erasing clouds

Changing With the World With Music: an interview with Jim James of My Morning Jacket

by Dave Heaton

My Morning Jacket's second album At Dawn is a majestic work of beauty, bowling you over with the power of the greatest works of art. That might sound like hyperbole, but it isn't really. The feeling that album gives me is impossible to describe in words; if I had the power I'd force all of you to listen to it right now. Their debut album The Tennessee Fire, and their other singles and EPs are amazing, too. My Morning Jacket, a 5-piece band from Louisville, Kentucky, play a style of rock and roll lightly touched with country, pop and soul and then infused with a certain something that can only be called magic. Jim James, the lead singer/songwriter for the group, has a unique voice that rises above everything to shoot right through your body (and soul). Recently he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the band, their music and other related topics.

First off, I was wondering about the big promotional push that Darla's given to At Dawn. It seems like they've been trying harder than usual to get people to know about it, apparently because they just really believe in the strength of the album. Did they indicate to you that they were going to try especially hard to push it? Do you think it's working?

Darla is the best lil record label there is period. Yes they did try extra hard to push it and really spread out the promotion. It is soo hard to get things rolling these days, but they do a fabulous job for only having like 3 or 4 people in the office. They are such sweethearts!!!!!

That brings up another question about record labels. I get the impression that you feel really at home being on an independent label run by people who really care about music. Nonetheless I wonder if, as you get more critical acclaim, you've been getting more attention from major label executives trying to bring you to their label. Have you received that sort of attention? How do you feel about it/deal with it?

Every time I think about record labels and music industry stuff money always comes up and talk of big versus small labels, and my childlike mind thinks back to why I started doing music and why I take so much pride in what I do. As naïve as it sounds, I want to change the music world. When all is said and done I want to have done something different to change the musical landscape and make records that please myself...with small labels you get the freedom of expression but to a smaller audience. With larger labels you get more of a push, but because they are investing more money they want more say in what comes out and usually the records suffer when those people try and talk artists out of their dreams and original plans. I want to reach the widest audience possible, and it is my dream and hope that no matter what label we choose, that they support the music and the production that we see in our heads … and that by doing heavy promotion and getting in good with a good management company and touring agent, and by making great records that we can push it all to the next level. It makes sense to me that even if you are on the tiniest label you can make them grow if you are blowing up all over the place. But it takes a lot of work on the label's part to make sure you are being seen and heard in every possible way.

The first so-many copies of At Dawn came with a bonus CD of demos, and you did a similar thing with your first CD, including a 7" with early copies. As a fan, I love it of course. Was it your idea or the label's? What importance do you find in that sort of extra?

It was both of our ideas…The demos disc is how all the songs begin, being shit out of my "mouth-hole." I really love their raw sound and James at Darla did too so we figured maybe people would enjoy that and I also thought it would be nice to have a CD of all acoustic songs, since I sometimes play them live that way at acoustic shows too...Hmmm.

The recording quality of At Dawn seems to be noticeably better than that of The Tennessee Fire, especially as far as the vocal sound goes. What, if anything, was different between the two sessions, as far as your approach to recording or the circumstances under which you recorded?

We want to make every record different and special. We used several different machines and mics and shit on The Fire and we completely used different machines and equipment on At Dawn. And took it all up to be mixed at a different studio as well. We plan on doing that with all the other records as well, exploring new territory and sounds and watermouth devices which I call vespers.

I've never had the opportunity to see you play live--how would you characterize your live show? How is it similar to or different from your studio recordings? Any plans to do an extensive tour in the future?

We always want to tour but it can be a very difficult process. Our live show is definitely more rock and roll-oriented. We like to ham it up and rock it out live with some slower songs as well. Sometimes I enjoy doing acoustic shows to play the light, slow songs their attention. One day I'd like to say we tried every possible configuration of live performance at least once. But since we are poor right now we just kick 'em out old school rock and roll style, which is the best way there is and the way we'll always do it one way or another.

Could you give me a little background as to how the band came together? Have you all known each other for a while; have the band members all been the same since it was formed?

I started the band a while back and then recruited my cousin John who helps record and play guitar. We added Two Tone on the bass and then Danny Cash and KC Guetig added on the keys and drums respectively. We've had a couple of member changes and rotations but we've been this way for about a year now.

To my ears you have an especially striking and distinct singing voice. Have you been singing for much of your life?

Since 7th grade I've been trying to sing. I'm in the 18th grade now.

What can you tell me about the "This Is Not America" Loladamusica documentary that was made about you? How weird was it to have a movie made about you after only one album?

It was very surreal. I remember it being dusk and feeling like beautiful worms were all over my body. My favorite were the lights. Big colorful bars of lights that said to me "Here we are Jim. Come and get us." And the film crew itself were fabulous guys. Everyone over in Holland and Belgium treat us so well. WE love them peoples.

I love the covers you've done, on various singles and Little Darla comps, especially "Rocket Man" and "Tyrone." How do you go about choosing which songs to cover?

We just think about which ones are most fun.

I've never been to Louisville, but I know somebody who told me once that he thinks someday he and all of his friends will end up living there--not because he's even been there before himself, but because everyone he's ever met from Louisville has been a "weirdo," and he liked that. What's Louisville like, from your perspective?

Louisville is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, so I hope lots of people do not move here. It is my home and my place of refuge. There are many "weirdos" but I find them in every town, just like all the normals and guitar-playing geeks that worship the Replacements.

One last question, one I always ask: If there's an album, movie or live performance that's blown you away recently, please tell me about it.

Bjork's Vespertine is amazing in many ways. The Flaming Lips' last live tour blew me away. The past always blows me away. I find myself constantly being amazed at the daringness and selflessness of all the rescue workers dying in New York. I think at this time in my life the most amazing things and people are those that bring peaceful feelings to the world. The world can be such a fucking foul stinkhole, but it is also boundless in its beauty.

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