My Morning Jacket: Third Time’s a Charm

My Morning Jacket: Third Time’s a Charm

Imagine: a group of five normal Kentuckians make soaring country/folk/rock, record in a silo, get famous, sign to a major, lose longtime keyboardist and guitarist, hire new guys who can play a catalog 50 songs deep and embark on a tour within two weeks, release a record of bizarre pop songs that largely eschews categorization, get called the American Radiohead by most of the mainstream press, play with Dave Matthews Band at the Vote for Change tour, star in a Cameron Crowe film, appear with the Boston Pops, and release a film of their own that is part concert and part forestland fantasy. All in the course of two years. And on top of all that, they’re probably the nicest rock stars you’ll ever meet. The group is perpetually being hailed as the greatest live band on the road, their sets becoming legendary not only for the Neil Young-in-double-time freakouts but also singer Jim James’ wine-drizzled acoustic numbers.
ANTIGRAVITY called up Patrick Hallahan – he of the strong right foot and impeccable memory for peons like yours truly — and chatted about memories, the Who, and the driving force behind the band’s growing sound (it’s evolution, baby!)

AG: Actually, this is kind of funny.  When I was like 19, my girlfriend and I used to travel all over to see you guys and we always made it a point to talk to you.  We saw you in like, Atlanta, Nashville, Houston.  Everywhere but Louisiana.  I dunno, I don’t know if you remember…
PH: Sure.  Were you there for the first show with Carl and Bo, at [Birmingham venue] WorkPlay?
MG: Yeah.
PH: Yeah, I remember you.  That’s awesome, man.  You’re a journalist now?
MG: Yeah.
PH: Fantastic.
MG: How have things been going for you guys?
PH: I have absolutely no complaints. I wanna thank whoever it is that’s made this happen.
MG: How much have your live shows changed in the last year or so, since the new record [2005’s opus Z] came out?
PH: You know, they haven’t really changed any more than they normally change. We’re always in a state of evolution, so I don’t think that it’s that dramatic of a change. I think we’re getting tighter as a band.
AG: Do you think that the shift in your sound has been a result of adding the new guys or is it Jim’s natural evolution as a writer?
PH: You know, that whole period was so incredible, and I’ve been so close to the source that I don’t know if it’s been that dramatic of a change. I just know that they [the new guys] were at once a part of the family.
AG: So they gelled well with you guys.
PH: Absolutely. I mean, you saw the first performance with them and that was literally two weeks after we picked them. So, if you can remember back to that day and remember that show, it was almost scary how easily they fell into their spots.
AG: That’s interesting because I remember after that show some guy was yelling “This ain’t My Morning Jacket! My Morning Jacket is [then-recently departed members] Danny Cash and Johnny Quaid!”
PH: (laughs)
AG: Have you guys experienced much backlash like that?
PH: You know it’s funny, but not that much. If there was anything like that at all, it was when they first joined the band and there wasn’t much of it at all. Nobody could really tell that they were new. It’s really funny, and this was in no way our intention, but Carl and Bo kinda look like Danny and Johnny. (laughs) So I’ve gotta be honest with you; I don’t think most people noticed the difference until a little bit later on, that they had joined the band.
AG: The only thing that threw me off was that I knew Johnny played and SG and I noticed Carl playing a Les Paul.
PH: Well, not everybody’s a gearhead, so we were able to sneak that by them.
(laughs).
AG: Well, it seems like you guys have kind of become the house band at Bonnaroo. I’m not sure if anyone has played there as many times as y’all have. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen videos of you playing [the Who’s seven minute operetta] “A Quick One While He’s Away” from this year. Y’all look like you’re having more fun on the road and on stage than anybody.
PH: I promise you we were having more fun than the crowd, especially playing that song. That was wonderful. We’d talked about playing that about a year ago, and I think we tried it without practicing or anything, but it didn’t work out. But to get to play that song, try to get it down, try to bring it as close as you can to what the Who did…it was just so much fun. Man, that was such a great night. But you know, all of our shows are like that now. We’re really enjoying where we are.
AG: A friend and I were watching that video yesterday – he’s a drummer – and he goes, “Man, you should ask Patrick how much he likes Keith Moon, because he’s totally pulling it off.”
PH: (laughs) I don’t think I’m pulling it off!
AG: Well, that’s a pretty high standard to hold yourself to.
PH: Well, tell him thank you. That’s a hell of an aspiration. See, I don’t think you can play the drums like he did without substances. I guess that’s the one thing I could do, start a cocaine habit and drink more (laughs). I don’t know, I don’t know how he did that.
AG: So is he one of your big drumming inspirations?
PH: Absolutely. Especially his reckless abandon. I think part of my drum theory definitely has that reckless abandon.
AG: One of the only real knocks on you guys is that your live shows are so incredible that they can’t be captured in the studio. Is that why you’re releasing Okonokos?
PH: We’re releasing Okonokos because we’ve always talked about trying to capture a live performance ourselves and releasing it as a proper album, not like a bootleg or some soundboard recording. I mean, you can’t forget the fact that studio albums and live albums have a different air about them. You don’t want to go to a live performance and hear something that sounds just like the record. We’ve been talking about this for a while. I don’t think we were trying to capture something that we missed in the studio, I just think that we wanted to archive our live show so that we could always have it.
AG: Yeah, tell me a little bit about the video. From the trailer, it looks like it’s much more than a concert film.
PH: Well, we didn’t want to release just a concert. I mean, that would be okay, but we wanted to do something that stood out, so Jim came up with this story off of the top of his head and we went from there, you know? We just want to capture ourselves at this point in our careers so that when we’re old we can sit back and remind ourselves that we were viable once (laughs).
AG: How was working with Cameron Crowe on Elizabethtown?
PH: Oh, it was fun. It was a very positive, cool experience getting to learn how the movie world works. He definitely let us get involved with it. It was a process that we’d never been around before.
AG: Yeah, it was strange to see you standing behind a keyboard.
PH: Yeah, I was living vicariously through film. One of my only regrets in life was not taking piano lessons when my dad wanted me to. So I just play one in the film.
AG: Why do you think that your band transcends so many different types of people? You almost have this universal appeal among hippies, hipsters, country music fans…
PH: We aren’t really trying to please any specific type of people. We never wanted to be the cool kids in high school. We were always in this weird middle ground where we kinda flowed in and out of all these little groups so we’ve never really wanted to be categorized as one thing, and that carried over into the band. It’s just who we are. It’s just our mindset and it definitely benefits us while making it very hard for you journalists to pigeonhole us. Sorry about that.
AG: Did playing with the Boston Pops open you guys up to any old, blueblood type people?
PH: Yes! How great is that? Old ladies were writing us from Boston: “Hey, we love you. We bought the live album!”
AG: That’s awesome.
PH: 80 year old ladies.
AG: How was the tour with Pearl Jam in Europe? You guys had early success over there in Holland, right?
PH: Yeah, and the cool thing about touring with Pearl Jam was that we got to go places that we’d never been before. They’re great. We’d just finished a US tour with them, which was awesome. It was scary, because their fans are notorious music fanatics. They’re a hard act to open for. But we didn’t get that many “boos.” I mean, no one was trying to tear our shirts off as we walked off the stage but they weren’t throwing rotten produce, either. They’re a great live band.
AG: I think it’s interesting that you guys have chosen to forge your own path. You could have made a very comfortable living staying on that whole country-rock/jam band circuit for the next twenty years, but you took a risk and it seems to have paid off.
PH: Well, we had no choice in the matter. We just follow what our brains tell us.
AG: So this is your third attempt to play New Orleans in as many years, all of them scheduled during hurricane season.
PH: This time we’re coming.
AG: Were you in the band yet the last time y’all came here?
PH: Yeah. We played with Guided by Voices. It was my first tour with the band, in 2002. Four years ago. That was the last time we played there. I think Hurricane Ivan was the first cancelled appearance, right? And then Katrina?
AG: Yeah, which was a much more honest threat. Well, I wish you the best of luck.
PH: Likewise. Good luck with your journalism career.
AG: Thanks. See you in a month.
PH: Alright, thanks buddy.

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