawks probably wrote it.

The Jayhawks will be opening for Matthew Sweet, that purveyor of pure power pop who more than lives up to his name. The festivities begin around 9-ish Friday at the venerable Ventura Theatre.

The Jayhawks got it going eight or nine years ago and became a popular bar band in Minneapolis, a city with a rich rock history involving all of those named in the first graph, plus the Gear Daddies and the Replacements. The band has been touring constantly for the last year or so, playing their latest, "Hollywood Town Hall."

At first a country rock band, with the emphasis on country, the Jayhawks have gradually buried the overt Western influences. But, they've still got that twang, embodied in the happening harmonies between the two main songwriters, Gary Louris and Mark Olson. It's sort of Neil Young meets the Black Crowes in the slow lane in Nashville.

Ever-clever songwriter Gary Louris talked it all over from Calgary between gigs.

So you guys are rich rock stars riding around in a big ol' tour bus?

No, we're trying to be frugal. When we finish a gig, we hop in our van and drive all night. At least with a van, you can see some of the countryside. A tour bus, you know, goes on your bill. Everyone but the musicians make money in this business. We're always the last in line. But right now, we're fine and we're making a living. You have to really sell a lot of records to change your lifestyle dramatically.

What's the secret to life on the road?

To enjoy where you're at when you're there. Don't just sit there wishing you were somewhere else. Hey, I'm making a living doing what I want to do. Some of it may suck, but when you have a 9-to-5 job, some of that sucks too.

Do you remember your first California gig?

Yeah, we drove 2,500 miles to play at the Music Machine in L. A. Everyone on the bill was a reggae band and the promoter thought we were a reggae band too--the Jah Hawks. The promoter put us on first and got rid of us quick. It's funny, because whenever we go to Europe, they think we're a California band.

With a name like the Jayhawks, I envisioned a band from Kansas, but you guys are from Minneapolis. What's up with that?

Every town has this legendary guy who has been in every band, says he taught everyone how to play their instruments, and wrote half their songs. Anyway, a guy like that in Minneapolis gave us the name. It means absolutely nothing. We just thought it was a name people could spell, but, as it turns out, they can't.

What makes a Minnesota band different than the others?

There's definitely a group of bands that sound like the Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du. The thing in common is that all these bands write good songs. Obviously, Bob Dylan and Prince can rock with the best of them.

What do you think Jayhawks music sounds like?

I think we write really good songs that are played fairly well. We're very much song-oriented over technique.

On your bio it talks about the Jayhawks as some sort of country band.

That's old news. Right now, we're probably less country than we've ever been. We went through a lot of phases before we settled on our own sound. Personally, I like country music, but not since 1973 or so. The new country stuff seems like the same guys are in every band. There's probably no such thing as a band in Nashville these days, only session musicians.

What kinds of stations play the Jayhawks?

Surprisingly and embarrassing enough, it's classic radio where there's a host of old dinosaurs clogging up the system. I think, maybe, there should be a mandatory retirement age when you have to get off the dial and make room for the rest of us.

You guys seem as depressed as the British--too much snow or what?

Mark and I are both attracted to that sentiment as far as songs are concerned because they're the most powerful songs that mean the most to us. We like dance music when we feel like dancing, but we're not into the shiny, happy people stuff.

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