Shepherd Express – My Morning Jacket Feature
My Morning Jacket Return, Wiser Than Ever
By Joshua Miller
Jun. 16, 2015
Whenever singer-songwriter Jim James plays in Milwaukee, he feels right at home. That’s not a platitude: It truly feels like his Louisville, Ky., home, and that’s one of the reasons playing Milwaukee usually ends up a tour highlight.
“The energy feels similar to Louisville,” James says. “There’s really a positive, undefined energy, and I feel Milwaukee is very similar to Louisville for the fact that it exists in its own realm. It’s not a small city, but it’s also not a big city like New York or L.A. or Chicago. I feel it has its own identity.”
The band will return to Milwaukee on the heels of releasing their seventh album, The Waterfall, an album that found the band at its most productive in years—so much so that they’re already planning to release a follow-up next year.
The Waterfall is a sonically and lyrically ambitious feat for the band. James says that waterfalls have kept popping up in his life of late and it seemed like a natural metaphor to explain his crazy busy life.
“It just gave me this overwhelming feeling of how beautiful it was and how peaceful it was but how powerful it was and how crazy it was—kind of how helpless you are when you stare at a waterfall and can’t do anything about it but watch,” he says. “I thought about the parallels to life, of when I’m overwhelmed, where you have to step back for a moment and watch, and try to stop the motion of the waterfall and try to stop the hectic pace of your own life and try to take time to find peace within that.”
The band recorded the album in Portland, Ore., where waterfalls were only a short drive away. “There’s a really beautiful drive to four or five waterfalls you can see as you’re driving along,” he says. “I would drive out there all the time and look at those.”
James says the band’s outburst of ideas was in part a product of their time off. With a four-year gap between albums, the band members were free to explore outside projects; James did so with his solo album and the all-star band The New Basement Tapes. He returned from those endeavors with a refreshed perspective.
“I love [Bob Dylan’s] music so much and getting to work with his lyrics and writing new music around those lyrics, it was an incredible experience,” James says. “And being with the rest of the people who did the record and seeing how they worked and what their process was like…it really made that whole process new for me again. I think it’s important to keep injecting new energy into your life in many different ways. And doing something like that definitely injected a new burst of energy and made me see the older relationships I have with the people in this band in a new light again.”
Like many of their past albums, the band looked to capture the sound of playing together in a room. For a few songs, however, James took a page from his solo album and used “the power of the computer world to edit things together in a strange way.”
“We’re always trying to get the best sounds that we can. We’re always trying to switch up our gear and switch up where we go and try to change how we do things so that every record sounds different and hopefully sounds really good to the listener’s ear,” he says. “We love the sounds we’re making when we’re making them but we hope that translates to other people as well. So I feel we do as much as possible for every record to make the experience fresh.”
The band plans to return to the studio after the current tour to work on their next album. James says they had “a lot of ideas that they wanted to try but didn’t get to all of them.” He thinks they have about 70% of the new album done.
“It’s a lot different than this record but I guess we always try to make each record different,” he says of the new material. “Just because they were recorded at the same time doesn’t mean they’re similar and they’re definitely not related. It’ll just be another record. We just happen to get a bunch of songs that we really liked during this time period.”
James believes the band is getting wiser with each album.
“Probably the best thing about growing older is that you have more knowledge and you know more things than you did when you were younger and you can make hopefully wiser choices and more informed choices and be a more fully informed person,” he says.
“I think we’ve grown with this record.”
My Morning Jacket will play the Riverside Theater on Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21. Each show features openers Floating Action and begins at 8 p.m.