Mark Olson and Gary Louris: Return Of The Flood
story by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, Summer 2009 issue
Mark Olson and Gary Louris are on their cellphones, calling in while driving through the South Carolina countryside. “We travel well together,” says Olson of himself and Gary Louris, his longtime singing and writing partner. The two met in Minneapolis in the mid 1980s, and formed the core of the Jayhawks, whose eclectic mix of rock, country and folk were anchored by the duo’s distinctive harmony vocals. After Olson left the band in 1997, the two lost touch for a few years, eventually re-connecting and playing occasionally while working on their own respective records. Now the two are back on tour together, with a new record in tow. “We realized that we didn’t want to be a golden oldies band,” says Louris. ”We have new songs, and we want people to hear them.”
Their new album, Ready For The Flood, is the first time that the two have collaborated on an entire album since Tomorrow The Green Grass, the heralded 1996 Jayhawks CD. The album’s sparse acoustics and emphasis on the duo’s harmony vocals brings that aspect of the Jayhawks’ sound into clearer focus. “This is the Jayhawks I knew,” says Louris of the new album. “It was always like this, its maybe just a little more embroyonic in this stage. A little more distilled, more purified to how Mark and I always worked, and how it sounded before we pumped up the volume.”
“We were not over-rehearsed,” says Louris of the album’s recording, which was co-produced by the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. “If anything, we were under-rehearsed. We could have toured for months, and gotten the songs down to a science, but there is a trade-off there. We can get in there, with the excitement of discovery, and it fuels the energy [of recording.] I think we erred on the side of under-rehearsed, and it made for a more emotional record.”It is a record that Olson and Louris are very proud of. “This is one of the records that I’ve been involved with that their isn’t a dud on it,” says Louris.
While the new album is credited to Mark Olson and Gary Louris, don’t think that their old band is over and done. The Jayhawks will soon enjoy their highest profile in years, with the release of a best-of CD, DVD, album reissues, and a few reunion shows, including one in Spain. “Spain always seems to find creative ways of financing a Jayhawks show,“ adds Olson with a laugh. The lineup for those reunion shows will be the Green Grass-era lineup of Olson, Louris, bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O’Reagan, and keyboardist Karen Grotberg.
But that will come later. For now, Olson and Louris are enjoying taking their new songs on the road, and collaborating together again. “As we get older,” says Louis, “we realize how lucky we were to find each other, and to have the partnership that we’ve had.”