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My Morning Jacket's Jim James On Nature, Love & Existential New Self-Titled Album
Sometimes a little self-love can go a long way to connecting with the world around us. That's one of the key messages of My Morning Jacket's latest single "Love Love Love," from the band's new self-titled album due out Oct. 22.
"'Love Love Love' is just about trying to spread as much love as you can, but that it starts with you standing up for and loving yourself," singer/songwriter Jim James tells GRAMMY.com. "I want to try and spread as much positivity as I or we can, which obviously isn't always easy."
The new album is the band's first collection of new music since they recorded The Waterfall and The Waterfall II, released in 2015 and 2020, respectively, but recorded during the same sessions.
It finds the band rediscovering and embracing their passion for playing together after time apart doing their own projects. The band decided to self-produce, which allowed them total freedom to let the songs breathe and develop over two multi-week sessions at Los Angeles-based studio 64 Sound.
"It was a beautiful experience, and we were so fortunate to get to spend some time together just the five of us reconnecting with each other as friends and making music together," he says. "We had been apart for a while as a band and were not sure what the future held and so it was such magic to find ourselves together again and laughing and sharing and creating."
GRAMMY.com caught up with James to talk about the importance of breaking free from technology and embracing the natural world, how the band found complete freedom in self-producing the album, and more.
How have you grown the most as a songwriter and individual during the past year and a half?
At least for me, it has just reinforced my love of nature, my desire to really focus my time with the people that mean the most to me. I really tried to stop doing things that I felt like I was obligated to do. I feel like just so much in life we run around almost in an unconscious way.
The pandemic has, at least for me, introduced this new level of consciousness, of trying to be super aware of how I'm spending my time. It kind of brought this new awareness that we don't have forever, and the future is not guaranteed. And that we really need to make every day count, and really spend it with people that we love, and doing things that we love.
Speaking of love, the new single on the new album is "Love Love Love," which is about positivity and love for one another. Why is it important to keep a level of hope and positivity?
"Love Love Love" is just about trying to spread as much love as you can, but that it starts with you standing up for and loving yourself. I want to try and spread as much positivity as I or we can, which obviously isn't always easy. I tend to write a lot about feeling lost or sad or like I don't fit in. But I also want to weave messages of hope or positivity in there which I hope could maybe get through to someone else who may be feeling lost or sad and let them know there is a way out of the sadness…that things can and do change.
Life can be so hard, and it can be easier to dwell on the tough times, but I feel like it's also our sacred duty to celebrate when things are good, to name those feelings and those moments and speak them out loud. Like, "Wow this is such a beautiful moment!" or being sure to tell our loved ones how much we love them and how special they are.
I think also along with this, we need to all start meeting each other in the middle more. [We need to] turn off the cable news channels and listen to each other more and recognize our shared humanity and resonance with all the other beings and this beautiful planet before it's too late.
The sentiment lyrically is just to stand up for yourself, learn to love yourself and then use that to spread as much love to others as possible.
How would you describe the song's development?
It started in two different directions. One was a sort of moody psychedelic thing and the other was this propulsive electronic beat I was working on. Somewhere along the way I decided to merge the two in the demo I sent to the band. We ended up making it a more live organic electric hybrid thing by performing around the drum programming I had created originally.
There was a point where you and the band weren't sure if you'd ever release another album. However, reuniting for a few shows in 2019 including a couple at Red Rocks helped reignite the spark. How did all that help convince everyone to get back into the studio?
I think it just really showed us that balance is so important to life. I feel like life just got so out of balance for so long that I had to find a way to create that balance. I was really bad at saying yes to too many things, and then getting just too beaten down by life.
I didn't have the energy I needed for the things I loved, because I was saying yes to too many different things. So, I think once we had taken some time away, and weren't so beaten down by the schedule of the band, we were able to feel the energy again and feel the essence of playing together.
The band made a concerted effort to capture the raw energy from the band's live performance in the recordings. Why was that important?
We just kind of went in with no pressure on ourselves. And no goal, really, other than to have fun and just try things. Also, it was just the five of us together, which was really special, too. It just enabled us to kind of focus on our friendship and the energy between us in this really special way that kind of just removed all the pressure.
And we got to spend some nice time [together], just letting things fly and trying out ideas. And just enjoying the gift of friendship, and the gift to being able to play, create music together. I think that resulted in a lot of moments that were really beautiful, that just felt really spontaneous.
And there were live moments where we're having fun performing for each other as if we were performing live in front of a crowd. Because sometimes I feel like in the studio, some of that can get lost. You can get nervous, or you can get too hyper-focused on things. We tried to have a really laid-back atmosphere, which I think really helped.
I imagine that helped the songs develop naturally, without any pressure.
Yeah, I think it really did. I had a ton of different ideas that we tried. So many different things. And seeing things work, or just some things don't work. That's kind of the fun thing, also, about it just being the five of us, is that it was fine if something didn't work. Because it was only us analyzing it, and not feeling the pressure or really feeling disappointed if something didn't work. We were able to just move on and to the next thing.
Why did the band pick the 64 Sound studio to record the album?
It felt like a classic, real homemade kind of feel to it. They've got some great gear in there. They really let us be in there and helped us set up and get going and stuff, and then left us alone, which was what we really wanted and needed.
We kind of need a room that's big enough where we can all sit in it and see each other. And the room was kind of the perfect size because it's not giant. It's a really nice-sized room we can fit a band in, and all band gear, and just have enough options to be able to get great sounds, and all play together in this really cool way.
At what point did you realize it would be such an existential album lyrically and thematically? Do you think you're better able to articulate your thoughts on these types of topics compared to past albums?
I'm not sure. it all just flows, or it doesn't, and I try not to question it. It just flows and then I have to spend time with it and nurture it and bring it into the real world and then let it flow some more. I'm not the kind of songwriter who can sit down and deliberately make something happen or change. It just has to be nurtured and then it will flow, or it will stop flowing. [Laughs.]
I have piles of really cool song ideas that I love where, for whatever reason, it just stopped flowing. But that's also the cool thing is that sometimes I'll pick up an old idea from ten years ago and it will start to flow again. Magic. Or not. [Laughs.]
The album starts with "Regularly Scheduled Programming," which is about becoming numb to reality through technology. Why was that topic important to explore?
I just feel like we've all gotten swept away in this tidal wave of technology, and that we're all drowning. Drowning in social media, in streaming content and all this stuff that's supposed to make our lives better. I feel like social media is tearing us apart. And people forget their own dreams, and their own creativity, because they wash it all away each night, binge watching streaming and stuff like that. And I write that from being washed away myself. I found this moment where I saw how washed away I was getting.
I was missing out on so many great things and life. Missing out on nature, missing out on connecting with people that I love, and missing out on sitting and playing the guitar. Or meditating or reading a book. All these things that I feel like really connect us to our own souls, and to the soul of the planet and the universe, and the souls of each other, kind of reminding us that we're all one. And I feel like all of this technology is really separating us, and really making us all greedier. To lust for more followers, for more devices.
There is this illusion that social media makes us all more connected, when in fact it is ripping us and the planet apart, which is a shame, because social media could be a very helpful tool—if we could all learn to use it like a tool—literally check it out for five minutes a day or whatever. [We could use it] just to see what events, music, etcetera are happening or spread good messages for equality and progress and peace and love.
Instead, it becomes this terrible addiction designed to make as much money as it can off of you by making you feel as bad as possible and like you need the products they are pushing to make you feel better.
I think that is the problem at the heart of most of this new tech, which could be really great for us. Like music streaming—brilliant idea and a wonderful service but they still cannot pay artists fairly for their work. At the heart of all of this is greed.
I think in general a lot of what I am trying to say in my lyrics is really about trying to get folks to get off their devices and spend more time in nature and spend more time connecting with real people.
At least for me, spending more time in nature, meditating, and being with the people I love makes me feel like a healthier more creative person. And in "Regularly Scheduled Programming" I am just trying to say wake up to love before it is too late.
I really like the ["Regularly Scheduled Programming"] lyrics "Diamonds are growing in the garden / Raindrops are filling up the sea" and "One shot at redemption: a mighty and sacred love." Why did you pick those nature images?
I was trying to illustrate what folks were missing in the real world and out in nature while they were busy staring at their phones or devices. Like look at these beautiful dew drops in the garden! Or look at those same drops filling up the sea and keeping us all alive—the miracle of water!
I am trying to say in that song: "Look up! Look out! Look to nature and look within yourself! learn to love yourself! Look to love before it's too late!" There is also the message and a wish that we could be more responsible as we evolve. It is so sad to me that all of this tech could even be powered by nature—the sun, the wind and the water—but instead we are still chained to the greed of the fossil fuel industries and other destructive energetic methods.
With "Complex" you talk about the anxiety of feeling you're missing a piece of the puzzle. What about puzzles as a metaphor do you find appealing and fitting of recent times?
I think everyone can agree we live in complex times. The divide and conquer methods of this sort of extreme capitalism are working too well on people and we are being torn apart. People are taught to care more about the dollar than their fellow human being. We have all these bots and misinformation swirling on these social media platforms that folks spend hours a day on. How do we get out of this complex web we have found ourselves caught up in?
I am not saying I have it all figured out by any means. I struggle with it all too on a daily basis. But I do think one of the answers to the riddle for us all, no matter what side you may think you are on, is for us all to turn off the device and get out into nature. Or if for some reason you cannot get out into nature, turn off the device and just sit there. Just be and listen to what your soul and the universe really have to say.
"I do think one of the answers to the riddle for us all, no matter what side you may think you are on, is for us all to turn off the device and get out into nature… Just be and listen to what your soul and the universe really have to say." Jim James
"In Color" talks about the importance of everyone coming together no matter where they come from. Why is that important? What are some ways people can get to that goal?
"In Color" is just about celebrating our differences. The fact that there are so many wonderful beings of every shape, size, color, and belief should be seen as a great thing! And I think it really is. We should all be so happy that there are so many wondrous and amazing people of all walks of life that we can learn from and love. But instead, because of this classic divide and conquer B.S. that works so well, we end up with hate and division.
Again, I think it's time we start listening to real people more and get off the social media opinion streams and misinformation fountains of filth and hatred that spew forth from this monster called the internet that we have created.