Interview with My Morning Jacket: Songs For The Road

—by , June 19, 2008

My Morning JacketGive My Morning Jacket an open road and they’ll jam it with fans. At least that’s what the Louisville, Kentucky band’s been doing for nearly a decade. There’s just something about these hillbilly rockers that people can’t help but like. Maybe it’s those honest, sweet guitar sounds juxtaposed with the band’s super-frenzied performance? Or it’s that haunting, soul-searching reverb that’s aching for contact? No one knows for sure. Not even the band. But what is clear is that My Morning Jacket is quickly becoming known as one of the best live acts in America. The band’s upcoming show at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, scheduled for June 20, sold out in just 22 minutes. And with the release of their fifth album, Evil Urges (ATO Records), just a few days ago, it is obvious My Morning Jacket is heading for new territory.

My Morning Jacket established its signature sound with independent releases of The Tennessee Fire (1999) and At Dawn (2001), and their ATO debut, It Still Moves (2003)—all recorded in their Louisville, Kentucky farm studio. The band became more adventurous on 2005’s Z, leaving home for Allaire Studios in the Catskill Mountains. But with Evil Urges, the band deliberately made itself uncomfortable, opting to record in the less serene New York City at Avatar Studios. The result is an impressive evolution in their sound.

It seems the wider My Morning Jacket travels, the more interesting things get. But even though Evil Urges stretches east, south, north, and west musically, there’s still a familiar space grounded by Jim James (frontman), Tom (“Two- Tone Tommy”) Blankenship (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums), Carl Broemel (guitar), and Bo Koster (keyboards) that you’ll recognize as pure My Morning Jacket.

Bassist Tom (“Two-Tone Tommy”) Blankenship talks about Evil Urges.

You recorded Evil Urges in Manhattan with Grammy Award winning producer/engineer Joe Chicarelli. What was different about the way the band approached this album?

I think we intentionally set out to have a different recording environment than we did the last time. We’ve worked at Allaire before in upstate New York and it was definitely out in the middle of nowhere. It took, like, 15 minutes just to drive up the hill. And the records before that were all done at the farm. We’d always been kind of secluded. So we really wanted to switch it up this time. All of us were really excited to go to New York to do it in a big city. I think we all wanted to experience it as well, personally. So the prospect of spending a month living in Manhattan was pretty enticing.

How did this change affect the music?

It was a good work environment because we spent 12 hours a day locked in a studio from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. to 12p.m., or whatever it was. It was different because before everything was more relaxed. You just kind of strolled into the studio whenever you woke up. If a couple guys wanted to stay up late until 2:00 a.m. and work on something they could. If you wanted to wait until it was really late at night and light some candles and look out over the mountains or look out over the farm and record a song, you could do it.

It was different here because you had these 12 hours you had to work. That was it. It was more like you just focused on what you had to do and spent a day or two on a song, tops, knowing that maybe you wouldn’t get the chance to re-visit it again. So there was a certain amount of pressure that added, which I found nice and freeing in a way–to have everything structured and set in stone. You knew how your work day was going to go, how your work week was going to be.

Did you have a specific thematic intention entering the studio?

I think personally I had an idea what the record was going to be like and it didn’t turn out anything like that, but we’d never really discussed going for a certain sound or a certain kind of direction. It was just, we had this group of songs and we kind of cut out a few here and there. So it came down to like 20 songs or something. And it would be like, ‘Let’s try this 20 or 17 and see how it goes.’ Cause usually the album will sort of piece itself together.

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