The Jayhawks are a Minneapolis-based band whose breezy mixture of Gram Parsons’ cosmic country and Neil Young’s feedback-drenched guitar made them inadvertent progenitors of a new sub-genre of music in the early 1990s.
Adoring fans and impressed critics called this new style “alt-country” and watched as the band’s star began to rise. Built around the unique vocal harmonies and smart songwriting of founding members Gary Louris and Mark Olson, the Jayhawks toured relentlessly but their big break remained elusive. The band seemed to be caught in the crossfire of the rapidly changing music business and in a category that never yielded record sales to match its artistic promise. The New York Times exemplified their struggle by titling a positive review of their 2000 album, Smile, “What If You Made a Classic and No One Cared?” They released a handful of albums, endured lineup changes and eventually went on hiatus in 2003. Over the ensuing years, Louris and Olson worked on other projects and kept in touch while the band’s legend grew in absentia. And then, after testing the waters as a duo with an acoustic tour and album the pair reconvened the Jayhawks’ classic mid-1990s lineup to record a new album, Mockingbird Time in 2011, which prompted the Onion’s AV Club to say that “…the years they spent apart seem like a damnable waste.”
How does a band maintain longevity in the modern music business? How can a band’s artistic merit be weighed against its sales figures?
Gary Louris, singer, songwriter, founding member of the Jayhawks