Catching Up With... My Morning Jacket's Jim James

Music Features My Morning Jacket
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Louisville, Ky. native Jim James has been a diehard music lover since before many fans of his band, My Morning Jacket, were born. Picking up on the spirit of genuine American music surrounding him in Kentucky and growing up with a mother who whole-heartedly supported his artistic leanings, he dove head-long into his passion at the age of three.

Fast forward several years to a batch of tunes recorded in his own loft, the songs on Tribute To, the George Harrison covers EP James released this week under the moniker Yim Yames. The songs remain true to their original spirit yet are bolstered and given a fresh polish by James' stunning pipes, shimmering acoustic guitar work and eerie banjo flourish.

Paste caught up with James between recording sessions and preparations for some limited live performances of the EP and found a man who, though sometimes perceived as mysterious and highly private, was happy to share his thoughts not only his latest solo effort, but on his childhood, the history of MMJ, the plethora of relevant and pressing current events and issues occupying his mind, and some of the many creative and inspirational projects he's involved with.

Paste: Evil Urges saw MMJ sampling a huge variety of different influences and different directions on the playing, writing, recording and even vocal approaches to your music. What events transpired between Z and Evil Urges that opened up that channel for you to allow your funk, R&B and humorous sides to shine through so brilliantly? Is that something you guys were shooting for, or did it just kind of come naturally during the writing/recording process?
James: We try to be an open vessel to any and all kinds of music and life experience. Music is fun

Paste: Would you care to comment on your production work for Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, and tell us a little more about those guys?
James: They are amazing. Ben is one of the best cello players on the planet, and his voice is like a powerful sword piercing your heart. Daniel is one of the kindest and purest souls on the planet. His voice is like snowflakes falling on your brain. Get them together, and it is like sword fighting in a snowstorm. Unreal. They really wanted to do something to raise awareness for the disastrous effects of mountaintop removal on communities and the environment and I was thrilled to help them.

Paste: You contributed a track to America's 2007 album Here And Now. Have you always been an America fan, and what was it like working with those fellows?
James: We never met those guys, but yes, I was honored they covered our song. That session was hilarious: Patrick and I went in there and cut the track in one take and walked back out the door. It was awesome. I used to lay on my bedroom floor in high school coming down from acid with my fingers stuck in a Dairy Queen ice cream cake with Life cereal poured into it like a real bowl of cereal and just cry my eyes out while listening to "Tin Man" or "Lonely People." There was a phase in my life where I was exploring the more psychedelic side of life, and man, the nighttime would be filled with wild whipping metal music and pure-grain fruit punch and chaos and metal jaw-biting, spine-tingling mental confusion, and I remember so very clearly one morning laying in some shitty hotel room bed covered in applesauce, and the sun was starting to come up and I felt like I had just killed a baby seal...and I had lobsters crawling all over me and laying their eggs in my intestines...and somebody put on a mixtape that had "Tin Man" and "All the Lonely People" and then went into "Harvest" by Neil Young and I remember all the lobsters stopped laying their eggs and they sat up and looked at me and I looked at them and we all went "ahhhhhhh" and breathed a big sigh of relief...and crawled off the bed to lay on the floor next to the stereo to hear that pure, pure sound even purer in our ear holes...and that’s when I knew I dug the folk rock.

Paste: You worked with Calexico on the soundtrack for I'm Not There. Are you close to those guys, Howe Gelb, etc.? Has their output influenced you at all over the years?
James: I love those guys! That was a thrill. We were up in rural Canada shooting that film, and this crazy storm came and blew all the power out of our hotel. We try to play that song together whenever we are in the same town. Those guys are the best!

Paste: You recently went to New Orleans to record live with the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. That recording is another benefit-type release, with proceeds going to help raise money for the Hall. Tell us a bit about that experience, and your thoughts on jazz in general and New Orleans jazz in particular.
James: Man, what a thrill! Those guys were amazing, and the hall is just jam packed with good vibes and great musical memories. What a thrill! We did it old-school: all live with no electricity, and the garbage trucks even played along! I sang through [late, legendary New Orleans pianist/chanteuse] Sweet Emma’s old paper bullhorn. What a thrill. I had a deep dream the night before the session that she breathed her soul into my mouth through a hole in the floor, and I unknowingly carried it with me through the night and the morning, and when I got her old bullhorn up to my mouth again, it felt just like old times, and I blew her soul back out of my body and into her proper habitat there inside the preservation hall. Unreal! New Orleans is unstoppable. The people and the power there is just unreal.

Paste: Can you fill us in real quick about Removador Records and Solutions? What role will you and/or MMJ play in that deal?
James: It is a label I have started to just try and bring out music that I believe in. [I'm working with] my cousin John, who was in MMJ is also sharing the label duties with me, and it’s nice to get to work with him again. We will be putting out his project, called The Ravena Colt, as well as local band Follow The Train, as well as some of my own stuff, etc., and are looking for and working on other things as well, such as 3D printer technologies and web-based accounting solutions.

Paste: You've gotten loads of compliments on your recent Austin City Limits performances. What was that like for you, and will those gigs eventually be released by New West Records as a part of their ACL collection?
James: Yes, we have been honored and thrilled to have done ACL two times now, and we would love to someday release the best of both on one of those fine, fine New West DVDs. Man, I love those!

Paste: One more for you: What is your favorite record/song of all time to hear in a social/party setting, and what's your fave to hear when you're chilling at home alone or with friends/loved ones?
James: I’d have to say my favorite for both of those is "What’s Going On" by Marvin Gaye, played in its entirety. It is the greatest recording made by human beings to date, and is perfect for any and all settings.

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