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.
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?
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?
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.
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!
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.
Can you fill us in real quick about Removador Records and Solutions?
What role will you and/or MMJ play in that deal?
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
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?
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!
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?
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.