Jayhawks – Tomorrow’s grass is Greene-r
In the wake of the departure of co-founder Mark Olson, Minneapolis band the Jayhawks invited a couple of musicians to the recording sessions for Sound Of Lies , which came out in April on American Recordings. Guitarist Kraig Johnson, best known in the Twin Cities as a member of Run Westy Run, had worked with Jayhawks Gary Louris and Marc Perlman in the roots-rock stuporgroup Golden Smog. The Smog was also indirectly responsible for hooking the Jayhawks up with violinist Jessy Greene of the Geraldine Fibbers, who opened a tour for Golden Smog last year.
The new band’s official live debut came at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin on March 15. After running through a mitten-clad soundcheck before the big showcase, Greene — who recently quit the Fibbers to become a full-fledged member of the Jayhawks — and Louris sat down at Stubb’s Barbecue to discuss their musical origins, the myth of cool and more.
No Depression: Had you listened to the Jayhawks before you started playing with them?
Jessy Greene: I loved the Jayhawks. I was very excited about doing the Golden Smog thing, specifically because of the Jayhawks. I first heard them on the radio, and I liked them right away. Because I play violin, it was really my kind of music. I listen to all different kinds of music, but I love the Jayhawks.
ND: When did you first start playing the violin?
JG: I was four years old. I didn’t have a choice. My parents handed me the violin and said, “This is what you’re gonna do for the next 15 years.” My parents are very into classical music. I’m 28 now; I stopped [playing] when I was in high school and kind of rebelled for a few years, and when I started again, I played contemporary music. And then I really started to love it. When I was playing just classically, I liked it for the first four or five years, but then I started thinking it was really tedious. Everybody else was having fun, and I was practicing six hours a day. I went to music camp, music school, everything you can imagine. It was torture.
Gary Louris: And we’re glad you did it.
JG: So am I, but at the time it was torture.
ND: When you were in classical training, were you listening to any pop music on the side?
JG: I started listening to the Rolling Stones, and my parents would say, “That’s not music! You have to listen to classical music only.” So of course, it resulted in a huge gap in my musical knowledge. I mean, I had a real resentment toward classical music for a long time.
ND: Do you still have any of that?
JG: No, because it’s not what I do, so therefore, I got over it. If I was still a classical musician, I might have those feelings, because there’s not a lot going on in that field as far as opportunities. It’s very difficult. My brother is a classical pianist, and it’s really tough to make it. To actually be a performer and make a living is a luxury. Most classical musicians become teachers and performers.
ND: Gary, what about you growing up? Can you relate to Jessy’s experience of being pushed by parents?
GL: I was slightly pushed. My first instrument was the piano, and I took seven years of piano lessons. And I liked it. I can’t really remember sacrificing that much, because I wasn’t really that involved with sports. I was really a pretty shy kid, so I wasn’t involved in a lot of school activities.
ND: Where was this?
GL: Toledo, Ohio.
ND: And where did you grow up?
JG: Sheffield, Massachusetts.
GL: When I was 14, I picked up a classical guitar, because my mom said I’d be more popular if I could take a guitar to a party.
JG: Your mom said that? That’s great.
GL: And look. Here I am today. Thanks, Mom. So I played classical, and I started listening to the radio and writing songs, and I found that I had a good ear, and I found something I wanted. I’ve really found that I’m not that good at a lot of things, but I am good at music. I feel confident about music. I don’t feel confident about anything else in my life, probably. But again, I was pretty shy. I was never in a band until after I graduated from college. I didn’t pick up an electric guitar until I was about 22 or so. And I played Beatles stuff and things on my classical guitar, and one day I smashed it at a party. Which I thought was kind of cool — until I realized a couple girls got splinters, and I was afraid they were going to take me to court. But I started writing songs with my roommate at the time, and it was a big revelation: “Wow, my voice doesn’t sound so bad.” And we wrote a song the first time we tried.
ND: What was the song?
GL: “Weekend Girls.” I didn’t write the lyrics. John wrote the lyrics: “Weekend girls from a weekday world/On a two-day whirl/Wearing plastic pearls/What a pretty sight/With their pants so tight/Wanna cringe tonight/Wanna take a bite.” I didn’t write the lyrics, okay? Every line rhymed.
ND: What year was that?