BY JONATHAN VALANIA The Kentucky hair farmers of My Morning Jacket may look like 38 Special, but they sound like the reefer-mad angels that sit on Neil Young’s shoulder on a good night, cranking out sweaty, fist-pumping, three hour hoedowns of indie-centric southern-fried beard-rock. Fronted by the irrepressible Jim James — fuzzy-faced, Buddha-bellied, rocking a cape and a Cousin It haircut, whirling about the stage dervishly with a towel over his head — MMJ has cranked out seven stylistically varied albums in 18 years, slathering bruising he-man riffage and bombastic beats with ethereal harmonies, sounding like Lynyrd Skynyrd if it swallowed Big Star whole. In between the endless touring, James has released three proper solo albums, 2013’s Region’s Of Light And Sound, 2016’s Eternally Even, and the latest, 2018’s Uniform Clarity. Given that James is widely regarded as one of the great six-string savants of his generation, it is notable that his solo albums are largely guitar-less affairs, yet no less interesting or effective for their absence. James’ Uniform Distortion Tour stops at the Fillmore on Sunday, May 19th. Back in 2016, Jim James agreed to answer a few questions via email.
PHAWKER: The conventional wisdom is that My Morning Jacket albums are more or less Jim James solo albums. Assuming that is largely true, what can you express on a solo album that you couldn’t on an MMJ album?
JIM JAMES: That may have been more true in early days and yes I still write the songs for MMJ but MMJ is all about the full band experience and performance and people playing together all at once and a bond that can only be created and shared thru time spent together lots and lots of time and challenges and love.
PHAWKER: Why is the album is called Eternally Even?
JIM JAMES: Everyone knows breakups can be tough — but after some time passes there is this feeling you get when you see the person you parted ways with long ago, and they seem really great and like they have moved on — and perhaps you have too — and you feel so happy and so thrilled to see that time can heal wounds and that people can move on and love again. I guess I have that hope for America and the world right now — we are going thru some really traumatic shit…but i like to hope one day we can hug and laugh and look back on it with a smile knowing that we learned something from it from the pain and heartache and that we are better off now.
PHAWKER: What do you make of the outcome of the [2016 presidential] election and what it says about America circa now?
JIM JAMES: It is such a shame to see fear win out over love. But we have to remember this is just one contest and we still must have faith that humanity can win the greater game. but it is a terrible setback. We need to try to come together in love. Really sit down with people we might not agree with and see where we can find common ground.
PHAWKER: The biological reality of aging is a recurring theme on the album. You turned 38 this year. What advice do you have for people who are sweating it?
JIM JAMES: Well I mean just try and live every day as fully as you can really I mean none of us know when we are gonna go. Also be inspired by those around you who live as we all should — like age is nothing but a number. I am blessed to be around a few folks like that who are not defined by their physical age and it is so inspiring.
PHAWKER: Some artists are loathe to discuss their lyrics. Assuming you are not one of those artists, can you explain the meaning of “Peace written to pieces”?
JIM JAMES: Well it seems quite simple to me: all the violence around us- shootings killings bombs based on race and religion and things that tell us we are not equal when really we are so equal and these things are ripping us into pieces literally and metaphysically and we have to just keep trying to put it back together again.
PHAWKER: What was the last song or album you heard that blew your mind?
JIM JAMES: Alabama Shakes’ Sound And Color.
PHAWKER: What, in your estimation, is the key to writing a good song?
JIM JAMES: I’m not sure I’ve ever written one.