Once again, I am so thankful Gareth introduced me to MMJ back in the day and made me watch the Okonokos DVD. I immediately fell in love and can honestly say that MMJ at Wakarusa was my favorite show… ever. Some people say they are too dark, but I highly disagree. I think “real” is a better way to describe them. They touch on every emotion perfectly, and their lyrics are pure poetry. I can’t wait to see them again this December in Tulsa. They are EASILY one of the best bands of our generation. So of course, I am reposting this article by GQ. Hope you enjoy.
Back in 2002, My Morning Jacket was still honing its alt-country sound in a rocket-sized grain silo outside Louisville, Kentucky, when it took its twangy act on a whirlwind tour (142 shows that year). Few of the scruffy, mesh-hat wearing crowds in the small bars and clubs it played could’ve imagined that MMJ would go on to become one of the most eclectic live bands of the decade: Their ear-blasting blend of horns and guitars, of reggae and R&B, of funk and Southern rock—all held together by frontman Jim James’s ethereal voice—has been known to crank for up to four hours (as in their legendary 2008 Bonnaroo show). GQspoke to James on the phone just before he caught a flight to Austin where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined MMJ on stage at the Austin City Lights Festival.
GQ: Over five nights in New York last year, you played your first five albums, one full album a night. How did it feel returning to the earlier material?
Jim James: It was like a time machine. It was like stepping into old clothes you used to wear. Some of it was great, some of it was sad. You know, we play some songs off the earlier records in rotation nowadays, but there were songs that we hadn’t played in forever, or even at all, so it was like looking back on past versions of yourself. For the most part, I felt good about them, but there was a song here and there that I wished I hadn’t included on an album. I was looking back like, Why did I do that?
GQ: Really? Which ones didn’t you like?
Jim James: I’m not going to do that—I don’t want to ruin the songs for someone else. I might not like a song now, but then for whatever reason in three years, it will feel right again. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Occasionally a song will get in the doghouse and it won’t feel good to play. But one day it’ll sound good again.
GQ:You started as an alt-country band—your sound has broadened so much over the years, I think it would be hard to call you that now.
Jim James: A lot of people say we shoot ourselves in the foot with variety, but if I’m not being moved by alt-country, why would I keep making those types of records? It seems like bands are taught that making the same record over and over again is the vehicle to success, but I’ve always loved getting a record by one of my favorite bands and having it be something completely different. You still hear the heart and soul of the band—artists like Bjork, Erykah Badu, and Radiohead—but when you get their new record, you have no idea what it’s going to sound like.
GQ: Your most recent album, Circuital, was made in the gymnasium of a church. How’d you decide to record there?
Jim James: We found that place through a buddy of ours, and we planned to just use it to practice, to knock around some songs, but when we got in there the place felt so good we decided to stay. So instead of doing demos, we did it there all at once.
GQ: You get that sense from Circuital—it has a live quality to it. Could you talk about the relationship between the albums and the live performances? The shows have a very intense sound.
Jim James: With an album you’re thinking about immortality—it will outlive you—and on stage, you’re enjoying the fleeting moment, not worrying about it being scrutinized. We’re playing and just letting the moment be.
GQ: You guys are especially known for your live shows. Even in New York, where it can be hard to move an audience, you’ll see people at your shows banging their heads, bobbing along.
Jim James: I’m not the kind of frontman that yells at the crowd and tells them to clap and jump like some bands, everybody jumping up and down like an exercise routine. We just hope that the vibe we put out connects with people’s brains.
GQ: I saw you perform back in 2003 and you were barefoot, whipping your hair around, barely showing your face to the audience. You’re more theatrical now; you’ll wear suits, you prance around the stage more. You’ve got fuzzy white boots. How have you changed as a performer?
Jim James: I don’t know…You get older and get into different stuff. You see things that inspire you. I feel like if somebody comes to see us live, there’s always going to be some element of us that’s our core—that’s what we pride ourselves in—you know, five guys that love playing together, and that’s pretty much the heart of the show. At the same time you want to do something fun and have it be a memorable event. Different things come into my head, and I follow them. I don’t question it all too much.