There's a good reason why the sweeping compositions on My Morning Jacket's ATO/RCA debut, "It Still Moves," conjure images of wide-open spaces and rolling green hills. Indeed, the quintet spent its fo
There's a good reason why the sweeping compositions on My Morning Jacket's ATO/RCA debut, "It Still Moves," conjure images of wide-open spaces and rolling green hills. Indeed, the quintet spent its formative years in Louisville and has utilized a farmhouse in even more remote Shelbyville, Ky., as its studio and all-around clubhouse.
"Where you're from determines how fast you move, how you respond to things and how you want to get things done," MMJ frontman Jim James admits. "Being from Louisville has made us a lot calmer and a lot more patient, but also, we have to work a lot harder, because not many opportunities in the music business happen here. You have to think outside the norm, but it also has to mean a lot more to you. You have to make it your whole life's mission."
James isn't kidding, attested by the group's single-minded determination to carve out its own niche in the rock universe. At first, Louisville audiences tied to the city's legendary avant-garde rock scene weren't overwhelmingly receptive. So, James says My Morning Jacket "looked for any place to play possible: parties, people's lofts, any club or pizzeria."
On the strength of two indie releases (1999's "The Tennessee Fire" and 2001's "At Dawn") and constant touring, the group built a dedicated following, eventually bringing it to the attention of larger labels. While the material on "It Still Moves" was taking shape, the group opted to ink with ATO, co-founded by Dave Matthews and also home to David Gray, Gov't Mule and Ben Kweller.
James says the group has never even met Matthews and that the decision came down to nothing more than creative freedom. "We told everybody we needed complete control over ever single aspect: the sound, the art, the length of the albums," he reveals. "ATO didn't bat an eyelash or ask any questions."
Labels aside, "It Still Moves" is bound to thrust My Morning Jacket further into the consciousness of the listening public. Although touching on the rootsy honesty of Neil Young and the Band and the most organic elements of Radiohead or Mercury Rev, the album sidesteps trends to deliver 12 tracks of rock that is by turns emotional ("Just One Thing"), whimsical ("Malgeetah"), nostalgic ("Golden") and dizzyingly creative ("Run Thru").
It all starts with James' voice, which he drapes in any number of effects. "I'm a reverb maniac," he confesses. "I can't even sing at home in my closet without reverb." This fixation has caused the band more than its share of grumbling from venue sound engineers. "They tell us it's unprofessional and that it doesn't sound right," James says. "Luckily, we're now able to start bringing our own sound guy and have more control over it."
Playing the songs live over an extended period proved crucial to their evolution, according to James. "That's one of the coolest things about being able to play so much before we made the record," he says. "When you initially write a song, it's one way. After you've played it live for a year, it totally turns into a different beast. It gets stronger and more powerful."
Having already toured with Doves and Foo Fighters and made appearances at such festivals as Bonnaroo, Field Day and Japan's Summer Sonic, My Morning Jacket is in the midst of a North American trek that wraps Oct. 24 in San Francisco. European dates are set through the end of November.
"It was eye-opening to see bigger rock concerts and how they're put on, plus what is required of the opening band," James says. "But it's great to be out there on our own."