My Morning Jacket's Jim James on recording Circuital live
Having formed in the late '90s, Louisville, Kentucky's My Morning Jacket has continued to evolve over the course of six studio albums. At the same time, the band has managed to hang on to that reverb-drenched magnetism that fueled its first two albums — 1999's Tennessee Fire and 2001's At Dawn.
With last year's Circuital, the band proved that it was trying something different, especially on the very un-metal-sounding "Holdin' On to Black Metal," which employs a loop of a Thai pop song from the '60s, and the Beach Boys-inspired "Outta My System." We spoke with frontman Jim James about recording Circuital live and how the band tried to create multiple first takes.
Westword: With Circuital, you recorded the whole album live. Have you guys done that before on previous albums?
My Morning Jacket
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Jim James: Well, we usually always record the band live — like, all of the instruments live. But this time, I really wanted to get the main vocal live for every track as well when we did it, so that would be a big part of our initial emotion of doing a take and deciding if we liked the take or not. I wanted the vocal to be a big part of that.
This was the most completely live thing that we've ever done. We did some overdubs after that with some strings and keyboards, but just wanted the core of each song to have been done completely live, because it's really thrilling when you run into the control room after a take like that and everybody's just got that magic of knowing you just did a great take, and being able to listen to it and hear the vocals and hear everything and be able to identify with the song quicker.
Did you guys find that a lot of the energy and the passion comes in the first few takes, or after playing it a few times?
It's both. You definitely get a lot of excitement and energy and passion on the first few takes, but sometimes you're just learning the song on the first few takes. It's kind of cool, because I feel like we have this system of trying to create first takes over and over again if we're working on a song. We'll work on it for a while, and if we're not getting it, it's good to take a break or go do something completely different, like play basketball or something. And when you come back in, you'll kind of be in that mind frame again of feeling like you're right at the beginning of it.
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