[This is from a very early issue of Mongrel. I ambushed this guy backstage at the Temple Bar Music Centre after a gig. There is no word in the English language for drunk I was. An hour or so afterward, my friend Scally tracked me down at the counter in Zaytoon (kebab house) on Parliament Street trying to order a round of drinks... Not my finest hour, I'll be the first to admit.]
My Morning Jacket frontman and
You said onstage that today had been “one weird day.” What did you mean?
It was just, I’d been really sick. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to sing tonight. We had [catalogues long and tedious list of technical hitches endured.] So it was just, like, a big equipment fiasco.
Your career is really taking off, your album It Still Moves has been pretty well received. Are you enjoying life?
Yeah, it’s going well. The only downside is that its exhausting. That’s the one kicker of the whole thing. Some nights you get confused and if the crowd is bad, or the sound is off, you’re just like “Goddamnit!” But other nights, like tonight, when it’s on, and everybody’s having a great time – that’s what we do it for. That’s what keeps us going.
I know you only quit your day job recently. What did you work at?
I had a million jobs. My last one was in a coffee shop, serving coffee to people.
So if the whole thing went to shite, could you see yourself going back and doing that again?
Not that, per se. But I would like to be a teacher. I think some day I’ll be a teacher, hopefully, if we get tired doing this, or if we start sucking. [laughs]
Has anyone ever done a feature on you and not used the headline ‘No Jacket Required’?
You know, I think people get uncreative. I think people see things done elsewhere and they replicate ‘em. I think the human mind has a tendency to follow what others have done – and one of life’s great challenges is to break away from that. Whether you’re a writer or a musician or an artist – that’s what makes the world exciting.
So has anyone ever turned up at one of your gigs expecting a Phil Collins tribute?
[laughs heartily] No, that’s never happened.
In interviews, you’re always talking about how the wide open spaces of Kentucky inform your music, blah, blah, blah… But your first break came in Holland, which is probably the most densely populated country in the world. How do you explain that?
There are some big wide open spaces in Holland.
Come on… You’re talking the population of Australia, living in a country the size of… This venue, pretty much.
If you go outside of Amsterdam its got awesome countryside, really nice countryside. But, yeah, they really liked our first record there. I don’t really know why. But I’m glad they did, though – it was a good introduction to the music world. Prior to that, we had no idea what it was like to do an interview or anything like that. So it was cool.
Do you really like The Scorpions?
Hell, yeah! There’s so much good music out there man. People think its funny but The Scorpions man, they had some good tunes. We do lots of covers – Erykah Badu, Elton John, Black Sabbath… We just want people to have fun. We want people to say “Yes… I love that song!”
You don’t give a fuck about being cool, you saying?
Exactly… So many bands are so cool and ironic and detached. They’re afraid to be emotional, they’re afraid to be goofy. We’re not cool dudes. I’m not gonna pretend like we are. I just want to go out and have fun. To be emotional when I’m emotional, to be stoopid when I’m stoopid.
There’s a bit in the Simpsons where the ghost of George Washington tells Lisa “We had quitters in the Revolution, we called them Kentuckians.” What’s that about?
Fuck. I wish I’d seen that episode.
You’ve seen it! It’s the one where Jebediah Springfield turns out to have been this complete conman and Donald Sutherland is this museum curator…
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah…
…So are you gonna defend your home state?
I’m gonna post no comment on that. But I love the Simpsons.
Well, you know, I wasn’t going to mention it, but you did record It Still Moves in Shelbyville, Kentucky.
Yeah, there’s a lot of cousin-marrying going on, I’m not going to deny it! [laughs]
Which do you prefer – the Neil Young/Flaming Lips comparisons you get here, or the Lynard Skynard/Allman Brothers ones you get in the States?
We don’t like being compared to anyone, because we work really hard and we try to be ourselves. What I’d really like is if, someday, people just said [he goes unwittingly-David-Brent mode for a moment] “My Morning Jacket; I like ‘em. They’re a good rock band. They don’t sound like anybody, the just are.”
But I mean if I had to choose one I’d definitely choose Neil Young and the Flaming Lips ‘cos I think we’re more out there than Lynard Skynard.
So what’s your favourite Neil Young album?
I love so many of his albums. My favourite recording is a bootleg from 1971, Live In The Royal Albert Hall. It’s acoustic. It’s fucking amazing.
Ha, that’s a very “cool” answer all of a sudden!
Haha… Guilty as charged, I guess! Okay, if I had to pick a studio album, it would be a tie between On The Beach, Harvest and After The Goldrush.
What about Tonight’s The Night?
Okay, we’ll substitute that for…
After the Goldrush.
Finally, which song of yours – maybe one you’ve almost forgotten about – is going to appear on a film soundtrack in about 20 years and make you rich and famous all over again?
Wow! That’s a damn good question. [long pause] I’d say The Bear off The Tennessee Fire… Why, what do you think it would be?
Well I don’t know all the song titles, but I really like the one that goes [serenading him] “Baby / There’s just one thing / One thing that does it for me…”
[smiles broadly] Damn, you’re drunk dude!
[P.P.S. The question I neglected to answer, in retrospect: Jim James, so why the stupid name?]