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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
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.
Photo: Harmony Korine
Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track
"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained
Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.
"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.
The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."
Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:
"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."
Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.
As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."
ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"
Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home
Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?
Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?
Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible.
In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.
Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.
Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.
Fleetwood Mac in 1975
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Poll: From "Dreams" To "The Chain," Which Fleetwood Mac Song Is Your Favorite?
"Dreams" experienced a charming viral moment on TikTok after a man posted a video skateboarding to the classic track, and now it's back on the charts, 43 years later
In honor of Fleetwood Mac's ethereal '70s rock classic "Dreams," which recently returned to the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a viral TikTok skateboard video from Nathan Apodaca, we want to know which of the legendary group's songs is your favorite!
Beyond their ubiquitous 1977 No. 1 hit "Dreams," there are so many other gems from the iconic GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, as well as across their entire catalog. There's the oft-covered sentimental ballad "Landslide" from their 1975 self-titled album, the jubilant, sparkling Tango in the Night cut "Everywhere" and Stevie Nicks' triumphant anthem for the people "Gypsy," from 1982's Mirage, among many others.
Vote below in our latest GRAMMY.com poll to let us know which you love most.
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The Making Of Paramore's "Ain't It Fun"
Hayley Williams and Taylor York recall the creative process for their first GRAMMY-winning song, including an unexpected emotional element
(The Making Of GRAMMY-Winning Recordings … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of music's biggest recordings. The series' current installments present in-depth insight and details about recordings that won 57th GRAMMY Awards.)
(As told to Chuck Crisafulli)
Taylor York: This song was a complete surprise. I came up with a lot of ideas that I thought sounded like what we were supposed to write — big rock guitar riffs that would have fit on our earlier records. As I played each idea for Hayley she'd say, "Yeah, that's cool but what else do you have?" I went through everything I had until I got to the last idea — one that I wasn't planning on showing her because I thought she'd hate it. But it was all I had left. She got excited about it and from there the song just built organically and naturally. It all came together in a sound and a style that we had never really explored. The fact that "Ain't It Fun" came together so easily and worked so well really was the turning point for the writing process of the whole record, and it helped us fall in love with the writing and recording process at a new level. The music was something that I had felt connected to, but I didn't think it was Paramore. It turned out that whatever we feel connected to absolutely is Paramore.
Hayley Williams: I remember walking into Taylor's hotel room one of the first days [after] our move to L.A. to make our next album. He played that little marimba part on a loop. I thought it was so cool — I went straight back to my room to get pens and a notebook. By the time I got there I already had a melody, and by the time I got back to Taylor's room I already had the first few lines of lyrics.
We started demoing vocal parts in Taylor's room and when we got to the bridge we felt like we needed to hold on a root note and let the tension build with a lot of voices. Taylor and I stacked our voices about 10 different times and it sounded unbelievable — but not in a good way. We decided that we needed really good singers to come in and get it right. A couple of months later we're recording at Sunset Sound and a local gospel choir comes in, and by the second practice run-through it was perfect. I welled up with tears because I've loved gospel music all my life and to hear a choir singing our parts — belting out that harmony — it just felt insane to be in a band that could have that kind of amazing moment as part of our song. All of a sudden we felt big, like we had really made it. Yes, we've got a gospel choir on our record. This is really happening.
(At the 57th GRAMMY Awards, Paramore's Hayley Williams and Taylor York won Best Rock Song for "Ain't It Fun," marking the first GRAMMY wins of their respective careers. Paramore are scheduled to kick off a U.S. theater tour on April 27 in Augusta, Ga.)
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)