My Morning Jacket's Jim James On Nature, Love & Existential New Self-Titled Album

Jim James

Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage via Getty Images


My Morning Jacket's Jim James On Nature, Love & Existential New Self-Titled Album

Singer/songwriter Jim James talks about how My Morning Jacket's hiatus and 2019 reunion led to the band's new self-titled new album—plus how we should stop living so much in the digital world and embrace nature and love

GRAMMYs/Sep 15, 2021 - 12:00 am

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 "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." 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.

Common Opens Up About 'A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2,' Social Justice In The Mainstream & The Unceasing Spirit Of J Dilla

How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," Featuring Performances From John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, Weezer & More
"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys"

Photo Credit: CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," Featuring Performances From John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, Weezer & More

The tribute to the Beach Boys will also feature performances from St. Vincent, My Morning Jacket, Norah Jones, Charlie Puth, and many others, as well as special appearances by Tom Hanks, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and more.

GRAMMYs/Mar 14, 2023 - 04:00 pm

After six decades of game-changing innovation and culture-shifting hits, the Beach Boys stand tall as one of the most legendary and influential American bands of all time.

Now, the iconic band will be honored by the Recording Academy and CBS with a star-studded "Beach Boys party" for the ages: "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more, who will perform all your favorite Beach Boys classics.

Wondering when, where and how to watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys"? Here's everything you need to know.

When & Where Will The Special Air?

"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will air on Sunday, April 9, from 8 – 10 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.* A one-hour version of the tribute will air on MTV at a future date to be announced.

Who Will Perform, And What Will They Perform?

The following is a list of artists and performances featured on "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys":

Read More: The Beach Boys' Sail On Sailor Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?

Who Are The Special Guests & Presenters?

In addition to the musical performances, the special features appearances by Drew Carey, Tom Hanks, Jimmy Jam, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, John Stamos, and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr.

Beach Boys core members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks are featured guests.

What's The Context For The Special?

Filmed at the iconic Dolby Theater in Los Angeles after the 2023 GRAMMYs, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" airs during the year-long celebration of the Beach Boys' 60th anniversary. Counting more than 100 million records sold worldwide and recipients of the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands of all time, and their music has been an indelible part of American history for more than six decades.

Keep an eye on for more exclusive content leading up to "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."

*Paramount+ Premium subscribers will have access to stream live via the live feed of their local CBS affiliate on the service as well as on-demand. Essential tier subscribers will have access to the on-demand the following day after the episode airs.

Remembering The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds: For The Record

A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys Tribute Concert To Feature Performances By John Legend, Brandi Carlile, St. Vincent, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, Weezer & More; Tickets On Sale Now
A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys

Graphic: The Recording Academy


A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys Tribute Concert To Feature Performances By John Legend, Brandi Carlile, St. Vincent, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, Weezer & More; Tickets On Sale Now

Taking place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the live concert special will feature a star-studded lineup that also includes Charlie Puth, LeAnn Rimes, My Morning Jacket, Norah Jones, Pentatonix, Lady A, and many others.

GRAMMYs/Jan 26, 2023 - 05:44 pm

A few days after the 2023 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy, along with Tenth Planet Productions and CBS, will present A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys, a special tribute concert honoring the legendary, GRAMMY-nominated music icons, the Beach Boys. Taking place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the live concert special will feature a star-studded performer lineup that includes GRAMMY-winning artists and past and current GRAMMY nominees including Beck, Brandi Carlile, Fall Out Boy, Andy Grammer, Hanson, Norah Jones, Lady A, John Legend, Little Big Town, Michael McDonald, Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket, Pentatonix, Charlie Puth, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Take 6, and Weezer, who will all celebrate and honor the Beach Boys’ everlasting music and impactful career.

Tickets for A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys are available now.

A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys will air on the CBS Television Network and will be available live and on demand on Paramount+ at a later date. More info on the event is below.


Wednesday, Feb. 8
Doors: 5:30 p.m. PT
Concert: 6:30 p.m. PT

Dolby Theatre
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Take A Look Back At The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds | For The Record

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kabaka Pyramid On Embracing His Voice & The Bold Future Of Reggae
First-Time GRAMMY Nominee Kabaka Pyramid

Photo courtesy of the artist


Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kabaka Pyramid On Embracing His Voice & The Bold Future Of Reggae

Kingston-born reggae star Kabaka Pyramid is one of a handful of artists bringing positivity back into the genre. His messages of consciousness are more powerful than ever on his third album, 'The Kalling' — and now, he’s a GRAMMY nominee because of it.

GRAMMYs/Jan 11, 2023 - 08:27 pm

Kabaka Pyramid answers to a higher power — and his third album, fittingly titled The Kalling, is a testament to his beliefs.

The Kingston-born rapper, singer and producer is one of a handful of artists bringing positivity back into reggae, often channeling the empowered, political, and spiritual vibes of  roots artists. Kabaka Pyramid is often labeled a "reggae revivalist" for this reason, but The Kalling manages to be both classic and incredibly of the moment. And while his previous albums Victory Rock and Kontraband are testaments of lyrical and genre-blending prowess, Kabaka's latest is a notable ascension.

One of five nominees for Best Reggae Album at the 65th GRAMMY Awards, The Kalling showcases Kabaka's passion for using hip-hop, soul and dancehall to iterate on the sound of conscious reggae. The record also overflows with messages of growth, contemplation of addiction, and gratitude — an antidote to some of the more crude attitudes present in Kabaka's favorite genres.

"The older I got, the more I felt responsible to represent myself in a certain way," Kabaka tells from his home in Miami. “I wanted to inspire, like how artists like Sizzla and Damian Marley inspired me. I wanted to have a similar effect, and I knew I needed to put out positive music to do that.”

Kabaka called upon his community to achieve this vision. The Kalling was produced by the reggae scion also known as Jr Gong, and features the late icon Peter Tosh in addition to Buju Banton, Jesse Royal and fellow 2023 nominee Protoje. Together, they created an album that pulls from contemporary pop, rap and '80s era reggae, with songs that are meditative ("Stand Up"),  club-ready ("Energy" and "Mystik Man"), and fit for a kickback ("Mary Jane").

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, the first-time nominee spoke to about inspiring higher vibrations through music and action.

Was the GRAMMY nomination a milestone you were working towards, or one that caught you by surprise?

I was shouting, screaming, everything; a couple tears of joy. I'm probably the only person on my team and label that it kind of caught by surprise. I just always thought that the GRAMMY was just this huge thing and something that is best if I don't think about it too much, because I feel like that can lead to disappointment.

So I was just more focused on putting in the work and really representing myself with the music, and then let the awards come. But it's definitely a huge achievement for me. I wouldn't have dreamed of it when I was back in high school, but here I am now, so I have to give thanks.

It's cool to reflect on how far you've come — like, man, I'm living out my dreams from high school or dreams you didn't even know you had.

I'm 37 now, so it's been a 20-year journey since I first started to pencil down some lyrics. And most people start super early, whether they're in the church, or in the choir, or whatever it is. Or they come from a musical family, so they watch their parents do it or whatever. But for me, it wasn't that.

I always loved music, particularly hip-hop and dancehall. So I was just inspired by music, but I never thought of it as something I'd actually be doing until around 17, 18. That's when I realized that I have a talent for actually writing lyrics. And from then it was just working on my voice. A lot of self recording at home, home studios over the years, different places.

Tell me a bit about the creation of the album; what was going on in your life at that time?

The recording and writing and stuff was mostly throughout the pandemic. For the first few months, I was in Jamaica; Damien was sending me beats that he was working on from his studio in Miami. And eventually, I flew up and we started just going at it together in studio and from just jam sessions with me, him and his musicians, just coming up with ideas from scratch.

There were some conversations about what we want to do differently from the last album and what kind of song we wanted to go for, what kind of vibe. We wanted some traditional reggae, we wanted some hip-hop vibes in it, wanted to sample some classic reggae records as well as some soulful stuff. "Grateful" was a soul record that was sampled, and of course, "Mystik Man" [featuring] Peter Tosh is originally "Fade Away" by Junior Byles, a classic reggae record too.

Over two years, it just slowly but surely started to shape itself. We did "The Kalling" and Protoje and Jesse came to studio while Stephen [Marley] was recording, and they ended up dropping their verses that night. And I knew from that night that this would end up being the title track for the album. And we just kind of themed the whole album around "The Kalling." Having a higher calling, a higher purpose to the music, tying it into the teachings of Rastafari and what it means to me. It was just a beautiful process.

What do those Rastafari teachings mean to you and how are they presented on this album?

For me, Rastafari is first and foremost about knowing where you come from, seeing yourself as royalty, as kings and queens — especially for Black people who have been through slavery and coming to the West by force. So it's really a reconnection to Africa, but it applies to anybody that wants to reconnect with who they are, where they're from, and their identity.

We practice a vegan diet, ital, and man and woman relationships — being wholesome, the family unit. These are all Rastafari is and is coming from his Imperial Majesty, the emperor of Ethiopia. Ethiopia being the country that was never colonized in Africa, that really maintained their identity. That's really where Rastafari culture and expression stems from.

This record also has a lot of messaging around being aware of yourself and your addictions, and things that you're doing in your daily life that might not be so healthy. Was that something that you've been thinking about for a long time, or was it something that came to you during this production process?

As Rasta, we reason about these things all the time. It's all about looking at how we live, what's our mentality towards life. And a song like "Addiction" just came out of countless reasonings about social media, about our phones, about the radiation and our phones give off. I don't sleep with my phone near me because I wake up with headaches.

I felt like that song was so important because with the pandemic, we're taught to social distance, we're taught to stay inside and we just turned to our phones and our devices. So we're even more technologically oriented now after the pandemic than even before. It’s kind of continuing from a song I did from Kontrabrand called "Everywhere I Go."

The Kalling is much more centered in traditional reggae, though "Energy" is sort of pop and R&B, and the opening track from your last record is a pop tune. Yet you're branded as this revival reggae artist. What are your thoughts on that?

The whole revival thing came about in like 2011, 2012 when my first reggae project came out; Protoje's album was out, Chronixx [had] transitioned from being a producer/songwriter to being a recording artist, and he took Jamaica by storm. We started going to Europe with our bands, and I think that is what really cemented the whole idea of a revival, because …there was kind of a dying down of Jamaicans coming with their bands. And you had [Jamaican artists using] these backing bands that were local in Europe because it was more economical. And then a lot of artists couldn't travel anymore because of what I consider their freedom of speech being questioned and violated. So you had a lot of key artists that couldn't travel.

So because of that, when we came on the scene, it was very refreshing for people to see these young acts in their 20s coming with their bands and sacrificing where we could have made more money if we went with backing bands, or with track shows or whatever. And then not only that though, we were sampling Black Uhuru records and Sly and Robbie bass lines, and drum and bass.

If you check my song "Revival," "Here Comes Trouble" [by] Chronixx, and Protoje's "Kingston Be Wise," all of these tracks kind of brought back an '80s vibe. And then when we translate them on stage with the bands, people felt like it was a revival of the '70s and '80s.

Musically we definitely fuse a lot of the sounds. There's modern elements, there's hip-hop elements, R&B, pop elements to it too, because we're all influenced by that. We're in an era where artists kind of have more creative control with their sound — it's not like you just go to one producer that has one sound. We can call on different producers, we produce ourselves and the stuff that we are influenced by, that's what we try and recreate.

So it's partially a revival of sound but also a revival of style and performance.


Are there any tracks on The Kalling that you're particularly proud of?

"Mystik Man," I’m really proud of that, especially with the whole Peter Tosh family behind the song. We were able to list it officially as featuring Peter Tosh, so I have a song with one of my idols. Overall, his life, what he represents, his mission — him and Sizzla are right up there in terms of who inspire me the most. "Addiction" from a songwriting perspective, I'm really proud of that one.

I'm proud of the fact that I stuck to my roots. When I was early in my career, I couldn't sing to save my life; rapping was easier for me to do. I was working on my reggae, but I wouldn't let anybody hear those songs. So doing a song like "Kontraband pt. 2" where I'm rapping with this Jamaican accent, [or] "Mystik Man," — being able to represent that and still maintain my identity as a Jamaican [and] as a reggae artist, and to get nominated, is a great achievement for me.

I read in Dancehall Magazine that you think that the subject of a lot of Jamaican music is holding artists back. How did you try to combat that notion on The Kalling?

I think my music is naturally more wholesome. It's more readily accessible to older and the young. Maybe it can be a bit too deep for some people, but just generally speaking, I don't put a bunch of slack lyrics or derogatory lyrics to women or violence, gun violence. And that's kind of typical for Jamaican music. But I feel these younger artists are kind of pushing the limits of it. There's a lot of talk about drug use now in songs, and scamming, and all of them kind of things.

I've seen artists that are on the verge of breaking into mainstream do collaborations with other mainstream acts, but then it's just crazy curse words in the song and super derogatory lyrics. I could see somebody at a radio station like, "no, I can't playlist this because it's too difficult." Especially, being an international artist. So it's trying not to shoot ourselves in the foot by having too extreme lyrics.

How did you meet Damien Marley and what did he bring to this project?

I met him at the Bob Marley Museum, I think it was around 2013. He was shooting some videos with Nas for Distant Relatives.

The first time working with him, he sent me a riddim that he wanted to do a juggling [on]. It was originally a Wayne Marshall record, but he wanted to voice some other artists on it and Chronixx, Juliann Marley, others are on it too. I wrote the song "Well Done" on it, and we all loved the song. I was there when the song was being mixed and prepared, and that's when we really bonded, and we started to just hold our vibe, reason about music.

We played football at the field at his house. And it just felt like a brother kind of relationship from early. He's like a mentor to me; I ask him advice and everything musically. And just being with him, I learned so much about sharpening up my songwriting skills and making my lyrics more potent and more absorbable for people. From there, we just grew to the point where we had a discussion about doing two albums at minimum, and we did Kontrabrand.

He produced five of the tracks [on The Kalling], but it was all put together in his studio, [and] he executive produced the project. I wanted to give him the chance of doing a whole entire album. I felt like there was enough versatility with his production style to do it. I think he really did an excellent job. It's almost like it doesn't make sense to not do an album with him anymore.

Is there somebody who gave you props about this record that were really meaningful?

I just got a very long voicemail from Pressure Buss Pipe, who is an artist I'm really inspired by. He was telling me how much I stepped up with this album, and I'm just in the right gear now. It was really a heartfelt voice note. He's somebody that I listen to a lot, and his vocal ability inspires me, and his songwriting. I have five, six, maybe seven songs with him too.

I should say Protoje was one of the first people to call me when I got nominated. And obviously, I congratulated him as well. And even how excited Damian is [means a lot], because he's not somebody that gets excited very easy. There’s not many others who can impress you more than Damian Marley, you know what I mean?

Why did you want to feature Protoje on The Kalling and, together, what are you guys showcasing about contemporary Jamaican music?

Protoje is somebody I always want to collaborate with. He was instrumental in the start of my career; most of [my 2011 EP] Rebel Music was recorded at his home studio. About four of the beats were beats that he gave me and from other producers. Europe knew about me because Protoje kind of helped me to get my name out there. And I respect him so much.

We're all about innovation. I think Protoje's [nominated] album is super cool. The intro and "Family" and "Hills" kind of go back to his original, more hip-hop flavor. Both of us have evolved so much vocally; I love the vocal tones that he experimented with on his album. And sonically, he's always pushing the genre further and I really appreciate that about him. And similar with me, there's so much versatility around the album, but still rooted in reggae.

The two of you are nominated in a category that has a next generation artist and very established musicians. How do these nominees reflect the state of reggae?

It means a lot for everybody now because of who won last year. Big up to SOJA; I really think they put in a lot of work in this music industry, especially in the U.S. And they unified the whole U.S. reggae industry on their album; they featured all of the major acts in the U.S. and I really think it was effective.

But people see it and say, "Oh, reggae is being taken away from Jamaica" and there was a lot of backlash for that. Based on that, it's very refreshing to see an all-Jamaican lineup of artists; artists that have done so much for the industry who have been on the frontline internationally, who put out wholesome music too. It's not like any real slackness is being represented.

I would hope that this lineup of artists inspires the younger generation that you can do music without all of the negativity and it can reach the highest level. It's not that the U.S. is greater than any other nation, but it's our biggest market for the music. So to be recognized within the U.S. with this GRAMMY Award is tremendous, and everybody feels it and appreciates it.

There’s so much versatility represented: Shaggy, did a Frank Sinatra cover album. Sean Paul is modern dancehall pop. Koffee is kind of similar, but there's so much fusion going on there and she's so lyrical and so young and, just blowing up all over the place. Me and Protoje are kind of in a similar bracket. It's an interesting group.

Speaking of the next generation, who or what are you listening to these days that's giving you life? Anybody you want to big up?

There's a bunch of artists, Medicine, who actually did some songwriting on my album. Irie Soldier, Nattali Rize, Runkus, Royal Blue, Blvk H3ro, Imeru Tefari, Five Star. There's a bunch of artists out there that's doing good music, and I'm always here to support them and want to do some more production with them as well. The future is bright, for sure.

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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