My Morning Jacket Embraced the Spirits of Panoramic House Studio

“I think we search for spaces that aren't really meant to be recorded in and have tons of character and charm,” says My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan. From the beginning, MMJ has recorded largely in unconventional spaces and situations. The band recorded its first three albums on the family farm of former guitarist Johnny Quaid. The band's classic 2005 album Z was recorded in a studio in the Catskill Mountains. The songs for 2008's Evil Urges suggested recording in an urban environment, so MMJ broke its own pattern and recorded in New York City. The 2011 album Circuital was recorded in a church gymnasium in the band's home town of Louisville, Kentucky, with Tucker Martine, an ex-KGNU DJ and a former student at Naropa University in Boulder, known for his work with R.E.M., Modest Mouse, Neko Case and Spoon. It was Martine who discovered a special place for the follow-up record, 2015's The Waterfall: Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, California.

“You're a product of your environment,” offers Hallahan. “We kind of like to place ourselves in a different setting each time. That place came up in a search, and we just love the weather in northern California. That was a brand-new studio, and we were the first band to make a record there. Because of where it is geographically, it's kind of untouched by modern times. It's really hard to get to. It's only maybe ten miles outside of San Francisco, but it takes an hour to get there up the windy roads. I feel like the isolation has allowed the place to go on naturally without interruption. Because of that, there's a lot of energy in that area. From the ocean to the beautiful mountains and hiking trails, it's just very dynamic. At different times of day, you're set up for a special adventure.”

The band has referred to the location as having a supernatural quality — but not in the vein of shows like Ghost Hunters or The Dead Files.

“There's definitely that kind of energy in that house, too,” Hallahan explains. “I wouldn't say it was haunted, but I'm super-sensitive to that feeling of the hair going up on the back of your neck. There was a presence there, for sure. The guy that built it is just an interesting character, and I believe he passed [on the premises], and I don't think he ever left. You just knew you weren't alone at any time of day. I don't know if that means there were spirits coming down from the hills or what, but we weren't the only ones in the house. There's no words for it. It's just a thing.”

The band recorded material at Panoramic House for a month before Thanksgiving 2013 and another month in 2014, and it took a different approach to making the record. The band went in with no real plan except several demos in varying states of completion, but it kept recording until each song was finished. This yielded enough material for two full albums, but MMJ decided to keep it to ten songs that worked together as a coherent offering. This organic method, rather than the pressure to deliver a product by a certain due date, highlighted some qualities of the band that Hallahan perhaps hadn't fully appreciated before.

“I think that brought out the fact that sometimes we need that pressure at certain points,” muses Hallahan. “At some point, we thought we had to stop that and tighten things up and make us an album. It just showed me how much my bandmates are really good at exploring and listening. That album is, for me, a benchmark of how everyone has grown as listeners. In that setting you had to be a good listener. I feel that that was highlighted when we didn't have the deadline.”

My Morning Jacket, with Fruit Bats Saturday, May 28, and with Barr Brothers Sunday, May 29, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 720-865-2494, Saturday show sold out, Sunday show $45-49.95, all ages.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.