The guys in My Morning Jacket are well aware of the substantial role reverb plays in their music. They're also well aware of its reputation. The Kentucky quintet's latest album, last year's trippy It Still Moves, is a veritable feast of amplified echo and reverberating riffs. "It's another member of the band," laughs bassist Two-Tone Tommy. "It's always been there. It's something we've always flirted with. We just feel more comfortable with it. It's like when you sing in the shower -- it always sounds more amazing than if you are in the car singing. It adds another dimension."
Crutch, curse, or gimmick, the reverb's a key defense against the pesky Neo-Southern Rock Band tag that hounds the band. Besides their long, shaggy hair and fondness for protracted guitar solos, My Morning Jacket has very little in common with other millennium purveyors of the Lynyrd Skynyrd sound, like the Drive-By Truckers and Kings of Leon. "Everybody needs something to point a new band or a new sound to," Tommy muses. "These other bands were coming out around the same time, and it's a likely combination to lump us in with [them].
"But we can't help the way that we talk, and we can't help that we're influenced by the place that we live in. But we didn't intentionally set out to make the Allman Brothers 2003."
My Morning Jacket is the vision of singer-songwriter Jim James. He's taken to playing solo acoustic gigs lately and often drags his band into unplugged sessions (one of them has been turned into an MMJ EP, Acoustic Citsuoca, which was just released and is available only in independent record stores and at tour stops). But the rest of the group -- particularly Tommy and drummer Patrick Hallahan, who've been around since 1998, when James brought them together -- are more than mere session men. "Jim brings in the demos," Tommy explains. "Then we all get together and flesh them out. Jim writes them; we embellish them."
Still, it's James -- and his Neil Young-like timbre and stark, rich songs that transcend the usual lines of folk, country, roots, and rock -- who shapes the records. It Still Moves is simultaneously haunting and uplifting. There are levels of aural texture that only a studio obsessive can generate. Equally astounding is the band's complete overhaul of the material onstage, where the sometimes subtle instrumental graces bleed into a blur of fuzzy guitars and muffled sounds.
"It's the way we work," Tommy explains. "We loved hardcore punk and metal bands growing up, so that live energy that we saw onstage when we were kids is something [we seek]. When we play live, it's like being in our bedrooms, in front of a mirror, playing air guitar. The recorded thing is something completely different.
"We need a good balance between them. We need to be on the road or in the studio. We always need to be doing something."
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