My Morning Jacket has been part of the Louisville landscape for nearly 25 years, since 1998. The band broke nationally a few years later and learned a lot about being working musicians, burnout, and finding ways to stay rooted in what made them who they are. Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, talks to LEO about the band, choosing the work he wants to do instead of feeling obligated to do everything, and why he took so long between albums. The band plays Saturday, October 29 at the Yum Center. This is a costume party, so come prepared.
LEO: Tell me the story of My Morning Jacket in the most Louisville way possible.
Jim James: I mean, we’re from here. I was born here. So I guess that’s the most Louisville beginning of the story, right? We started in 1998. It’s wild, you never know what’s going to happen when you start something, but the fact that it’s still going is so wild. I thought about the first time we played in Louisville. It was at Twice Told Coffee House. have you ever been
Yes, a lot.
Music was all that ever mattered to me as a kid. And I really feel that music saved my life. I was just trying to get through life and music was kind of my guide that held me by the hand. And I felt like here in Louisville, I was lucky enough to find friends who shared that love of music.
You’ve discussed the dangers of being in the music business, such as being overwhelmed, exhausted, and also protecting your mental health. So how has COVID changed the way you work, firstly as a working musician and secondly as a creative person?
I mean, I feel like COVID was a gateway to a lot of really good conversations. Lots of really important conversations that 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 be writing 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 this new layer of stress to touring. There’s a new thing that could at any moment come crashing down on your whole touring world.
One thing, as us band members with each other and with our friends who are touring musicians and stuff, we try to just talk about nothing being more important than your health. You know, your physical and mental health. I think we all just need to communicate more and make mental health something that’s a normal topic for people to talk about whether they’re feeling good or bad. It’s so stressful when you have to cancel shows because of COVID. When I had to cancel those shows in Louisville because of COVID, it was so heartbreaking.
You also talked about the dangers of touring after COVID with insurance companies no longer wanting to cover tours. Is this still the case and do you think this is part of the reason ticket prices have gone up as well?
Well, touring right now is really hard. If you think about it, they were all removed during the pandemic. So they all went back there. People don’t have that much 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’s no insurance cost to cover it.
Your show is on October 29th and it’s a costume party. Do you have your suit?
I’m working on some details, but I’m pretty sure I’ve nailed it.
No. This is always one of the best surprises.
damn ok Back to Louisville. Being a city that has a very definite DIY feel and homey feel to its art and music scene, how do you manage to keep that in My Morning Jacket’s music?
I feel like we are just a part of this place and this place is so deep in our spirit and blood. I mean, I think it kind of comes to me in a real subconscious elemental way. In a way that I don’t know if I could even put into words 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 in my heart, blood and spirit. So I feel like that’s something that has shaped me.
And over the years, just all the different, amazing bands and talented people that have come out of Louisville that have shaped what we do.
This place has just such a wild spirit. It’s such a unique place and it’s a place that much of the world doesn’t know that well. There is something mysterious about it too. I feel like there’s always been this mysterious, beautiful quality about Louisville that I feel like you can create without any labels or stamps placed on you. It’s not like Louisville is really famous for this or really famous for that, it’s kind of liberating that way. I have always enjoyed this mystery. I feel like people try to categorize it, but you really can’t.
So how do you go from performing with an orchestra to meditation benefits to psychedelic documentaries? How do you choose the projects you participate in?
I’m just trying to really respond to how I feel about what comes up. A lot of it comes from some source… I really don’t know what to call that source. It’s like things flow to us. I think depending on what choices we make, things kind of flow towards us.
Opportunities flow to us. I think the more you are in touch with your heart, the easier it is to judge what is a good opportunity or a bad opportunity or something you might want to do. Many of them also come down to time. I feel like in the past I may have said yes to too many things when maybe I should have taken a little more time off. But you can get excited and say yes to a lot of things. I wonder if he was moved. Do I feel like an emotional reaction? And then get on with it.
Do you practice transcendental meditation?
I do it. I did for years. Now I practice a different kind of meditation, which is kind of my own combination of that with some other kinds of things that I’ve learned. I feel that 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 things are racing around in our mind, but also what’s beyond the mind and how we’re all connected in this really beautiful, really simple way, this way of just pure life form.
Why so much time between albums?
These are just phases of life. I feel like I’ve been up and down with my own mental and physical health. And for years, My Morning Jacket toured pretty relentlessly. We just played so many shows and we really never said no to anything. And I think after a while it really burned me out. So part of that time I was on vacation, but then when I had to take time off, I was working on solo projects or doing other things. I’m trying, I’m really trying to learn how to rest better, you know? And listen to my body and my heart. We’ve always loved being a band and we’ve always loved making music, but sometimes the touring cycle and just the whole thing, at least for me, just got too brutal in the past. I had to get away from him for a while.
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