Philadelphia Citypaper (2001)

On June 14th 2001 Philadelphia Citypaper published an interview with Jim James, done by Brian Howard. The original interview can be found here.

Keywords: Reverb, The sound, At Dawn

Dim the lights and throw At Dawn— the second album from Louisville, KY’s My Morning Jacket — on the stereo, and you’ll swear crooner Jim James and his bristly country/rock band are hunkered down in the room with you. Singer and guitarist James’ voice is gorgeously haunting, and the band’s endearingly lo-fi recordings engulf you in a way that makes the glitches and creaks sound so worthwhile.

"I love to sing in a world I’m comfortable in," explains the 22-year-old James via e-mail of his big honey-and-fire tenor. "I love big open rooms and lots and lots of reverb…. Reverb makes me feel like Roy Orbison, and when I feel like Roy Orbison I feel happy, though I know I’ll never even come close to him."

James, whose music feels like "Crying" on a rainy day, is closer than he gives himself credit for. His voice, like Orbison’s, echoes through empty halls and tired synapses. Each track on At Dawn (released on the independent Darla label) is a bald-faced, lovelorn lament of one kind or another, from the tenderly morbid "Death Is the Easy Way" to the dour holiday downer "Xmas Curtain" (which appeared previously on the band’s Christmas EP, My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style). The band is often compared (by some indie music types who couldn’t tell Hank Williams from his son) to current country posers like Will Oldham and Smog. "Personally, I don’t think the music we make sounds anything like these guys," says James. "I guess people are just desperate to compare."

For comparison’s sake, Neil Young and Orbison are better starting points and, as James puts it, "I guess we sound more like Galaxie 500 than Eminem."

Like the erstwhile Galaxie 500 (and their offshoot Damon & Naomi), My Morning Jacket wears a pervasive ambience born of an appreciation for a slowly strummed guitar paired with uncommon vocals. It’s a quality that allows the band to fit in quite nicely on the roster of Darla records, a Sacramento-based independent label which specializes in electronic and indie rock bands which share a certain sense of subtle sonic wonder.

"I love big, huge open sounds, such as vocals cut far away from the mic in a big room (i.e. Exile on Main Street ), and also huge drum sounds (i.e. Led Zeppelin)," explains James. "I just love atmosphere. I love hearing the rooms where the songs were recorded, chairs creaking, crickets and the like."

The band’s sound is, for lack of a better word, natural. "It feels like love and rhymes with childbirth," offers James, cryptically but lucidly, of his music. "I think Darla’s music is all based loosely around the same beautiful feelings of pleasure and color. There is a black vibe that runs through it all, but it is also so very colorful."

For the recording of At Dawn— a dark-purple, Sunday-morning hangover album if ever there were — James explains, "we locked ourselves in for many days with all the necessary elements (lights, candles, Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, Dreamcast and cookies) and we just started cooking."
The band is rounded out by James’ cousin Johnny Quaid on guitar, Two-Tone Tommy on bass, Danny Cash on keyboards and newcomer kc guetig on drums. My Morning Jacket began as a solo outlet for songs that didn’t fit with James’ old band Month of Sundays and evolved into the five-piece it is today. If you’re quick to purchase At Dawn, you’ll get a limited-edition bonus disc of spare demos James recorded in his bedroom.

The band’s aim, like their recording process, remains fairly simple. James has tired of Louisville’s reputation as a math-rock mecca (seminal post-rockers Slint hail from the city). "There was that time in the early ’90s when Slint sound-alike bands and hardcore were all the rage, but that is worlds away…. I get tired of hearing about the same old bands from ’90-’94. We’re just trying to bring rock ’n’ roll back to the table, plain and simple…. I’m not talking about coolie Mogwai rock and roll or trashy Jon Spencer/Nashville Pussy rock ’n’ roll, either. I’m talking about pure rock ’n’ roll with a heart that beats for the common man, I’m talking The Band and Led Zeppelin, not Smog and Will Oldham."