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The Core: Jim James on Tribute To 2, My Morning Jacket Hiatus, New Friend Joe Russo and More

Mike Greenhaus | March 31, 2018
Wes Orshoski

My Morning Jacket’s frontman channeled his frustrations with the current sociopolitical atmosphere into a solo, stripped-down set of spiritual covers, Tribute To 2

ALL THINGS MUST PASS

I was at the studio a few days after George Harrison died, feeling his loss, and just sat down and played some of his songs. It was a spur of the moment thing—it wasn’t something I thought about releasing—and we put that out as Tribute To about 10 years later. Tribute To 2 is the same thing. I have a home studio and I’m constantly recording not only my own music, but also songs that inspire me. Somebody had the idea to rerelease Tribute To because it was out of print on vinyl. I had recorded “If Not for You” for that because it was on All Things Must Pass and I thought it was George’s song.

Later, I heard that it was a Bob Dylan song so we didn’t include it back then, but I thought it could be a cool vinyl bonus and that got the idea rolling to release all these covers. Then, I heard Abbey Lincoln’s “The World Is Falling Down” and that resonated with the way the world has been going lately. I based the whole record around that idea, using songs that I’d recorded over the years to create a journey that made sense as an album.

DEMOITIS

I don’t really believe in rerecording things. There’s something about the original magic that’s so special. That’s one of the reasons I keep a home studio. You can just record all the time; you’re not making a “demo.” Years ago, when we did Evil Urges with Joe Chiccarelli, he gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice anybody’s ever given me: “Don’t make any more demos, just record.” “Demoitis” is when you work so hard on this demo that you love and then, once you get to the studio, it’s so hard to capture the magic again. So I stopped making demos and just started recording.

Usually, it is pretty clear where my songs should land, but sometimes it’s confusing. The solo songs end up being the ones that I just want to work on at home by myself—a construction that I’ll build piece by piece, a studio experiment. The Jacket songs are the ones that I want to play live with our band. There’s a live performance at the heart of those songs. But sometimes those lines shift. There are Jacket songs that are studio architecture-type things and vice versa. It’s weird how the lines blur. The songs just talk to you over time and tell you what they want. It’s the strangest thing. With this covers record, I’ve got a big pile of recordings but, for some reason, these songs got into their own world and formed their own group. They spoke to me.