My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket is a rock group that is impossible to pigeonhole into a genre, for they move easily from one sound to another. The group has drawn from whatever music it likes, creating a unique sound that might be considered alt-country, psych-rock, or just plain weird reverb rock.
Jim James, the group's founder and main singer-songwriter, began playing guitar in high school in Louisville, Kentucky. He was playing with a band called Month of Sundays and became more interested in exploring his own songwriting. Soon James was writing songs that didn't fit that group, and he went out on his own as My Morning Jacket's only member.
James shaped My Morning Jacket into a band in 1998 when his cousin Johnny Quaid was recruited to play with him. The band solidified further that year with the addition of Two-Tone Tommy on bass and J. Glenn on drums. Danny Cash was a late arrival who reportedly taught himself to play keyboards solely to be able to audition for the band. "We just kind of guffawed our way into playing all the time. Every single day! And making records too," James told Pitchfork Media. The group's debut album, The Tennessee Fire, was released by the Darla label in 1999.
Enjoyed Unexpected Success Abroad
My Morning Jacket got its first break not in the United States but in Europe, when the group was championed by a disc jockey in the Netherlands. They were eventually invited to Europe. A documentary about the band was filmed, which, James told Rolling Stone, was "about how weird it was for us to come from Kentucky, where no one gave a sh*t, to Holland, where people cared. It was surreal."
Quaid has said that the group's popularity abroad may have resulted because they are not based in a major city. "Kentucky probably sounds like an exotic place, and it might hold some kind of mystery for them," Quaid speculated in an interview with PopMatters. "The people there are really open-minded and really searching for new, up-and-coming music. They really have their ears to the ground."
Of the band's holiday 2000 EP release My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, James told Pitchfork, "We always wanted to make a Christmas album, even if was kind of fun and goofy. We wanted to make it like an old one. When you see a Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra, or one of Elvis' Christmas albums, it's got a Christmassy picture of them on the cover, looking at you." The EP included cover versions of music by artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Nick Cave.
Like the fictional rock band Spinal Tap, My Morning Jacket has been through a succession of drummers. J. Glenn left the band after the debut and was replaced by K.C. Guetig. Patrick Hallahan began playing with the group prior to their July 2002 tour with the group Guided By Voices; he and James had been childhood friends.
Critics Tried to Pin Down Band's Sound
The 2000 release of the EP Chocolate and Ice and the following year's full-length At Dawn marked the full flowering of the band's experimental tendencies. Reviewers have heard in the band's sound echoes of Neil Young, Brian Wilson, and the Flaming Lips, and they have attached various genre labels to the group. They agree, however, in commenting on the band's use of reverb. Like guitar legend Duane Eddy, the group has recorded in a grain silo to get the best reverb sound possible. "Jim actually has a chemical imbalance where he cannot survive without reverb," quipped Quaid in an October 2003 interview with PopMatters. "It's like oxygen to him."
The band has cited a variety of musical and cultural influences that inform their musi, some of them visible in their live shows. "We all grew up listening to Zeppelin, the Stones, and AC/DC, and we all air-guitared to all of those things in our rooms with the lights out, jumping off our beds and everything," Quaid said in an interview with PopMatters. "We just try to re-create that every night. You close your eyes, and you're 13 years old again, jumping off your bed to a Led Zeppelin song."
James has listed Etta James, Nina Simone, The Band, The Muppets, Roy Orbison, and Led Zeppelin as musical influences, and My Morning Jacket acknowledges its influences openly by performing a range of covers in its live performances. As a result, they often perform songs as diverse as "Hot Legs" by Rod Stewart and Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." The list also includes songs by Erykah Badu, Berlin, Elton John, and Black Sabbath. "I think covers are a good way to connect with people who are unfamiliar with you, and a good way to have fun all around," James told Pitchfork.
For the Record . . .
Members include Carl Broemel (joined group, 2004), guitar; Danny Cash (left group, 2004), keyboards; J. Glenn (left group, 1999), drums; K.C. Guetig (group member, 1999-2002), drums; Patrick Hallahan (joined group, 2002), drums; Jim James vocals, songwriter; Bo Koster (joined group, 2004), keyboards; Johnny Quaid (left group, 2004), guitar; Two-Tone Tommy , bass.
Formed in Louisville, KY, by Jim James and Johnny Quaid, 1998; added players, 1998; released The Tennessee Fire, 1999; invited to Europe and became subject of documentary; released EP My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, 2000; At Dawn released, 2001; Chocolate & Ice EP released, 2002; toured with Guided By Voices, 2002; began to emerge as critical favorite in the United States, 2002-03; toured with Foo Fighters, 2003; released It Still Moves, 2003; guitarist Carl Broemel replaced Quaid and keyboardist Bo Koster replaced Danny Cash, 2004.
"Good music means a lot to me," James told VH1.com. "I love good rap music if it's good rap music, I love good dance music if it's good dance music, I love good R&B music if it's good R&B music. There's tons of sh*tty classic rock, but there is also lots of great classic rock. There's tons of sh*t in all kinds of music. I'm a real bastard when it comes to music and I hate most music." Bands James considered overrated included Grand Funk Railroad, Foreigner, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Emerged from Obscurity
With continuing support in Europe, My Morning Jacket emerged in the United States from the regional bar and house party circuit in 2002. Their new success was partly the result of critical praise by reviewers from publications including New Musical Express, Blender, and San Francisco Weekly. Music writers continued to struggle to classify My Morning Jacket. The band has been labeled alt-country, but James rejected that idea. "The only label for us is rock and roll. That encompasses everything," he told Pitchfork Media. "I guess our mission is just to bring some mystery and some fun back to rock and roll. It seems like there is no mystery or fun nowadays. It's all so serious. I just don't feel any real emotion from some of the more widely accepted artists these days."
At Dawn was a favorite of Dave Grohl, by 2003 a member of the band the Foo Fighters. Grohl asked My Morning Jacket to open for the Foo Fighters during a 2003 tour. That same year, the band released its much-praised full-length recording It Still Moves. "If alt-country heroes devided to go to space, this is what it would sound like," wrote an Esquire reviewer of It Still Moves. "From the album opening 'Mahgeeta,' the band travels a beautifully winding and spooky road."
"[N]othing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length," contended John Schacht in Paste. "But more My Morning Jacket won't necessarily win more converts. The main characteristic of My Morning Jacket songs … is that there are often no main characteristics…. That's both the group's appeal and its Achilles' heel, depending on your inclinations."
The band was continuing to tour in support of It Still Moves when, in early 2004, two members abruptly announced they were leaving the band. Billboard magazine reported in a January of 2004 article that Quaid and Cash had quit. The band filled their spots for the continuing tour with Carl Broemel and Bo Koster.
Both men who left My Morning Jacket said they were tired of touring and wanted to be at home. "As much as I love the band and the music we make, it's just not worth sacrificing my home life," Cash said in a statement on the band's website. "So now, everybody wins: the band gets a touring keyboard player/driver/roadie who loves his job and I get to be home in Louisville and spend time with my family and friends and start my own business."
"Please know that Danny and John are still part of My Morning Jacket's fabric and friendship and where they will be missed dearly, we couldn't be happier for them to take their lives in a direction they're most comfortable with," the website statement continued. The band also publicly stated that the new musicians appear to be a good fit for the group.
The Tennessee Fire, Darla, 1999.
My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style, Darla, 2000.
At Dawn, Darla, 2001.
Chocolate and Ice, Badman, 2002.
My Morning Jacket/Songs: Ohia (split CD), Jade Tree, 2002.
It Still Moves, ATO, 2003.
Esquire, September 2003, p. 114.
Paste, October 2003.
Rolling Stone, October 2, 2003, p. 44.
"Explain Yourself!: Jim James of My Morning Jacket," Pitchfork, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/watw/03-04/my-morning-jacket.shtml (November 26, 2003).
"Featured Release: My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves, " RCA Records, http://www.rcarecords.com/featuredrelease_mmj.html (October 31, 2003).
"An Interview with Jim James of My Morning Jacket," Louisville Eccentric Observer, http://www.leoweekly.com/archives/071603/music-interview-jim.shtml (November 26, 2003).
"Kentucky Mystique," PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/interviews/my-morning-jacket-031013.shtml (February 13, 2004).
"My Morning Jacket," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 5, 2003).
"My Morning Jacket: Southern Men & Bear Necessities," VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/interview/1479666/100903/my_morning_jacket.jhtml (October 31, 2003).
"My Morning Jacket," Pitchfork, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/interviews/m/my-morning-jacket-02/ (November 26, 2003).
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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