The Jayhawk's Tiny Desk Concert performance from last year, featuring tunes from their recently released "Paging Mr. Proust."

Being Here Now: Speaking With The Jayhawk’s Marc Perlman

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Marc Perlman is a founding member of midwestern America’s beloved Jayhawks. The group has been kicking for decades, birthed from the vivacious Twin Cities music scene of the ’80s and ’90s. Strongly associated with roots pop supergroup Golden Smog and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck (who produced the band’s last full-length, 2016’s literary acoustic-pop gem ‘Paging Mr. Proust,’) the group is touring throughout the spring, and performing Wednesday, April 12 at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville. 

Perlman is ernest, honest, and unlikely to praise himself. He speaks kindly, his voice honeyed by a Minnesotan dialect that curls out from under his words. WOUB’s Emily Votaw spoke with Pelman (and, luckily enough, fellow founding member and chief lyricist Gary Louris,) about working with Wesley Stace (John Wesley Harding) on his most recent album, what it’s like to sit down with Ray Davies, and what the audience can expect from the group at their Stuart’s Opera House performance. 

Jayhawks members Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, Tim O'Reagan. (High Road Touring)
The Jayhawks members Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, Tim O’Reagan. (High Road Touring)

WOUB: I really appreciate your time, thank you again!

Marc Perlman: Oh my pleasure, we’ll be in Nelsonville tomorrow.

WOUB: I’m very excited to see you guys, and I’m glad I could snag an interview with you, too. I know that Wesley Stace is opening up for you guys tomorrow; and that The Jayhawks just finished backing him on his most recent album (John Wesley Harding, on Yep Roc Records). Could you tell me a little about the genesis of that collaboration?

MP: We’ve been friends with Wes for a while, and he’s probably a better person to ask exactly what was in his mind in wanting to work with us. I think he had these songs and we did a couple of little things together on the east coast while he was putting this record together – and there were a few songs where he got it in his head that they worked really well with our configuration and our sound as a band.

WOUB: I was also curious about how much you could speak on working on Ray Davies’ latest project, Americana?

MP: There’s a good friend of ours, the head of Sony Legacy, and he is overseeing Ray’s projects. Right now Ray is putting out these three CDs, and our friend suggested to Ray that he work with us to record Americana. We flew to England a few years ago and did a short little session together, and Ray was apparently really into what we were doing. He asked us to be a part of the project, and of course we were thrilled to death about it.

WOUB: I feel like people like me, who write about music for a living, could speculate as to why Ray Davies liked The Jayhawks for an Americana record that he was making; but from your perspective as a founding member of the band, what is it about the band that you think appealed to Ray Davies so much?

MP: Well, I think there were two things. One was the way we harmonize together – and not me specifically because I don’t do much singing. Specifically how Gary and Karen (Grotberg) harmonize together was very important for a few songs. The second reason is the way we orchestrate rhythm, and the way we play together. That’s my guess, anyway. I don’t think that he was trying to do us a favor, because I know that if he wasn’t into what we were doing, he would have no problem going someplace else.

WOUB: Also from your perspective as a founding member of the band, what are some of the themes that the band explores on Paging Mr. Proust? Musically and lyrically?

MP: I can’t speak to the lyrical themes because all of the lyrics are Gary’s, and I don’t think that any band really sits around and talks about what their lyrics mean. What I can tell you is that we weren’t planning on making a record, but that Gary had a few songs, and I think that he was probably thinking about making a solo record. Then the idea of making a Jayhawks record came up, and he and I came together and listened to the songs he had and thought of ways to make them Jayhawks songs. What was originally the seed of a Gary solo project became a Jayhawks project. So far as thematically – I don’t know if I’m qualified to speak on that. I guess I could make some stuff up, and that would be kind of funny. *laughs*

WOUB: Thanks for the insight! I know late last year you guys re-pressed the official bootlegs of the Live From the Women’s Club recordings, and I was curious if you could speak on whether there was any purposeful timing in that?

MP: That’s a great question. We have a gentleman who works on our social media, and I think that he was getting a lot of feedback from the – what do you call it – the Internet *laughs* and people were asking about it because, apparently, it’s kind of hard to get a hold of… [background chatter] Hey Gary! Thematically, what –

Gary (in the distance): It’s your interview!

MP: Okay, Gary. But thematically –

GL: The album?

MP: Paging Mr. Proust?

GL: Be here now. Be where you’re at. Slow down.

MP: That’s pretty much it. From the man himself! He won’t tell us the themes directly, but he’ll use the title of an Oasis record to describe our album.

WOUB: *laughs* Well, I won’t take up too much of your time – do you have any words on coming to Nelsonville?

MP: We’re really looking forward to it. It’s nice to play these small theaters, the audience is really appreciative of it. Also, people should know that we’re a four-piece right now – Chet Lyster had some health issues and he should be getting better, but this is our first tour in decades as a four-piece, so I think it will be a real treat for people who might have seen us a couple of times before to see us in a different configuration.