The circular splendor of My Morning Jacket

Spontaneous routes
By NOLAN GAWRON  |  August 9, 2011

MyMorningJacket
NO STRAIGHT JACKET “Sometimes people say the wide variety of our music has hurt us,” says Jim James (center). 

It all began with TheTennessee Fire of 1999 — just a tiny spark ignited by the fiery vision and devastating voice of Jim James. This wasn't a case of arson or a natural disaster — it was a debut album of haunting beauty and blissful reverie from My Morning Jacket. This collection of songs bound by lo-fi limitations and part-time players would eventually evolve into a full-time cast of characters with a reputation for epic live shows and the surprising new sound of each subsequent album.

From stripped-down folk and country honk, to psychedelic soul, electronic experimentation, and almost everything in between, My Morning Jacket are heavy yet hopeful, both dark and whimsical, delivering everything from sensual slow jams to pedal-pushing rock anthems. "Sometimes people say the wide variety of our music has hurt us," says singer/guitarist/founder James. "Some fans who want to hear the softer stuff hate the loud stuff, or people who are all serious hate the goofy stuff. At the end of the day we are just trying to have fun and make music we believe in."

My Morning Jacket's sixth album, May's Circuital, debuted at number five on the Billboard charts. Especially existential, yet inherently positive, the record is a culmination of their stylistic evolution as well as their musical and lyrical complexity. "I was thinking of the circular nature of life and how we are all born of the void," says James. "No one can explain where we come from and we travel around the circuit in all our different ways. Then we all return to the void, thus completing the circuit."

While the liner notes claim the album was made "in Heaven," the band did most of their recording in a local Louisville gymnasium. Taking the project back home to Kentucky, MMJ made a conscious decision to stray from the intensive NYC studio recording process of 2008's Evil Urges and recorded each new song live. "We went in not knowing we were even going to record the album, but rather capture some demos," says drummer Patrick Hallahan. "Other than us making every effort to record live takes — which was a must — this album differs greatly in that there was no full-band demo session. We started with very basic song ideas and recorded take after take until we captured that beginning of honey-coated magic. Some songs took one or two takes, others took 40 billion."

If their albums landed them an audience, it's their live shows that have made them legends. Songs are passionately lengthened in concert, and their epic sets have been known to span up to four hours. "I feel like our band enjoys the balance between the recording realm and the touring world," says Hallahan. "Creating a piece of you that will forever last in its final state is an amazing, all-encompassing challenge. Creating a piece of you that will last one evening is more meditative, unpredictable, and spontaneous — a whole different experience, but equally as beautiful. The improvisational side of our set has become more of a thing in the last few years. It all depends on who is feeling what and when. We may play every song in its true album form, or we may do a 92-minute version of 'Highly Suspicious' if Tom [Blankenship] decides to take an 87-minute bass solo."

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