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My Morning Jacket

Mock reverberations

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By Gary Graff  
artist

My Morning Jacket has been through quite a bit since frontman Jim James launched the group in 1998 in Louisville, Kentucky. Evoking comparisons to Neil Young and a host of Americana and contemporary rock groups, MMJ has released four albums, most notably 2005's critically acclaimed Z.

But there have been losses along the way, with band members (including James' cousin, Johnny Quaid) dropping out or changing on virtually every album. But even with different patterns, the general shape of James' original cloth remains very much intact.

Q: When did you get a sense that music would be the thing for you?

Jim James: I started playing music in seventh grade with a bunch of friends. It was really the only thing that I felt good at, the only thing I felt I could do. It really gave me a place in life. It felt like something I could offer the world.

Q: Were there any particular influences that helped you find your own musical voice?

James: I think Nirvana really inspired me when I was a kid, that anybody can do anything, that you don't have to be amazingly, technically talented as a guitar or piano player to bring joy to your life and hopefully have people want to listen to your music. I think my goals have changed a lot over the years to what I want this to be, and how far it can go. We've now reached a point where it feels great to me to have people come out and see us play and tell us afterwards how much a record meant to them, or a song meant to them.

Q: How did you develop the kind of sound that would define this band?

James: It's just something that I had in my brain. The first time I discovered reverb was the first time I knew what I wanted to do with my music. At the time I was playing with another group of guys in Louisville. They didn't care for reverb that much, and I didn't care for pop melodies and song structures. I was more into rhythmic, frantic, metal-based songs and stuff. So I gravitated away from them and started four-tracking and doing my own thing, that turned into this band.

Q: Although it would be unfair to say that your music is only about reverb.

James: Oh, for sure. I've always loved singing with tons of reverb, and I love bringing voices together in harmony and making songs that rock, and song that don't rock, making songs that are happy and sad. It's something I don't really think about. I'm happy with the way everything sounds from the first record up 'til now. Everything's made me excited and happy with how it sounds.

Q: How do you feel about the way My Morning Jacket is compared to others?

James: I hate comparisons. It's unfair to artists who spend all their time trying to create something that's their own, and reviewers easily come out and say, "This sounds like Neil Young" or "Flaming Lips." I don't think we sound like Neil Young or the Flaming Lips. One guy wrote about a heavy Bon Jovi influence, and I won't even try to argue about that. It's flattering to be compared to great artists, but at the same time you hope that the next time they just say "I like My Morning Jacket because of this..."

Q: The group was embraced in Europe before it found an audience in the U.S. What impact did that have on you?

James: I'm kind of glad we were popular other places first, before home. "Taking off" is such a weird thing. When you take off and people start to read a lot about you and you start touring a lot of places, it's really exciting and really fun. I was happy for us it happened in Holland first. It was a great introduction to what it was like to do an interview and have people come to your shows. To me, it felt completely unnatural to talk about myself and everything. But I felt like the way it happened, we got some practice before it got too big.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.