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Spotlight: My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel on His New Solo Record ‘4th of July’

Matt Inman | November 09, 2016

Carl Broemel knows how to use his vacation time wisely. While off the clock from his day gig as My Morning Jacket’s lead guitarist, Broemel, along with most of his Jacket brethren, spent much of the summer backing Ray LaMontagne on a tour in support of the Jim James-produced Ouroboros. On top of that, in August, the Indiana native and Nashville resident released a solo album, 4th of July, on his new label, Stocks in Asia. But, while he enjoys the challenges of various projects, he’s not planning on veering away from his main job anytime soon.

“It’s not like I’m trying to escape anything to do it on my own,” Broemel says of his non-Jacket effort, while sitting in Relix’s Manhattan offices after taping a video session. “It’s just more like, ‘Idle hands are the devil’s plaything.’ Not in a sense of, ‘I wish I was just doing that,’ in any way—it’s just that both are helpful to each other.”

4th of July is Broemel’s third solo album, although he considers it his second. (The first was more of a compilation of demos from his days at Indiana University.) His official solo debut All Birds Say, arrived back in 2010, and Broemel says this year’s followup has been brewing for about four years—an understandable length of time considering his other commitments.

“My main priority is my band,” Broemel says. “Playing with My Morning Jacket trumps all for me, and this is me just goofing around and giving it a shot.”

Of course, Broemel’s talent is such that his “goofing around” is somebody else’s full-time work, and 4th of July ended up being a solid collection of eight tracks that hints at the ethos of My Morning Jacket but in a more, as Broemel puts it, “singer songwriter vein.” One of the most Jacket-esque tunes on the record is the title track, which spans just over 10 minutes and features a sprawling, noisy, Southern-psychedelic solo in the middle, an illustration of Broemel’s goal to stretch out his songs more with this album.

“I made an effort to make it interesting, instrumentally,” he says. “When we were recording, I decided that instead of me doing my normal thing and having a song that has a very set structure— putting it down and then going, ‘Next’—I wanted to try something new. We turned on a drum machine, gave vocal cues to the band and said, ‘Let’s play this bridge section quieter or this part loud.’ Then I went back and actually pieced the song together. So, I definitely feel like I expanded, but it still relates to my last record.”

This fall, Broemel is right back on the road for a run of solo dates before Trampled By Turtles’ lead vocalist, Dave Simonett, joins him in November. Broemel admits that it’s a whole different animal when he’s onstage playing his own stuff, as opposed to backing up others.

“It’s really challenging,” he says. “One of the best parts of it is the scariest part, which is just going up there and trying to do something somewhat compelling all by yourself. Or, all your new songs—do people react to these at all? Every time I do it, it’s kind of like riding a roller coaster when you’re a kid. You’re like, ‘Oh, my God. This is the scariest thing ever,’ and then you get off and you’re like, ‘I’m so glad I did that.’ That’s how I approach this.”

Broemel wasn’t completely alone while working on the album, however. His Jacket bandmates Bo Koster and Tom Blankenship both contributed to the tracks, with Koster cowriting some of them (“He has so many great musical pieces and parts that I was like, ‘Ooh, can I steal that?’”). Laura Veirs, wife of producer Tucker Martine, who sat at the helm for the last two Jacket albums, also appears as one of the special guests. “I’m a huge fan of her records, and I’ve worked on some of her music, so it was sort of a bartering system, like, ‘Hey, can I send you a track?’” A similar agreement brought in Neko Case, for whom Broemel had provided a guitar solo on the song “City Swans” from her latest record. One of Broemel’s Nashville friends, Shelly Colvin, provides backing vocals, along with Case, for “4th of July.”

“It was fun to bring in some other people,” says Broemel, who welcomes any sort of collaboration as a vessel for improving and expanding, as with his tour behind LaMontagne. “It’s just fun—like a social exercise, just to hang— because I wouldn’t necessarily go out and see bands that much when I’m home. But they really helped out a lot.”

Broemel sees side-projects as a key element of My Morning Jacket’s longevity. “It’s helpful, I think, for the five of us to go off and do other things and not feel trapped in doing the band. That’s enriching. When we come back, it’s always very enlightening—like, ‘Man, I do not want to be in a dressing room by myself at all. I want to be with you guys.’ There’s a lot of refocusing the energy back in. This year, we did a lot less shows, but they were so much more fun. Quality over quantity.”

And, although Broemel seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the whirlwind of activity that 2016 has brought so far, he has some very specific plans for the coming months: “Hopefully,” he says, “I’ll be drinking scotch by the fireplace over Christmas break, doing nothing.”