When Prince died in April, the news hit Gary Louris hard. “On a scale of 10, a 10,” says the singer/guitarist of Minneapolis rockers the Jayhawks, who took flight on that city’s scene during the mid-’80s heyday of the music legend, as well as the Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum. “He was such a huge part of this community,” Louris says. “He was kind of our favorite son.”

Reports of an addiction to opiate painkillers also hit home. “We don’t know for sure what killed him,” Louris says, “but if opiates were a part of it, then I feel horrible for him, ’cause I knew that road all too well.”

After going on hiatus in 2005, the Jayhawks were seemingly back on track several years ago. Louris had reunited with fellow original singer/songwriter Mark Olson (who left the group in 1995) to tour and record as a duo. Olson then rejoined the Jayhawks for their 2011 album Mockingbird Time and subsequent tour. But the relationship soon splintered again. Olson quit the band, and Louris addressed longtime issues with alcohol and opiate painkiller abuse, going to rehab in 2012.

“I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone, but it seemed to reboot me,” says Louris, 61. “I wasn’t particularly fond of music for quite a while, thinking it was the cause of my demise and depression and ultimate addiction. But it turned out that it wasn’t the music at all. It was just me, and music is what I do.”

Luckily for Jayhawks fans, he’s back at it—with the band’s seasoned lineup of keyboardist/singer Karen Grotberg, drummer/singer Tim O’Reagan and co-founding bassist Marc Perlman. “When you’re a creative person, it’s good to have some kind of structure,” Louris says, “and I found the Jayhawks give me that.”

The group’s April 29 release, Paging Mr. Proust, stands as one of the Jayhawks’ most engaging, diverse outings, its title inspired by friends who thought they heard Marcel Proust—one of Louris’ favorite authors—paged at an Amsterdam airport. The album’s 1960s cover photo shows people in a futuristic-looking terminal.

“There’s a guy looking up at the camera, and to me it’s a cry for help,” Louris says. “The world’s a bit out of control with smarter, faster, newer… like that’s going to solve everyone’s problems. It’s really more about slowing down.”

For Louris, like Proust, that meant focusing on the details. “That’s kind of been my M.O. for a while, since I got straight, being in the moment,” he says. “I’m much better at saying ‘This is my life now,’ and I’m very appreciative of what I have.”

The Jayhawks began as alt-country pioneers, in contrast to peers in Minneapolis—and beyond. “We’ve always been a bit in a vacuum,” he says. “We were always the oddball.” But as the melancholy group evolved without Olson, Louris began painting with a broader brush, having grown up listening to Genesis, Roxy Music, David Bowie and punk iconoclasts Wire, as well as the Who and the Kinks. “[Roots-rock] came to me later in my life and was an interesting ingredient to add into what we were doing, but it’s a bit of a box.”

The Jayhawks continue to push sonic parameters on Paging Mr. Proust, shifting from the psychedelic crunch of “Lost the Summer” to the wistful pop of “Lovers of the Sun.” Louris dabbles in synthesizer, and the sinuous groove of “Ace” nudges into a Krautrock-style jam peppered with electronics and his gnarly guitar leads.

He found supportive co-producers in Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket) and Peter Buck, whose band R.E.M. similarly transcended its jangle-pop origins to rock a wider palette. Louris cites that band as a definite influence on the record, which includes cameos by Buck on guitar and R.E.M. mate Mike Mills on backing vocals.

Now Louris seems optimistic as the Jayhawks return to the road, playing a show at Royale on June 13. “I haven’t had a reaction so immediately from any record we’ve ever put out,” he says. “Maybe because it was so long ago, I just don’t remember.”

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