My Morning Jacket - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
In the wee hours of the morning Jim James was sifting through the charred rubble of what was his favorite bar when he stumbled across the blackened remains of a jacket with the letters “MMJ” written across the back. The young songwriter had been searching in vain for a band name for quite some time but the site of that jacket in the pre-dawn hours ignited his imagination. Putting two and two together My Morning Jacket was born. Since that fateful morning in the mid-90’s, My Morning Jacket has successfully bridged the gap between southern boogie, traditional country, and heavenly reverbed space rock to become one of the premiere American indie rock bands of the millennium. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky and led by singer/songwriter Jim James the group has become notorious for their infectious spacey southern tinged rock. Although their albums are critically lauded the band’s prolific live shows have earned a massive devout following, with MMJ fanatics following the band from concert to concert throughout the world.
My Morning Jacket formed in Louisville in 1998 as a vehicle for Jim James reverb heavy indie folk songs. Choosing an intense band experience over a solo career, James invited drummer J. Glenn and guitarist Johnny Quaid to join the ranks, although James remained the principal songwriter. After touring throughout the south the band released their debut full length, The Tennessee Fire (Darla) in 1999 to huge critical praise that created overnight buzz. Based on simplistic languid melodies and James high pitched vocals processed through layers of reverb the album sounds like southern folk songs performed in a gigantic cavern, adding a slice of psychedelic surrealism to James southern story songs. The Tennessee Fire quickly became an unlikely hit in the Netherlands, and it wasn’t long before the band was formerly invited to participate in a My Morning Jacket touring documentary for Dutch television. During this time the band took on two additional members in keyboardist Danny Cash and bassist “Two-Tone” Tommy, quickly honing a powerful live show based on prolonged jam sessions. Glenn left the group before recording a follow up album and was replaced by KC Guetig, who was also quickly replaced with James’ childhood friend Patrick Hallahan. The haunting acoustic melodies of At Dawn (2001-Darla) followed the same blueprint of The Tennessee Fire although with tighter songs and additional instrumentation provided by a rounded line up. At Dawn was not only another critical success but a moderate commercial one that catapulted the band into the upper echelons of the indie rock scene. Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl even named At Dawn his favorite album of the year and took My Morning Jacket out on a highly publicized tour with his group The Foo Fighters.
When not on tour the group was cutting EP’s in rapid succession releasing the split EP, My Morning Jacket/Songs:Ohia (Jade Tree) that spring followed just a few weeks later by Chocolate and Ice (Badman). During this time My Morning Jacket began receiving a large amount of press coverage over the sheer quantity of material they were releasing (two albums worth in under a year). Although Chocolate and Ice is technically an EP it clocks in at over 40 minutes and presents MMJ’s first recorded jam session with the funk and drone track “Cobra” clocking in at 24 minutes. At the conclusion of their numerous tours the band retreated to the barn they converted into a studio outside Louisville to begin recording their third full length album. Not only did It Still Moves (2003-ATO) represent a shift in musical direction for the band, it was also their first release for the major label subsidiary ATO records. Compared to the mostly acoustic alt-country folk tracks of their previous two releases, It Still Moves is the work a full fledged rock band. Featuring a hard driving rhythm section, some extended jams, and James signature reverb heavy vocals the album rocks like a mid-70’s Neil Young by way of Pet Sounds production values, and features the classic MMJ tracks “Run Thru” and “Mahgeetah”. Although the band was hoping a more radio friendly rock album combined with some major label push from ATO would break the mainstream, It Still Moves was that album. Undaunted, the group hit the road once again for another year long worldwide tour. The rigors of touring would prove too much for Cash and Quaid however, and at the conclusion of their touring obligations the guitarist and keyboardist amicably left the group.
Down two key members, Jim James and company found themselves at a crossroads in early 2004. After considering disbandment, the three remaining members decided to hold auditions to see if the band could find suitable replacements. The first two candidates, guitarist Karl Broemel and keyboardist Bo Koster, fit the bill perfectly and MMJ began working with renowned British producer John Leckie on their fourth full length. During this time the band also released two compilation albums of demo’s and outtakes, Chapter One The Sandworm Cometh: Early Recordings (2004-Darla) and Chapter Two: Learning (2004-Darla) respectively. The reigned in song structures and radio friendly production sheen of Z (2005-ATO) gave MMJ the breakthrough hit they had been pining for, with the reggae flavored single “Off The Record” and the epic rocker “Gideon” receiving massive radio play throughout the U.S. and Europe. During the summer of 2005 the band was nearly inescapable with a world tour, a rousing performance at the 2005 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and a whopping three and a half hour set at the Bonnaroo Festival featuring musical guest Andrew Bird, and later streamed for free on the Internet in its entirety.
By the dawn of 2006, My Morning Jacket shows had become major events attracting thousands of fans worldwide, so it’s no coincidence that the band released their first live album that same year. The double CD set Okonokos (2006-ATO) was recorded at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium during the Z tour and mostly features material from It Still Moves and Z, and captures the band in their natural habitat: on stage in front of thousands of rabid fans. Aside from touring commitments, 2007 was a relatively quiet year as MMJ concentrated on recording their fifth full length album. Evil Urges (ATO) is slated for a summer 2008 release with the band making scheduled stops at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and before making their fifth appearance at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. On June 20th of 2008, My Morning Jacket will perform at Radio City Music Hall for a special event to celebrate the release of Evil Urges.