My Morning Jacket has been a part of the Louisville landscape for nearly 25 years, since 1998. The band broke out nationally a few years later and learned a lot about working as a musician, burnout and finding ways to to stay rooted in what made them who they are. . Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, spoke to LEO about the band, choosing the work he wants to do instead of feeling pressured to do everything and why it’s taken so long between albums. The group performs Saturday, October 29 at the Yum Center. It’s a costume party so get ready.
LEO: Tell me the story of My Morning Jacket in the most Louisville way possible.
Jim James: I mean, we come from here. I was born here. So I guess that’s the most Louisville debut in history, right? We started in 1998. It’s crazy, you never know what’s going to happen when you start anything, but the fact that it’s going on is so crazy. I was thinking about the first time we played in Louisville. It was at the Twice Told Coffee House. Have you been there before?
Yeah. A lot.
Music was all that mattered to me when I was a kid. And I really feel like music saved my life. I was just trying to get through life and the music was kind of my guide holding my hand. And, I felt like here in Louisville, I was lucky to find friends who shared that love of music.
You discussed the dangers of being in the music industry, such as overwork, burnout, and protecting your mental health. So how has COVID changed the way you work, on the one hand, as a professional musician and, on the other hand, as a creative person?
I mean, I feel like COVID has been a gateway to a lot of really good conversations. Lots of really important conversations people need to have. I feel like a lot of musicians are starting to have that conversation more and more. And, I think it’s good that we’re talking about it with people like you who might write about it. It’s just that COVID has been so hard on everyone, but I feel like it’s been especially hard on touring musicians because it’s added a new layer of stress to touring. There’s this new thing that can turn your whole touring world upside down at any time.
One thing, like us as band members to each other and to our friends who are touring musicians and everything, we’re just trying to talk about the fact that nothing is more important than your health. You know, your physical health and your mental health. I think we all just need to communicate more and make mental health a normal topic that people talk about no matter how they feel – good or bad. It’s so stressful having to cancel shows due to COVID. When I had to cancel those Louisville shows due to COVID, it was so heartbreaking.
You also talked about the dangers of touring after COVID, with insurance companies no longer wanting to cover touring. Is this still the case, and do you think this partly explains the increase in ticket prices?
Well, filming right now is really hard. If you think about it, everyone has been sidelined during the pandemic. So everyone is back there. People don’t have a lot of money to spend on all these shows. If you have to cancel shows for COVID, it’s a huge financial loss. It’s just a huge burden and there are no insurance costs to cover it.
Your show is October 29 and it’s a costume party. Do you have your disguise?
I’m working on a few details, but I’m pretty sure I got it all figured out.
No. It’s always one of the best surprises.
Damn. OK. Back to Louisville. Being a city that has a very strong DIY vibe and local culture in its arts scene and music scene, how do you preserve that in the music of My Morning Jacket?
I feel like we’re just part of this place and this place is so deeply ingrained in our minds and our blood. I mean, I think it comes to me in a subconscious, elemental way. In a way that I don’t even know if I could put words to it because it’s just a part of me, no matter where I am. Whether I’m here or on the road, or wherever I am, Louisville is always like in my heart, in my blood and in my mind. So I feel like it’s something that shaped me.
And, over the years, all the different and amazing bands and talented people that have come from Louisville, that have shaped what we do.
This place just has such a wild spirit. It’s such a unique place and it’s a place that a lot of people don’t know very well. There is also this kind of mysterious thing. I feel like there’s always been this kind of really mysterious and beautiful quality about Louisville that I feel like you can create without any labels or stamps affixed to you. It’s not like Louisville is really known for this or really known for that, it’s kind of liberating that way. I have always loved its mystery. I feel like people are trying to categorize it, but you really can’t.
So how do you go from playing with an orchestra to meditation benefits to psychedelic documentaries? How do you choose the projects in which you participate?
I’m just trying to really respond to how I feel about the thing that’s coming up. A lot of it comes from a source…I don’t really know what to call that source. It’s like things are flowing towards us. I think depending on the choices we make, things flow towards us.
Opportunities come our way. I think the more in touch you are with your heart, the easier it is to judge between what is a good or a bad opportunity or something you might want to do. Many things also depend on the weather. I feel like in the past, maybe I said yes to too many things when maybe I should have taken more time to rest. But, you can get excited and say yes to a lot of things. I wonder if I feel moved. Am I feeling an emotional reaction? And then go with that.
Do you practice Transcendental Meditation?
I do. I did for years. I do a different type of meditation now, it’s kind of like my own mix of that with other types of things that I’ve learned. I feel like meditation is one of the most valuable things a person can do while here on earth. I feel like it’s a really good way for us to see what kind of things are going through our minds but also what’s beyond the mind and how are we all connected from this really beautiful and really simple way, this way of just a pure form of life.
Why so long between albums?
These are just phases of life. I feel like I’ve been through ups and downs with my own mental health and my own physical health. And, for years and years, My Morning Jacket has turned ruthlessly. We just played so many shows and we really never said no to anything. And, I think after a while, it really wore me out. So part of that time I was taking a break, but then when I should have taken a break I was working on solo projects or doing other things. I’m trying, really trying to learn how to rest better, you know? And, listen to my body and listen to my heart. We’ve always loved being a band and we’ve always loved making music, but sometimes the touring cycle and stuff, at least for me, has gotten too brutal in the past. I had to step away from it for a while.
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