Paging Mr. Proust is the Jayhawks' newest release, and when NUVO got singer and guitarist Gary Louris on the phone, we did chat about it. But we spent way more time talking about crossword puzzles. Turns out, Louris is a huge puzzle geek. (He even did the theme song to crossword puzzle-worshiping movie Wordplay.
The Jayhawks play the Vogue tomorrow.
"I just finished one about 10 minutes ago. In fact, I've dealt with addictions — drug and alcohol — and I've pretty much conquered those. But the crossword addiction I still have. I need to go to Crosswords Anonymous or something. I met the producers and directors of [Wordplay] when I was at Sundance's Composer's Lab. They were Jayhawks fans, it just turned out that I got to go to Sundance when that film came out, and I met [NYTimes crossword king] Will Shortz and the champions of the crossword contest, and I felt like I was meeting the Beatles. I'm just a nerd. Crosswords fit my mentality. It's just a real good metaphor for life. A crossword you can stare at and go through and not get any of it. And then you get your foot in there, get a little bit, and the next thing you know, you've finished it. Or it's a good example of any kind of problem. You get stuck on something, and you just walk away, and come back and look at it, and your brain unfreezes and you say, 'Of course, that's the answer there.' For me, other than meditation, it's the way I can turn off the world and just focus on where I'm at at that particular moment.
"The New York Times of course is the gold standard. I've graduated to the point that the ones that I really look forward to doing are the Fridays and Saturdays, which are the hardest. Sundays are not as hard, but they're longer. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But if you can do a Saturday or a Friday, especially a Saturday New York Times [puzzle], that's the hardest of the hard. Monday, Tuesdays are pretty easy for me; Wednesdays occasionally can be a little tricky; Thursdays you're starting to get a little difficult. In a pinch, I would do a USA Today, but only if I had to. There's some others out there, the LA [Times] one might be good.
"I do probably two to four every day. I have the app on my phone, the New York Times crossword app, so I always have an archive of old ones. Then there's the new ones, and I have the books. I try to keep it down, because I want to read. It's something I do instead of reading. But I just love it. I'm not a Sudoku guy, or anything like that. Strictly crosswords.
After I confessed that I'm absolutely garbage at crossword puzzles, he gave me some advice:
"First off, stop saying that you're terrible at them, because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. All you're going to say is, 'I'm bad.' It's like anything: You just have to keep doing them, and you have to understand that 90 percent of it is not necessarily intelligence, it's understanding bad pun-age. A lot of bad puns, a lot of tricks. You can start figuring out what they're not saying in the questions. They're avoiding certain words, and that's usually what the answer is. If you really want to get a footing, you see where there's plurals and put the 's' in. If it's past tense, it usually ends in a 'd' or 'ed.' If it's some kind of person, or doer of something, it ends in an 'er.' If you're doing something over, it usually starts with an 're-,' like repot, reply. All of the little things. Then you get the little ones that are the easiest, and then you go back. You may not get the top corner, but you start looking at it and you see that you might have enough 's' and 'd's and you can start guessing. Guessing is good because you find that you know more than you think you do. And, they keep using the same stuff. There's a lot of the same little things they do to fill in spaces, so after a while you just know what it's going to be.
"Thank god for MusiCares. Musicians are not necessarily the ones that make the money, or have the insurance, or know how to take care of business. Especially someone who has an addiction problem, part of the inherent problem of addiction is that you tend to push everything to the side and avoid things. Things build up, you get overwhelmed, and you don't know where to turn. MusiCares is what it says: It cares, it takes care of its own. For me, it paid for all my treatment. I can't thank them enough for that. There's a guy named Howard in LA who was really instrumental in helping me. They offer other things — I would get emails about free medical checkups, free ear tests, free this and that. They're aware as an artist you don't necessarily make enough money to really be able to take care of yourself."
"Very serendipitous, the Chet situation. I decided to make a move and really needed a multi-instrumentalist. I was looking, casually. We were down in Mexico at the Peter Buck festival. Tweedy was down there, and Jeff was down there. His road manager is this wonderful guy named Eric, who also road manages the Eels, along with other people. I was putting the word out, and mentioned to Eric that I'm looking for somebody. He said, 'There's this guy who is going to be down here; he's fabulous and is a great guy. He's really a solid person, and a great player.' I got to know Chet over the course of about 10 days down there, and further exploration turned up a lot more positive reviews of who he is as a person and a player. We were able to audition just a few people, and not go through this long process. When Chet came and auditioned, it was just obvious that he would fit great. And he's become a friend.
"He does a lot. He plays guitar, different kinds of guitars, different styles. He plays pedal steel. Theoretically he could hop over and play keyboard and drums if he had to. He plays a lot of different things, and sings. And he's very proactive."
On Prince's death and hometown pride:
"Appreciate people while they're here, because you never know. And believe me, I thought Bob Dylan would go a lot sooner than Prince, as far as Minnesota icons are concerned. When I first heard of it, it didn't sink in. As the day went on and days followed, it became a bigger and bigger deal. I have to say, it's made me extremely proud of where I'm from. The town really bathed itself in purple. The skyscrapers turned purple lights on; Twin Stadium showed Purple Rain. There were over 5,000 people downtown at least for one night, if not multiple nights around 1st Avenue playing Prince shows and all singing together. All night dance parties at 1st Avenue. [I'm] watching the national news and realizing how big of a deal Prince was to the world.
"When I first started touring, when we started touring, people would say, 'You're from Minneapolis, that's where Prince is from.' That's how people located us. Later in our career, people would say, 'Oh, you're from Minneapolis, that's where the Mall Of America is from.' That made me sad. I think he's a once in a lifetime artist, a cross between Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, James Brown. He did his own thing. Without really knowing him, my first band warmed him up on the release of Controversy. My rockabilly band played before him! I'd see him at restaurants or at shows. You just knew he was there. I always really appreciated the fact that he didn't just move away and set up shop in LA. He kept his home base, and I respect that."