The Jayhawks didn’t launch the great Americana/alt-country insurgence in the early 1990s, but they were part of it.
Their first two albums propelled the Minneapolis band among a cadre of groups issuing various blends of country and rock, such as Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, the Blood Oranges, Old 97’s and the Bottle Rockets.
In 1995, the Jayhawks released their breakthrough album “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” which contained their best-known song, “Blue,” and which gave the band long-lived stature in the genre. In 2014 in Westward magazine, the Jayhawks made the list of 10 best alt-country acts of all time, finishing seventh (Gram Parsons finished first).
Since then, however, the group has gone through several personnel changes and alterations in sound — enough that one of its founders, Gary Louris, says they have little to do with the alt-country world these days, yet they still wear the label.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“It’s part of our identity, but it’s not the identity,” Louris told The Star recently, a day after the band opened its recent tour in Chicago.
“It’s a part of what we do, but it’s a bit of laziness on the part of journalists and some fans who don’t really listen to what we’re doing or who hear some acoustic guitar and some twangy electric guitar and say we’re an alt-country band.
“We’re much more than that, especially if you look at the song structure and lyrical content. I’ve listened to enough folk and country to know we don’t fit that.”
They especially don’t fit that label after making “Paging Mr. Proust,” the Jayhawks’ ninth studio record, released in April.
“Proust” is a collection of songs that reflect Louris’ many roots and influences, including, here and there, some country and folk accents.
“Before I listened to anything traditional, which happened later in my life, my DNA was more Brit-rock, Brit-pop, pop, art-rock, prog-rock,” he said.
Many of those influences are evident on “Proust,” sounds and elements that recall pop and rock from the ’60s and ’70s. Reviews have cited a range of inspirations and influences, from the Hollies to Velvet Underground.
Louris said he went into the studio with no cogent plan or theme.
“I’d written a lot of songs, and I wasn’t even sure the next album was going to be a Jayhawks record,” he said.
“Maybe that’s why there’s a wider spectrum of styles. Once I’d decided on a Jayhawks record, I sifted through the songs and chose the ones I felt sounded most like the band.”
The record is rife with lush and lovely harmonies, which was something Louris wanted to highlight.
“I wanted to accentuate our strengths as a band,” he said. “And we have some fabulous singers, Karen Grotberg and Tim O’Reagan, so that was a goal. But beyond that, the album came together without a lot of planning.”
“Proust” was produced by Peter Buck, formerly of R.E.M., and Tucker Martine. Louris said each brought a different perspective to the project.
“Peter is a big-picture guy,” he said. “He sits back on the couch and tells you when he thinks we have a take. He’s a vibe-guy, too. So is Tucker but he’s more detailed- and technical-oriented.
“Peter is at a point in his life were he’d prefer we do a record in six days. Tucker would rather have two months or more to work on it. We ended up doing this one in about six weeks.”
A few weeks ago, at the initial show of their 2016 tour, which stops at Knuckleheads on Tuesday, the Jayhawks played some of the new materiel before a live audience for the first time.
“It went great,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier. The crowd response was real good, and we found some new intricacies. I’m excited to see where we’ll be musically by the time we get to Kansas City.”
Any band with nine studio albums is going to have a hard time pleasing fans when it comes to assembling a set list.
“It’s a bit of an issue,” Louris said, “I try to cram at least two to three songs from each album, but last night the regular set was close to 80 minutes, and then a long encore. We could easily play two hours.
“As a set-list constructor, I kind of like it, though, It’s kind of like constructing a crossword puzzle. My brain enjoys the shuffling. Our second show in Chicago, we could play a completely different set, which is cool. Still, it definitely leaves some people upset that we didn’t play a certain song.”
And a lot of those songs harken back to the days when the band was sounding more like the Flying Burrito Brothers than the Hollies or Velvet Underground.
“That sound is still a part of us,” Louris said. “And I don’t deny it. I’m proud of it. But we are much more than that, whatever that is.”
The Jayhawks perform Tuesday at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. Folk Uke opens at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $35.