My Morning Jacket have been hailed as one of the best bands in the world by outlets like Rolling Stone and Relix. They've amassed legions of fans with their music festival domination and jammed out psychedelic southern rock.
Their newest album, The Waterfall, has amassed critical praise as a dark departure from the band’s normal sounds—although this is a categorization singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim James takes umbrage with. He talked more about it in our conversation below.
But first, this track, “Compound Fracture,” was recorded live at a performance for legendary radio station KCRW, a rollicking track that’s more indie rock than it is spacey jam.
We caught up with James to discuss the song, the new album, thinking for yourself, and the frustrating hypocrisy and “basicness” of the music media.
The Waterfall has been called a “dark album.” Why do you think that is? Was it your intention?
I don’t think that’s true. I don’t look at it as a dark album. You know, people’s perceptions of things are so different that it’s hard. I don’t think anything is right or wrong. I think there’s some dark in it, but I don’t look at it as a “dark album.” For me it’s about balance. Having gone through dark stuff and made it, or trying to be reborn from dark stuff. Changing, you know? Trying to make changes that are hopefully positive. But yeah, I don’t really look at it that way.
When you wrote the album, were you working through a dark time?
Not necessarily. I think life is a lot more complex than we label it. There’s times in your life when everything’s insane. It’s pretty much always insane, you know? I feel everything all the time. On a given day, even if you’re sad, you might have a few laughs. For me making music is like making time capsules, I feel like you’re constantly taking these things from your life and writing them down and putting them in a time capsule and burying it in the ground, you know? Then walking away from it and starting in on the next time capsule. I don’t think I’ve ever set out to write a breakup record or a non-breakup record or a party record or whatever, those are just general terms. Life is more complex than that.
Why do you think so many music critics compartmentalize stuff like that? Is it just easier and safer for them to quickly classify something and sell the idea than to actually listen and think about and try to interpret an album?
Yeah. Obviously there’s many different critics, and there’s great music critics, and there’s bad music critics, and average music critics, and everything in between. There are time when it’s tempting to try to get into some kind of metaphysical combat with somebody that you feel has done you wrong with their review or opinion, but you can’t really go down that road. Because then you’re giving them too much power. Who knows how they were feeling when they listened to the record? Maybe they were feeling dark, or maybe they were feeling happy. That’s one of the most beautiful things about music, is that perception is limitless, so subjective, everything is wide open. So I try not to… It’s so hard, when you hear all these things about your music, to not let it get into your head and fuck with you, positively or negatively.
Do you ever think about that, those exterior opinions, as you’re writing? Does the public perception of a song or album ever change the meaning to you?
I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt or it didn’t feel good. But for me, even within an album, it’s so song-by-song based. The song portrays how I’m feeling at the time. I try to include humor in some of the music, and I think people have a really hard time with that because it’s not the coolest thing in the world. There’s some kind of cool contest, and everybody is trying to win. I was made fun of for being a nerd in school, so I guess I don’t understand that whole cool process, no matter how hard I try, and in some ways that’s really liberating. It’s just weird, because people jump on the damn bandwagon. Like, people love to hate our Evil Urges record, because we tried a few things on that. And I’m really proud of that record. I really like it. It’s such a fucking mind trip.
The song we're premiering is “Compound Fracture.” What was in your mind or what was behind that song?
I was thinking about life and trying to be a good person and thinking for yourself. The point of it is that there is no evil and there is no good, and how religion can get you into a cloud and somebody can tell you they think something is evil that you clearly don’t think is wrong. I think about it as a warning, or a wakeup call for somebody to think for themselves. It’s tied in with another song, “Believe,” where I say “Believe what you want to believe, because nobody can prove anything anyway.” I grew up in the Catholic Church, and homosexuality is not looked upon in a good light, which I think is so, so wrong and so hypocritical, because they’re saying “Love your brother. Oh, but don’t love this brother.” When you’re coming in to your own or you’re a teenager and trying to decide what’s right and wrong, we all need encouragement to look in our hearts and just feel what we feel. Love is love, and as long as people are loving each other they should be able to love whoever they want. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
So basically, the takeaway is, “Don’t get caught up in the bullshit.”
Yeah, it’s so easy to get caught up in the propaganda. Just like we were talking about with the critics and the press and reviews, it’s so easy for somebody to read a review of a record and if somebody trashes it be like, “Oh, I hate this record, too!” And it’s like, “You didn’t even listen to the fucking record.”