GL: Well, I think it was more the fact that he had two good songs that I felt seemed like they fit on a Jayhawks record. Tim has a lot of songs; Marc does too [Perlman wrote the album's penultimate track, "Will I See You In Heaven"]. But a lot of times, they just don’t seem to fit with what we’re doing, at least in my mind. They may disagree. But I think Tim had two songs that people liked — the producer, the band, and the label, everybody liked those songs.
I try to keep an open door, as much as I’d like to write 100 percent of everything. I don’t have a band of role players who just want to sit there and pick up chicks and play drums and bass. They are creative people who want to express themselves. And Tim’s probably going to put out his own record at some point, not into the distant future. And Mark hopefully will too; I encouraged him to do that.
ND: There’s two versions of “Stumbling Through The Dark” on the record, one at the start and another at the end. What made you decide to bookend the album with that song?
GL: We started with the acoustic version. And Tim started knocking around when we were in the studio, thinking, well, let’s try an electric version, I think I hear it in sort of a Byrdsy kind of way. And we started knocking it out, and it took shape really quickly. So we ended up with two versions, and we couldn’t decide which one we liked better. They both seemed to have something going for them.
Actually, at one point, Ethan [Johns, who produced the album] tried to morph them together, where it would start with the acoustic version, and after about a verse, it would cross-fade into the electric version. But I kind of nixed that; I think it just ends up being middle-of-the road, where you don’t get the strength of the acoustic version or the excitement of the intro on the electric.
II: IT TAKES TIME TO BUILD UP A RELATIONSHIP
ND: You co-wrote “Stumbling Through The Dark” with Matthew Sweet. Have you been doing a fair amount of collaborating with folks lately?
GL: I go in and out. If it’s right, I’ll do it, but I certainly don’t want to do it if I don’t enjoy it.…It’s kind of educational, but I hated a lot of it. I found that I liked writing with certain people — people I respected, people I liked, and friends, and occasionally people out of the blue that I’d never known worked out great. But, I’d say 80 percent of it was miserable, and then there was the small percentage that I’m glad I did.
I met a guy down in Nashville named Gary Nicholson who I really enjoyed writing with. And Miles Zuniga from Fastball has become a good buddy of mine, and we just enjoy writing songs, for no apparent reason — no target, just to do it.
And I tend to write with a lot of women, it seems like. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old boy, and there’s some film that the label took of our last show, and he was pointing at the video of me, and he said, ‘Look daddy, men can sing like girls too!’ (Laughs) But, you know, for some reason I’ve end up writing with different women — well, there’s Kelly Willis, and another woman named Jesse Alexander down in Nashville. And I think I might write something with Tift Merritt; we’ve talked about it, I think we’re gonna try to do it.
I always tell them, ‘I want it to be your idea.’ I don’t want somebody to be telling you to do it, because I’m not, I’m just not Joe Co-write, you know. I had a nice relationship with [former Jayhawks co-leader] Mark Olson, and we had years of trust built up where you wrote with somebody, you bring the song to them, and you knew if they liked it, that it was good. And that’s kind of sacred. I think it takes time to build up a relationship. Hopefully I can do that with some different people, because I like doing it. It’s just got to be the right person.”
ND: Has it generally been that there are people asking you to write with someone, or does it usually come from you taking that initiative?
GL: No, I’ve never — it’s always been somebody else’s suggestion, or somebody else’s idea. Although, when I started going out to Nashville and L.A., I kind of took the initiative and said, ‘OK, I’m going to see what happens with people who write for other people; I just wanna see what it’s like. But I’ve never said, Hey, I wanna write with, you know, blah blah blah.
I think the most recent thing was, I saw Beth Orton play, and I met her, she was really nice, and then somebody from her label said, ‘I think it’d be great for you to write with Beth, you guys should get together.’ And I’m like, fine, just give me your card. And of course I called a couple times and left messages, no return. So I’ve given up now. It wasn’t my idea — I like her, I think she’s good, but I don’t want to be one of those people calling and saying, ‘Hey, hey, hey…’
III: THEY’RE AFRAID YOU’VE HEARD ALL THESE THINGS BEFORE
ND: You mentioned recently that this record is coming out on American/Island/Def Jam/Universal/Lost Highway:
GL: Yeah. My joke is, for a band that doesn’t sell that many records, we’re on a lot of labels!
ND: Will the final version really carry all five of those logos on it?
GL: I think it’s just gonna have Lost Highway and American.
ND: So the Island/Def Jam part was just kind of a transitional period?
GL: Yeah. But, you know, I haven’t felt this good about where we are on a label since the early days of Def American, where people seem to be really fired up, and people are doing extra things without us asking.…The first thing the label said to us when we sat down in their conference room was, ‘Would you guys mind if we release a vinyl box set of all your work?’ And I was just like, well, pinch me; I thought that was great.