My Morning Jacket frontman talks debut solo album, getting fired from a Mel Gibson movie & why Catholic school was hell
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You talked about "sound collages." Can you give me an example of this on the album?
"Of the Mother Again" was one that started as a sample of a Dr. Dog song that they would play live but never released. I really liked it and they hated it, but it had this super cool instrumental breakdown that I wanted to sample and the only recording of the song was a shitty board recording. I took the guitar solo section, sampled that and then started making a sound collage out of different elements of that.
What about "Know Til Now"? Some of it sounds like the space lounge music played at the Cantina in Star Wars.
[Laughs] That one started as just a sound collage. I've been into getting into trances in general and meditating. I'm really into Fela Kuti and James Brown and music that's super repetitive, like the same [riff] for fucking 10 minutes while all this other shit's changing on top of it. That one started with this loop that went on for much longer than is on the record. That's often how things like that'll start; I'll just play that thing for 10 minutes and then solo all over it and then pick out the parts I like and condense it to the best parts. I tried to make the beginning and end of the body of "Know Till Now" a sound collage of different parts floating through space and I just felt like that ending thing came out of nowhere like a big ship or something. I can see the Star Wars analogy.
The album has a cohesive sequence. How do you feel if people shuffle your work on iTunes or Spotify?
I'm open to it all. I think anybody who's a fan of music and knows albums knows that the artist, if they know the artist gives a shit, created the album in a sequence for a reason. I really believe in the art form of an album, but I also love the digital age too, and if you wanted to fucking flip the album around, go for it. But I like to think and hope that if somebody's a fan… Whenever I get an album I'm excited about, I take it home and listen to the whole thing because I love that experience. Like, "Why did they sequence it that way? What are they trying to say?"
What was it about the title "Regions of Light and Sound of God" that struck you?
The title was almost a mantra, like some fucked-up phrase that hypnotized me. It was the weirdest thing because no matter what else I thought about or tried to call it, it was that thing that kept gnawing across my mind that would not shut up.
You mentioned mantras, meditation and trances. Are you into more New Age interests? Is "hippie" a fair word to use?
I think both the words "hippie" and "New Age-y" have negative connotations. People give hippies a bad name because they think they're just sitting around smoking pot all day or New Age-ys are just chasing butterflies and listening to Enya or whatever. A lot of people would see me and be like, "There's a dude with long hair and a beard; he's a fucking hippie." But I don't feel like I'm a hippie. I'm into lots of different stuff, and I'm into New Age shit: reading lots of New Age books, meditating, doing yoga.
Do you consider yourself a fairly spiritual person?
Oh yeah. I'm always searching for what things make sense and I'm always on a quest to obtain a deeper understanding of life and why it is the way it is.
Where do you think your music factors into that? Do you look at music as a vessel to greater personal understanding?
Oh, music deeply factors into it, because music is very spiritual to me and getting lost in music is part of God. I think getting lost, in a good way, is God to me. Like getting lost in love or lost in a good passage of music; that moment when your mind is gone and you're not thinking, "I'll go do this on Monday. I'm doing this on Tuesday." When you're not thinking about that shit anymore and you're making love or you're fucking playing music or you're just listening to a great record or reading a great book, I think that's, at least to me, the essence of God.
How do you think your religious beliefs have changed since childhood? Has the quest always been there or is that something relatively new?
Well, I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic grade school and high school and I now consider myself a recovering Catholic. Catholic school was horrible. I would never recommend it to anybody. There was just tons of guilt and tons of, "Everything's evil and dirty. Every normal human emotion should be repressed. If you're feeling sexual, that's dirty and horrible. If you're angry, you stuff it in. If you're sad, don't show it; you're a pussy." That's obviously not just Catholic, but just everything is repressed. But I wouldn't trade it for the world because I met some of my best friends who I'm still friends with today. We all bonded together because we were all like, "This is fucked up. Help me."
Did you renounce Catholicism wholesale or was it more tuning out the parts of the religion you didn't agree with?
Catholicism obviously has great things in it like the 10 Commandments, but it just has such fucking bullshit; so much guilt and any religion that does not respect the woman equally as the man is fundamentally flawed and fucked up. In high school, you start to realize these things and you're like, "This is fucking stupid." My parents weren't hardcore Catholics, so around that point, they were like, "If you don't want to go, we're not going to force you to go." You could tell they were realizing it was bullshit too. Then they stopped going and naturally as a teenager you want to start exploring, like, "What's this religion? What's that religion? There's not just Catholicism?"
And the majority of religions share the same basic tenets.
Exactly. Why is the world ripped apart by religion and then you find out that so many religions are just fucking corporations started by evil white men who are scared and want to prey on the world and it's just so fucked up. You start questioning everything and I just finally got to the point where I had searched through different religions and taken things that made sense to me and rejected things that didn't.
I feel like there's the concept of God like I was talking about earlier as this force. I've gotten into meditation and trying to get to that point where your consciousness is the same as the universal consciousness of the world. When you put on a great record or you go to a show or you make love or whatever you do when you're zoned out, the "you" that is here now is gone. In transcendental meditation, you sit down to meditate and they give you a mantra. You're supposed to do it twice a day for 20 minutes a time, and I'm hit or miss on that one. I wish I was better.
Why did you decide to practice transcendental meditation in the first place?
I did a benefit for the David Lynch foundation for transcendental meditation in 2009 and they taught me. The whole point of it is you sit down on the cushion and you say this mantra and then eventually your mind starts going like, "Tuesday, I gotta take my dry cleaning and pick up this from the store." The chatter that you have all the time starts rolling in, and when you realize that, you start thinking of the mantra again and you see it disappearing in the space of time between when the mantra ends and when your thought chatter begins again. That's the line of transcendental consciousness where you have the same consciousness as a tree or a deer or a leaf or water or whatever, and to me that's like the parallel of God or being lost in music or lost in love. You're trying to get in touch with the force that is unifying every living thing. It helps in every aspect of life.
Back to more physical pursuits, what's the status of the next My Morning Jacket album?
Now that the solo record's released, I'm getting into the next Jacket record and getting excited about that. We're probably going to start recording in the summer. I'm thinking about [the sound] right now and getting super stoked about it and recording tons of voice memos. I don't know to what extent it's going to go, though. It always goes this way where I have these ideas and grand schemes and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. So I'm going to save myself the trouble [and not reveal details], because it may or may not work.
Since the group has become a marquee band, do you feel freer to do what you want or do you feel that there's more pressure on you to sound or act a certain way?
I feel both honestly, because every time we've put out a record we get both responses. Somebody's like, "I hate these guys. They're fucking hippies, southern rock bullshit," even if it's like a totally electronic funk record. At this point, I feel free as a bird, because I know no matter what, if our next record is completely silent, people are going to call it "southern rock" and call us long-haired hippies. No matter what we fucking do, we're going to get it.
It's your tag for life until you shave your head.
Well I've even done that and it's still… But I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want everyone to be fucking pumped about it and love it or I wouldn't release it. I would just make it for myself and fucking play it in my basement. But I want to make music for people and I like it when they like it, so I want it to be fun. I want every fucking thing I do for people to be like, "That's the shit." Life is a tough, confusing battle, but it's fun and full of joy, so I'm in a cool spot.