When you're My Morning Jacket, catastrophe takes the form of a breakup.
It comes after three achingly beautiful albums and close to a decade of paying your dues, touring at increasingly large venues for growing crowds. It comes while critics are busy drooling about the deeply soulful, reverb-drenched sound of your major-label debut, It Still Moves. The catastrophe arrives when two of your players, Johnny Quaid and Danny Cash, decide they want off the ride for good. The road has been too long, and it's no longer worth it to them or their loved ones.
So you try to soldier on. You head to the studio with a new guitarist and a new keyboardist. Along the way you pick up, for the first time, a producer who's not a band member. In fact, he's the guy who produced the Stone Roses' first album and Radiohead's The Bends and worked on -- for God's sake -- Dark Side of the Moon.
Z arrived in stores late last year as one of the best-rated albums of the year, full of haunting, memorable tunes such as "Knot Come Loose," "Lay Low," and the hopelessly addictive "Wordless Chorus." It's now one year later, and if you're My Morning Jacket, you've weathered the storm and somehow emerged in a much better place: once again wandering that endless road, playing night in, night out for rabid fans, and boasting a sprawling new live disc and DVD, Okonokos.
Scene sat down with bassist Two-Tone Tommy to discuss the band's evolution.
For your first three albums, you recorded in some unusual spots -- grain silos, bathrooms. What was that like?
Yeah, well, a lot of that was really out of necessity. Where the first three records were done was in an apartment above a three-car garage on a farm in Kentucky, basically. And it was either put the drums in the corner of one of the rooms and they'd sound kind of dry and weird, or we could do it in the basement or in the garage, where we'd pull all the cars out. All that stuff -- Jim [James] doing vocals in the bathroom to get that reverb sound, recording in the grain silo -- that was all about doing what we had to do because we had sort of limited options.
Z sounded remarkably different from your past albums. Why?
Well, we really made a conscious effort with this album to put on less songs. Instead of 74 minutes of music on the record, we focused on having every track be something really solid. Jim's range is also unbelievable now, the way he can stretch out and the way his voice has gotten deeper over the years.
You guys worked with producer John Leckie. What was that like?
It was pretty amazing. We were definitely scared at first. We didn't know what was going to happen. Everybody always has this idea in their head of what a producer is going to be -- like he's going to change your sound or tell you how to write the songs and everything. He was just really honest with us, which was great.
You guys played "Free Bird" in Elizabethtown. How'd you hook that up?
We ran into Cameron [Crowe] about three years ago in L.A., and he was talking about how he was making this film that was going to be in Kentucky, and we figured that we'd stop by the set sometime to see what the movie business was all about. Next thing we know, he's in Louisville, and he's talkin' to us about funerals and wakes and what kind of bourbon you'd drink and what things would be like when you lived in Kentucky -- just kind of everyday stuff. And then from there he decided to cast us in the movie, playing a Skynyrd tune.
Do you miss your former bandmates?
Yeah, I miss 'em, but definitely on the last run with those guys, we called it "The Death Tour" because it was just miserable. Sure, I sometimes pine for the old times, but I'm just glad that they've moved on and that they're happy now and that they aren't in that place that they were.
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