Kentucky rock-folksters My Morning Jacket sound well-soldered once more on their latest album Circuital
Life is good for singer and guitarist Jim James. Moments before the soundcheck for the Oakland stop of My Morning Jacket’s current tour, James is outside the Fox Theatre, soaking in the sun while doing a series of phone interviews to talk about his band’s sixth CD.
"We just try to work with whatever songs have popped into our heads and whatever life brought us in the couple of years in between albums," he says, talking about the quintet’s creative process.
Although My Morning Jacket’s previous album, Evil Urges, was recorded in an expensive Manhattan studio, Circuital is a collection of songs captured live in the gymnasium of a church back home in Louisville – a way of doing things that was both a reaffirming action and an invigorating experience for the group. "We see ourselves as a live band and that’s a side of us that we really wanted to showcase once more on this CD," asserts James before revealing that the band also "really wanted to record together, all at the same time. Then, when we would go to the control room after a good take, we would hear each of us on it at the same time and we would already get some kind of complete picture of the song. It was an amazing and emotional experience."
An experience involving Muppets, too…
MUPPETS, FRIENDS AND COLLABORATORS
Reached by a Disney executive that wanted to produce a live show featuring Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, The Muppets’ rock band, Jim James and co. started working on a project that would eventually get scrapped.
"We had around three songs when we learned the [executive] got fired," recalls James. "So when we heard about the cancellation, we tried to save them." While the final version of Wonderful, the fourth track on Circuital, remains close to the Muppets demo, the following one, Outta My System, got a complete overhaul. "It’s so different that we’re considering releasing the Muppets version a bit later just so people can hear what we were trying to do with this project."
Even though Circuital saw My Morning Jacket bonding together in an intimate setting, the influence of the band’s friends and collaborators is still felt on tape. Among them, Tucker Martine, a renowned producer who also worked with The Decemberists, Mudhoney and R.E.M. "He’s just great!" exclaims the singer. "He has a great set of ears and he fit really well with us, just like a brother," he adds before elaborating, "It’s really tough to record an album with people with whom you don’t really share any kind of chemistry, but it was different with Tucker. Of course, I’ve met him a couple of times over the years – I recorded vocals for The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love a little while ago – so we hit it right off. But when recording our CD, I felt like – I don’t know if the term’s right but – I felt like I met a soulmate."
While James was working with The Decemberists (and with the Monsters of Folk, a supergroup he formed with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and She & Him’s M. Ward, among others), his guitarist Carl Broemel played along Wanda Jackson’s band on The Party Ain’t Over, her latest opus. These collaborations are, in fact, part of My Morning Jacket’s modus operandi.
"We’re all so lucky to play with so many people," admits the singer. "It allows us to expand our worldview and to see how other people, often musicians we admire, work and to judge how different or similar their process is from ours. We even learn new techniques and new ways of living that way. It’s insane!" These musical distractions are, in fact, encouraged among the Louisville band. "We even get excited when one of our band members participates in a new project because he always comes back with something new for us too."
GENEROSITY ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STAGE
For Circuital, My Morning Jacket went back to its roots, both geographically and musically. While this new album breathes new life into the quintet’s live shows, it won’t change the bond the band has with charities.
For their Montreal concert, for example, they will give a dollar from each ticket sold to local benefactors Équiterre. "We work with a San Francisco organization called Air Traffic Control. They connect musicians with non-profit organizations," explains James when asked about his involvement with Steven Guilbeault’s green action. "We try to help by donating, of course, and by allowing these local charities to have a space next to our merchandise table at each venue to introduce themselves to our public."
While this partnership is quite altruistic, My Morning Jacket tries to remain humble. "Oh, you know, we’re the lucky ones!" opines James. "We’re lucky enough to have people want to hear our music and want to see us play."
My Morning Jacket
w/ Jake and the Leprechauns