Jim James, My Morning Jacket Frontman

On August 20, 2008, by AMI Staff

If you are not a fan of Louisville-based band My Morning Jacket, you probably should be. If not because MMJ has an eclectic, diverse sound – then maybe it’s simply because lead singer Jim James, a freshly minted Mustached American after struggling with beard weevils for years, is clearly AMI’s type of guy.

James is funny, self-effacing (for the Mustached American, this means “modest”), clearly good looking, and he loves both the late James Brown and Neil Diamond.

But James and MMJ, which you can listen to here on NPR, are more. Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone called them, “The five hairy dudes known as My Morning Jacket.” High praise indeed. Rolling Stone also wrote that MMJ’s album Z, was a, “sprawling, ambitious new album … one of the year’s (2005) best rock albums.”

And while we have no idea what “sprawling” means in music terms, the rest of it seems to mean the band is good. Real good. Mustached American good. Even Herve Villechaize good.

Regardless, James took a few moments out of his busy schedule touring and serving as a stunt double for Mr. T’s new reality show to speak with AMI recently.

Q: Jim, thank you for speaking with the American Mustache Institute. So lately you’ve shaved the beard and gone with the solo mustache – which means you are more brave and strong then ever before. How does it feel to be as powerful as Burt Reynolds, Billy Dee Williams, and those of us at AMI?

A: I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A FAN OF THE WISDOM AND POWER OF THE MUSTACHE. MY DEAR OLD DAD WAS BORN WITH A MUSTACHE, AND WILL ALWAYS ROCK THE STACHE TILL HIS DYING DAY. SO HE WAS A BIG INSPIRATION FOR ME.

HAVING ONLY A MUSTACHE IS A FEELING UNLIKE ANY OTHER. A FEELING OF DEEP PRIDE AND SOPHISTICATION. WHEN I WENT FOR THE ‘STACHE-ONLY WAY OF LIFE, I WAS TRYING TO CONJURE UP SOME OF THE POWER OF JAMES BROWN’S ‘STACHE PERIOD – WHICH I FELT. HAVE YOU SEEN HIS PERFORMANCE OF “THE BIG PAYBACK” ON THE MIDNITE SPECIAL FROM 1974? HOLY SHIT! AT THE SAME TIME, I ALSO WANTED TO FEEL LIKE A TOP RATE T-BALL COACH.

ANYWAYS, I GUESS I DIFFER JUST A LITTLE BIT FROM YOUR STRICT “MUSTACHE ONLY” POLICY IN THAT, WHILE I BELIEVE THAT “MUSTACHE ONLY” IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL LOOKS ONE CAN POSSES, I AM EQUALLY A FAN OF THE MUSTACHE WITH A FULL BEARD. I FEEL EVERY MAN LOOKS BEST WITH HIS GOD-GIVEN FACIAL HAIR, AS LONG AS IT’S NOT A BEARD WITH NO MUSTACHE. THE ‘STACHE MUST BE PRESENT AT ALL TIMES.

Q: We in the faculty and administration at AMI tend to refer to beards and goatees as “spousal compromises,” as chin coverage represents weakness as opposed to the more manly, powerful mustache. But it seems like three of your bandmates haven’t gotten the message yet. Are you considering having them replaced as a result?my-morning-jacket_photos.gibson.amphitheatre

A: THERE HAVE BEEN FINES AND PENALTIES, YES. AND ACTUALLY, CARL HAS ONE OF THE MEANEST ‘STACHES I’VE EVER SEEN. CHECK OUT OUR NEW RECORD TO SEE HIS STACHE! BUT AS I SAID, AS I AM DOWN WITH YOUR PHILOSOPHIES, MY POLICY DIFFERS IN THAT I DON’T SEE THE BEARD AS HURTING THE MUSTACHE – ONLY A DIFFERENT SHADE FROM GOD’S HAIRY TOOL PALLETTE.

Q: So we assume you have a favorite guitar, but have you ever showered with it and will you be placing a mustache on it anytime soon?

A: I BABY ALL MY GUITARS. SHOWERING WITH THEM IS A NORMALLY DAILY ACTIVITY, AS IS SHOWERING THEM WITH GIFTS AND AFFECTION. I TRY ALSO TO ADHERE TO CAPTAIN BEEFHEART’S 10 COMMANDMENTS OF GUITAR PLAYING.

Q: In 2005, Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone called you, “The five hairy dudes known as My Morning Jacket.” Besides the fact that you had a beard at the time, that must bring you much pride, yes?

A: MY HEART SWELLS WITH PRIDE EVEN AS I READ YOU REPEATING IT.

Q: On to more important things like frogs, midgets and your music. You must get sick of the whole “Southern-fried” moniker that it seems many music writers place on you – especially when, if you spend about a second listening to your stuff, it’s pretty diverse. Once you cut through all of the B.S., how do you want people to think of MMJ stylistically?

A: I DON’T REALLY CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF ABOUT OUR MUSIC. THE THING I REALLY WANT THEM TO REMEMBER IS THAT WE WERE HAIRY. THAT’S WHY WE STARTED THIS GANGSTA’ SHIT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Q: You got a lot of publicity for your last album Z. Rolling Stone called it a, “sprawling, ambitious new album … one of the year’s (2005) best rock albums.” Now that you have a new album out – Evil Urges – does it change the way you look at and appreciate Z?

A: IT IS FUNNY. EVERY TIME YOU MAKE A NEW RECORD, AND YOU GO OUT AND PLAY IT ON THE ROAD, IT SEEMS PEOPLE ARE JUST FINALLY GETTING USED TO THE RECORD BEFORE IT. SO NOW THAT WE ARE OUT PLAYING EVIL URGES SONGS, IT TAKES PEOPLE A LITTLE WHILE TO GET USED TO THEM BECAUSE THEY HAVEN’T HEARD THEM AS MUCH. BUT I CAN FEEL THE APPRECIATION FOR THE Z SONGS COME FROM THE CROWD NOW MORE INSTANTLY, WHICH IS COOL.

Q: John Leckie produced Z as well as Radiohead’s The Bends. Two questions: Did he ever smack you in the butt and say, “Good job Tiger!” And what was it like working with him and how did it differ from prior experiences?

A: I THINK IT WOULD BE HARD TO SMACK SOMEONE INSIDE OF THEIR BUTT, BUT HE NEVER TRIED. JOHN IS AN ANIMAL – A REAL TROOPER AND A REAL PRESENCE. HIS EARS ARE LIQUID CRYSTAL AND HE HAS A VERY GOOD HANDLE ON HOW MUSIC WORKS. HE ENJOYS LIFE. HE IS ALWAYS THE LAST ONE TO GO TO BED. WE JUST SAW HIM LAST NIGHT IN LONDON ACTUALLY. HE IS AN AWESOME FORCE.

Q: We are mustache experts here. Not music experts. But we dig Evil Urges. The thing that struck us about the album in total is that it’s not like listening to a Boston album – each song has unique qualities in and of themselves. Would you agree? And if so, why did you choose to head down this route artistically?

A: I LIKE VARIETY, I THINK IT IS THE SPICE OF LIFE. SO OUR MUSIC HAS ALWAYS COMEOUT THAT WAY – IN VARIOUS FORMS AND SOUNDS. I DON’T EVER WANT US TO BE KNOWN AS ONE “TYPE” OF BAND. WE WELCOME ALL FORM OF MUSIC.

Q: On your current tour, you’ll be in Amsterdam (July 8). Would you mind picking up a large package of, well, let’s just call it “oregano,” for the AMI faculty while there?

A: YES. IT’S IN THE MAIL. HAVE YOU GOTTEN IT YET? MMM….SPICY.

Q: So let’s talk about some other musicians. What bands or performers do you dig who don’t get enough credit for their talent and why?

A: HMM, WOW, SO MANY. THERE’S A GUY NAMED JOHN CALLAHAN FROM PORTLAND, OREGON. HIS ALBUM IS AWESOME. WILL JOHNSON ALWAYS PUTS OUT AMAZING MUSIC WITH ALL HIS DIFFERENT PROJECTS. DR. DOG FROM PHILLY IS ONE OF THE BEST BANDS OUT THERE NOWADAYS.

Q: Your manager tells us you are a big fan of Curtis Mayfield, as are we huge zealots for Curtis. Why do you think he doesn’t get the credit for being the musical genius he was, before his passing a few years back?

A: I THINK WHEN HISTORY LOOKS BACK ON MUSIC AND THE WORLD, CURTIS WILL BE SEEN AS THE MUSICAL EQUIVALENT OF THE BUDDHA. HIS MUSIC WAS SO SOFT AND SWEET AND PEACEFUL, YET ULTIMATELY DYNAMIC AND POWERFUL. SOCIALLY CONCIOUS AND WORLD CHANGING, MIND EXPANDING – BOTH HIS SOLO WORK AND WITH THE IMPRESSIONS.

I THINK PEOPLE JUST JUDGE TOO MUCH. SINCE HE WAS ONLY WIDELY KNOWN FOR THE SUPERFLY SOUNDTRACK I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE WRITE HIM OFF AS “THAT 70′S FUNK DUDE.” WHEN IN REALITY, HIS MUSIC WILL ALWAYS SOUND FRESH AND TIMELESS. RIGHT UP THERE WITH BEETHOVEN AND HANDEL AND ALL THOSE OTHER GUYS.

WHEN I HEAR STEVIE WONDER, I HEAR THE SOUND OF LIFE AND SUNSHINE AND FAMILY LOVE. WHEN I HEAR MARVIN SING I HEAR ROMANCE, BUT ROMANCE WRAPPED IN PAIN. WHEN I HEAR CURTIS, I HEAR WISDOM AND PEACE – PROFOUND THOUGHT. I HOPE I GET TO GIVE CURTIS A HUG SOMEDAY.

Q: And speaking of other musicians, AMI is intent on waging a battle with Dave Navarro. Please tell us you think he’s a chump as well. Please tell us. Please!

A: YOU KNOW WHAT? IF WE WOULD HAVE DONE THIS INTERVIEW A YEAR OR SO AGO, I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE AGREED WITH YOU. BUT I HAVE COME TO FIND THAT IT IS A CONFUSING WORLD OUT THERE, AND EVERYBODY IS JUST TRYING TO MAKE IT WORK. SOME PEOPLE GET LOST AND GO DOWN DARK PATHS. BUT INSIDE THERE IS STILL A SOUL THAT YEARNS FOR LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING. I’M TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM LABELING THINGS GOOD OR BAD. ALL THINGS, WHETHER IT BE A PLANT, OR A ROCK, OR A BEAR, OR DAVE NAVARO, HAVE THE SAME POTENTIAL.

(EDITORIAL NOTE: Dave Navarro sucks.)

Q: Now be honest here. If you could wear Neil Diamond’s underpants for a day, would you? And do you think he sports boxers or briefs? We’re guessing ruby encrusted briefs.

A: WE JUST SAW NEIL DIAMOND PLAY AT THE GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL. WHAT A HAM! I ACTUALLY GOT TO SEE HIM IN THE BUFF AFTER HE PLAYED LATER ON THAT NIGHT, AND YOU WERE CLOSE, BUT ITS ACTUALLY DIAMOND ENCRUSTED BRIEFS, WITH A SIDE OF PISTACHIO ENCRUSTED TILAPIA.

Q: Kermit the Frog – American hero, a delicious dinner, or both?

A: BOTH.

Q: Not sure if you are a sports fan, but how painful to do you find watching soccer?

A: I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR GAMES.

Q: You and drummer Patrick Hallahan have been friends since fourth grade, so you obviously have a lot of history together. Have you guys ever woken up on tour one day and said, “You know what, today’s a pants-free day, just no pants”?

A: YES, EVERY THURSDAY.

Q: AMI puts on the greatest event known to mankind, ‘Stache Bash, in St. Louis each year. Even though your manager has already turned us down – why don’t you override him on this one. As an act of kindness in that you’d be supporting a baseball league for handicapped children (Challenger Baseball), why don’t you come headline the show this year on Oct. 25? We promise to buy you breakfast at Denny’s. The Grand Slam baby! We promise.

A: DOES IT HAVE TO BE ON OCTOBER 25TH? WE LEAVE FOR LONDON THAT DAY! DOH! I WOULD LOVE TO PLAY YOUR ‘STACHE BASH, BUT I ALREADY GOT THEM PLANS. DO YOU DO TWO ‘STACHE BASHES IN A YEAR EVER? KINDA LIKE THE “SEMI-ANNUAL LINCOLNS BIRTHDAY SALE?” LET’S MAKE THIS HAPPEN SOMETIME.

Q: Finally the AMI faculty and administration were in InTouch Weekly magazine one time across the page from Matt Damon. No question. Just saying. Yeah, that’s how we roll.

A: I AM HUMBLED BY YOUR POWER.

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