Interview With Jim James Of My Morning Jacket

Music

On the even of the release of Circuital, My Morning Jacket‘s brand-new album, we were able to ask leader singer and songwriter Jim James a few questions about his latest creation, the band’s process for writing and recording, his affection for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, vinyl, playing live, and how he feels about giving away songs for free.

Rhythmically how is Circuital different from Evil Urges?

Hmmm…. On Evil Urges we strove to get a very precise sound, where you would almost be confused as to whether it was a drum machine or a human. On circuital we just strove to let it be a little more loose and go for full band performance takes that felt natural and good energy-wise…And not worry about the minutia of the tempo….

Why was it important to you to release this album on vinyl also?

We love vinyl. It is so nice to sit at home and be immersed in the sounds of warm vinyl….It is a natural reaction to the quick and easy fast paced digital world we live in now, plus it just sounds the best.

How important is it to give away free music in order to promote an album like this?

I am really torn on this. I feel like in a lot of ways, it is taking away the power of a major holiday. Think about it- if Halloween was every day of the year, then it would lose its impact and importance that comes from having to wait all year long for it to come around again…. That is why we really believe in albums, and the power of hearing an album all the way thru for the first time with the artwork and everything that goes with it. Nowadays, everyone either steals or leaks your album online or you have to do some kind of promotion where you give away songs from the album. I’m fine with giving away a free song as a sneak peak….But i just wish there were some way for people to respect the artist’s intention and not listen to the album until it is released….But at the same time…When times are hard for people- im kind of glad that they can get music for free…I mean, if you cant afford health care- I dont blame you for not wanting to buy a record!!!! And in one sense I’m glad that people who need it can get music for free….That seems very liberating…But it is also so dangerous because if you steal too much music then the people who wanna make more music are going to be broke and not able to pay to make any more. I think its a balance- if you are doing fine financially- then you should support the bands you love by buying their records and concert tickets, etc….

How important is it to play live to support it? Especially these days versus, for instance, ten years ago?

Live music is something the Internet can never kill, which seems very important to me, as we slowly watch the internet destroy everything else in its path… Small bookstores and record stores close… Films can be stolen online… It gets harder and harder for people to make art… You can get your groceries delivered to your house via the internet so you dont have to leave the house… Its cutting out more and more human interaction and face to face communication.

What other bands, if any, were you listening to while writing and recording this album?

I have been listening to lots of collections of older forgotten music from labels like the Numero Group and Sublime Frequencies….
You have said that “This is the most live record we’ve ever done.” Was that a deliberate strategy, or did it just turn out that way?

We just wanted the core of each song to be live, including the main vocal, so it could be an emotional reaction to the whole song for us when we came in from doing takes…
Was there more improvisation on this record than usual, in the playing by you and/or your bandmates? Any specific reason why?

Yes- I’d say we let things flow naturally because we were learning these songs and then recording them at the same time, so there is a lot of spontaneity and beginners magik new discoveries going on…

How did you pick the location for recording? (Were you specifically interested in a church? Or was it more the gymnasium aspect?)

We just tried it out because our friend Kevin Ratterman had recorded a few bands there and had shown it to me and i thought it was beautiful…And once we set up and started getting sounds we loved its sound too!

Looking back now, how big a part did the setting, and the recording process (standing in a circle playing live), play for Circuital?

I think it played a big role. My favorite sound on the record is the sound of ky air amidst all of the music it is there and big…. We tried to leave plenty of room for air.
I read you were looking to “capture a ‘beginner’s mind’ feel,” a Zen concept. This is really interesting: can you elaborate on this? What is a ‘beginners mind’? How does it relate to creating music? And, finally, did you achieve it?

It just means to keep putting yourself in a position to be a beginner at something- to react to it with a fresh child-like mind….If you are an auto mechanic go try being a soccer goalie, or if you are a chef go try being a professional alligator impersonator….It puts you in a fresh frame of mind…We always try to switch up enough variables when we are making a record to achieve that frame of mind….
When you played your Live on Letterman webcast show, you remarked about how it felt to move Dave’s desk out of the way to make room for your gear. What was that experience like and how does it feel to be one of a very select group of artists to have played a full set on the Ed Sullivan Theater stage?

It was insane. Yes i mean the history of that stage and that theater was beyond surreal…The ghosts felt good in there…I thought they were really kind and it felt warm and comfortable…Which can be tough on a cold television set…We really enjoyed it. Thanks Dave for moving your desk out of the way for us to play!

How much does “fun” drive your work and the projects you decide to take on?

It is maybe the biggest factor. That was the reason i wanted to play music and be in a band in the first place- to have fun.

Your recent online promotional videos are weirdly great. Do you view the added online marketing as an enjoyable creative outlet or necessary evil for successful modern marketing?

Both. It is crazy nowadays how you cant just make an album anymore- you have to do all this extra stuff with it… Which is a bit confusing but also really fun- like these videos for example- we have had lots of fun making them.

Last year at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival you were spotted all over the place, taking in and playing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Is there an artist or group (other than Monsters of Folk) you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

Yes I’d love to make a full record with the Pres Hall Jazz Band guys…. My radar is open. I’m always looking to collaborate with new folks.

My Morning Jacket, Chicago, June 17, 2011 (photo: Nate Azark)

My Morning Jacket, Chicago, June 17, 2011 (photo: Nate Azark)

More on My Morning Jacket:

Get a free MP3 download of My Morning Jacket’s “Circuital” on MP3.com

Gallery: My Morning Jacket Live from Chicago

Listen: Interview with My Morning Jacket Backstage at Bonnaroo

Watch My Morning Jacket’s 2010 Live on Letterman concert on demand