Why does my mind blow to bits every time they play that song?
It's just the way that he sings,
Not the words that he says, or the band.
I'm in love with this soul, it's a meaning that I understand.
There's something downright majestic about My Morning Jacket. It's there in their expansive, holy howling intensity. There's a bit in their pummeling low end and a portion in their shiny, ringing guitars. But where it jumps out the most is in the honest-to-god-exalted spirit of leader Jim James' voice. Blanketed in reverb, rolling over dense layers, his drawl is a siren song, a come-hither that pulls us closer even as he tells us to run.
By Stephen Griffiths
The band's third and latest album, It Still Moves, has garnered the kind of praise that shifts a small following into a pop culture sea change. The album rings with the grandeur of a new classic, drawing from Sun Studios ballads, Radiohead's shimmer, Skynyrd's dirt-under-the-nails grit and takes the whole shebang on a drive down the Stone's Main Street. All the promise of this Louisville, KY band's earlier releases came to fruition in one fell swoop to produce one of the most resonant works in recent rock memory.
"This is the first record where we really feel we're a solid band. We've finally all come together to the point where we're all friends and we all know each other. We've gone through a couple drummers that didn't really work out, that threw the rhythm off," James tells us. "With the last two albums we'd build 'em piece by piece, lay down some initial tracks and then come back to work on them. We all had jobs and didn't have any time. We didn't feel we were the band we could be."
A standout both on the album and in their live shows is new drummer Patrick Hallahan, who pounds 'em like a natural born barbarian but can also downshift to jazzadelic subtlety all within the space of a few bars. James says, "We got Patrick, our newest and latest and greatest and final drummer, and it just clicked. We're not going through that (process) again. I've known him since fourth grade and we've always wanted to play together."
By Deron Lord
Hallahan's kick drum has the image of a great bear's head staring out at you. That bear is everywhere in their imagery, including being draped with gold tinsel on their latest album cover.
"We like to think of it as psychedelic honey (laughter). All over his face... we literally were up there for a day with the bear. We put costumes on him, we put tinsel on his head, tinsel on his feet, hats on him, gloves on his paws."
James continues, "Something called to me and I got this image in my head of the record cover. There's a barn out on the farm where we record and it's got this ceiling structure (visible on the cover) that blew my mind the first time I saw it. It reminded me of the inside of the belly of a whale. I don't know why but I had this vision of a bear in front of this ceiling. So, we rented this big 9-foot bear and moved him around and took pictures of him. There's something about his face. You put it down into black and white it's just an awesome image to me."
By Deron Lord
Anyone who's seen this combo perform lately knows of the mountains of hair and shoulder shrugging chug that make for a traditionally righteous rock experience. This element filters into It Still Moves.
"We've been getting more upbeat in our live shows. After being locked up in the van all day we're ready to have a good time and rock as hard as we can. I think we definitely wanted this record to be a more upbeat, rockin' experience," states James.
By Riny van Eijk
Their website even conjectures a "Rock-And-Roll Blow-Out" that's full of big, silly ideas including an arrow-shooting Ted Nugent.
"Tom, our bass player (Two-Tone Tommy) wrote that. We're always trying to make each other laugh and we try to be creative with what we can do on stage. We talk about what our dreams are if we had 20 million dollars and could do like a Kiss show," he explains with a laugh.
I will sing you songs of greater things... money, gold and diamond rings
Just don't make it last any longer than it has to
Besides singing and playing guitar, James is responsible for the songwriting in My Morning Jacket. He tells us how the process works, "I bring in the song and the melody and show it to them and give them a basic idea of what I want to happen. Then everybody starts picking it up and running with it, turning it around, flipping it over, slapping stuff on. I watch what they do and it ends up turning out way better than I could have by myself."
He continues, "When you're playing with a band people can add things that really distract from the song, really take away from the song if they're putting in things that don't need to be there. Luckily, with each time we've done it they've ended up contributing to make it far better than it might have been on its own."
Baby, there's just one thing
One thing that does it
Does it for me
His lyrics avoid specificity, leaving lots of space for the individual to find their place in these songs. He states, "That is something I try to do. That's what I love about all my favorite music, that it lets me be creative and apply it to my own life. I don't want to hear specifically about some guy's specific situation. Lots of (my) lyrics are stream-of-conscious so I don't even understand what they mean until a couple months later when I make it mean something to me. Lots of it just pops out when I'm in a good place. When I get in the zone it just kinda falls out."
By Riny van Eijk
And always, always, always there are oceans of reverb splashing over every damn thing, producing something celestial, tapping into a different sphere.
"Reverb is music to me. I don't ever play music without it. I don't sing without it, I don't like to play guitar without it. It is what makes music a joy for me personally. It's the difference between being a normal human being and some weird force that's unexplainable. If you think about it, reverb is all around you. If you have a big house with high ceilings it sounds a lot different than if you have small place with tightly packed rooms full of shit. I hate singing into a dry microphone. It sounds dead and lifeless to me."
This love affair with reverb hasn't gone without a few challenges, especially live. James says, "Sound guys hate reverb. Sound guys fuckin' despise it. It was a huge battle until we finally got our own sound guy and now it's fine."
By Deron Lord
Daybreak. Nightfall. Long as I believe
There ain't nothing glowin' like this skin you're showin' and the keys you gave to me
The horns on It Still Moves have a slinky, palpable lustiness, especially in the call-and-response coda of "Dance Floors." They had the help of a Hi Records soul master in making this sound. "We went down and did that with Willie Mitchell, who did stuff with Al Green and Anne Peebles. We flew down to Memphis and did it with them because we wanted it to sound as authentic and old as possible."
That attention to every little detail shows up all over their work. It signals a level of care that packs each number with hidden chambers to surprise and please you as you revisit songs. Their ear is wide open enough to include classic rock, electronica, soul, '80s shoegazer, and jazz. So, how to describe this to someone who's never heard My Morning Jacket?
"If I'm forced I say rock 'n' roll because that can be anything," states James. "It can be the Stooges, it can be Roy Orbison, it can be Outkast. There's so many things that can be rock 'n' roll and if you say that you can't be limited."
By Grace Dunn
The Outkast name check may surprise some but the Dirty South players rank high in Jim's book. He even compares their new album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below to the greatest Prince records.
"The last month or so I've been hitting Outkast really heavily. It's insane!" exudes James. "In our modern world everything has gotten so stale. Everything's so cut and dried. There's no mystery, there's no wonder, there's no experimenting with sound anymore. There's no sense of people trying to do stuff that's (expressly) fucked up. I really admire those guys because that market (rap and R&B) has gotten to be all about money and all about your image and there's no substance. I feel like Andre and Big Boi have torn off the roof and thrown it away. They bring in the old school influences while still keeping their futuristic thing, too."
I've got a masterplan babe, I been workin' on it from the start.
Pluggin' in all of the numbers, watchin' it on all of the charts.
Just cause it starts off slow babe, doesn't mean it don't have a heart.
All the recent press and sold out shows signal a band on the verge of much larger fame. When asked about this possibility James shuffles a bit, "We try not to think about it. It'd be cool but we don't feel comfortable thinking or talking about the future too much because you never really know what's going to happen. If you make plans or dream too much about that kind of stuff you get crushed when it doesn't happen. We just try to play as hard as we can and make the best records we can. If you're sitting there trying to write a story that you think will bring the whole world together it'll never happen but if you're just doing your honest work and it happens then great."
By Chris Graham
Still, there's a glimmer of that old Byrdsian cry to be a rock 'n' roll Star in James.
"We're not one of those bands that deliberately doesn't want a lot of people to get into us. We welcome anybody of all ages, races, and creeds to get into it."
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