10 Things You May Not Know About Jim James

Posted September 3, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

A quick tutorial on those things you may not be aware about the My Morning Jacket frontman

Jim James, the fascinating frontman for the Louisville-based band My Morning Jacket, can be one hard cookie to crack. It’s not that he hasn’t done enough interviews, or he hasn’t revealed enough about himself, but he stands out as a New Age enigma in rock music. He’s not enthralled in tabloids or soap opera scandals. He doesn’t dance with the Hollywood party/dating scene. Some may even call it pedestrian of him to be associated with rock. Still, his presence is one that shatters stereotypes. For one, he’s overwhelmingly philanthropic (i.e., working on albums with legends like Booker T. Jones and John Fogerty, releasing tribute albums, touring with Bob Dylan). And even with a recently-released debut solo album on deck and a solo tour in session this year, My Morning Jacket remains one of the best tour acts to check out. According to Rolling Stone’s 2013 poll on 50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now, MMJ was ranked No. 10 on the countdown. Their show even has Alabama Shakes’s frontwoman Brittany Howard singing their praises. “They’re amazing,” she says. “Every song could be their big, set-closing song. Just an epic band.” With that kind of power and prestige, James deserves to rock god status.

So we’ve created a mini-Bible on things you may not know about Jim James. Study to shew thyself approved.


10. He’s a “recovering Catholic” not a recovering alcoholic.









At times his music can be very spiritual. And they are usually some mentions of God here and there. But he’s not the new leader of the Christian movement. Consider him an agnostic.

“I call myself a recovering Catholic,” James says, when asked if he was religious. “I was raised Catholic, but I call myself a recovering Catholic because I don’t believe a lot of what they believe. There are a lot of good principles there obviously. I try to read as much as I can and learn as much as I can and meditate and try to feel connected to the whole thing. I really do believe that we’re all connected and have a special place in life that we need to figure out and can figure out.”

“I’m very spiritual, but I don’t subscribe to any god,” he later said. “To me, God is the place that you go when you’re lost outside of your normal thinking self – it’s this beautiful experience when you’re in love or making love or having a great conversation with somebody that you love.”

After discovering a 1929 wordless Lynd Ward graphic novel called God’s Man and a stage accident in 2008, James started to seek for inspiration. And it filtered through his music. ” “People have said many times ‘God is love,’ and I feel like an extension of that is love to mean spiritual love, physical love, mental love, the act of creation,” James told the Associated Press. “I think anybody who loves what they do loves that point in time when you get lost and you’re gone and you’re not there anymore.”


9. Fan of symphonic soul designer Isaac Hayes, wrote liner notes for ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ reissue









Can ya dig it? Jim James can.

For the 2009 remastered reissue of Hot Buttered Soul, Jim James contributed the liner note essay to the classic 1969 four-track soul album from the late Isaac Hayes. Not a major surprise to some since James incorporates some of Hayes’s expansiveness into his own material and has exercised his appetite for Black Moses ethics on the live stage, but James puts the pen to work when he scores a powerful prose to one of Hayes’s mightier contributions to music. “Everything is revealed when you open your mind to its secrets,” he writes. “[The album makes] your mind bleed . . . blurring the lines of what you thought you knew before was possible with music. It is one of those start-to-finish classics. And yes, damn near everything is here: Soul. Rock. Sweeping strings. Blasting horns. Full orchestral arrangements. Bare stripped down moments. Humor. Sadness. Funk…The recording is so God-damned 3D. It’s black. It’s white. It is universal. It is timeless. It is love.”


8. James loves to jam. Add “Super” to that.









At Bonnaroo this year, James had the distinctive honor of leading the ‘Superjam’ set, an annual climax favorite for festival goers. Alongside John Oates, James constructed a team of players and a hearty, eclectic set of rock ‘n soul that rivaled the Superjams of the past.

“We’ve talked for many many years about doing Superjam with Jim James,” Fleck echoed. “He’s a core Bonnaroo artist. Just like Bonnaroo. He’s got a really unique set of influences. So this was the year  that all the sorta chips fell for us to make it happen.”

The set also featured guests Larry Graham, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), R. Kelly, and players of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.


7. For a brief while, he was called Yim Yames.









Like Beyonce has Sasha Fierce, Jim James has Yim Yames. Well, had.

For a brief period of time, Jim went by the name of Yim. It was a short lived alias used on indie rock excursions and tribute CDs like the 2001 EP Tribute To and the Woody Guthrie tribute disc, New Multitudes. Maybe it was his way of keeping his personal stuff away from My Morning Jacket, or maybe easier for people to find his music towards the end of the record stacks (those “Y” and “Z” sections are usually very lean).


6. He doesn’t particularly like politics.









One this is for certain about Jim James: He doesn’t like jumping heavy into the realm of politics, but when he does – as he did with Pitchfork earlier this year – he goes there. “I feel like we’re stepping into a new era of acceptance and enlightenment and love,” he said. “We’re finally saying to Mitt Romney and Catholicism and old, angry, white men: ‘We’ve had enough. Your system is fucked.’ We’re trying to embrace the feminine side of the universe again, trying to say everyone is equal. During this past election, women stood up and were like, ‘We’re not going to be treated like this anymore.’ The Latino vote said, ‘You can’t pretend like we’re not part of America.’ It’s so awesome that it worked.”

Sounds like he’s leaning towards being a Democrat.


5. Questo has a thing for Jimmy…James that is.









After recording “Dear God” with his sideshow band Monsters of Folk, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and that Jimmy Fallon back-up band picked up the song and gave it a rousing coda on their 2010 How I Got Over LP, now titled “Dear God 2.0.” Since then, James has played alongside the versatile hip-hop/retro soul band on several occasions.  After performing “A New Life” on Jimmy Fallon, ?uestlove – the band’s fearless leader – went on to tweet a notable recognition over the performance for being the “most beautiful song I ever played on @LateNightJimmy.” So sold out over the jaw-dropping moment, Questo posted a series of tweets:

Man. I still can’t get over A New Life. I wanna do an ep with @jimjames

SOLD! RT @jimjames: @questlove man that was magic, to hell with an ep- lets do an LP of duets!

We haven’t seen that magical EP unfold yet. But the band recently performed with James in June during a special concert in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. We just have to stay tuned to see what happens next with this magical love tale.



4. Stan Smith has a thing for Jim James too.









In 2009, an entire episode of American Dad! aired on FOX that could have been called My Good Morning StraitJacket. CIA agent Stan Smith quickly becomes a My Morning Jacket groupie when he’s sucked into the trippy vortex of MMJ, thanks to the band’s 2005 hit, “Worldless Chorus.” He has posters on the wall devoted to James and can even be seen in a psychedelic universe that rivals the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Yeah, Jim James provides his own voiceovers for the show, which is pretty cool in itself.


3. The hair…is all natural.








James is highly known for his big, long hair and beard. One time, he cut it down. The feedback from his fans was unanimous: They didn’t like it.

In a very rare interview at Reddit, Jim James revealed the secret to caring for his Samson-inspired golden locks.

“Here’s a big tip: Number one – Don’t shampoo; very important. Only use conditioner. Number two – The brand of conditioner I use is called…hold on, I have to go to the bathroom and find it real quick…well shit, I can’t find it but anyway it’s made out of the bones of ancient Himalayan polar bears. Very rare.”


2. Jim listens to Roy Ayers on a weekly basis.









His musical diet consists of Nirvana, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but he’s also hooked on lots of soul records. He adds Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye to his trail mix:

“I love Nirvana, Dylan, and Neil Young– but a lot of that stuff is fucking heavy. You relate to it because it’s so painful, but I’m tired of being in pain. Curtis and Marvin were in pain, too, but they embraced the totality of the human experience, whereas a lot of our heroes only embrace the pain.”

Surprisingly, he’s also gotten hooked to the jazzy vibes of Roy Ayers, something he told the folks at Reddit earlier this year. “Roy is the shit,” James says. “Everyone should hear his song, ‘Searching.’ I listen to it on a weekly basis. It is the perfect soundtrack for searching. Roy knows what’s up. What is sacred and what is profane? It’s all relative, right? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and so on and so forth and so on.


1. Jim is caught between a rock (the past) and a hard place (the future).








In a conversation with NPR, James admits to the struggle he has with the concept of analog and high-tech computers, something he’s fully experienced after building his own home studio.

“I feel like our place in history right now right now for pretty much everybody is combining the old with the new,” he says. “I feel like we are really sitting on the edge of the future ‘cause the internet is such a big deal that I feel like we don’t even understand yet what we’ve done with it. i don’t think we will understand what kind of can of worms we’ve opened for a long time. So I feel like with the advent of computers kinda starting to take over our lives, it’s easy to get sucked into the all-computer world and it’s also easy to rebel and be retro. I’m of the mind frame that everybody that I respect and know is kinda embracing both, you know you can’t let the computer take over your life and rule your world. But if you ignore you’re missing out on innovation that is happening now.”

In a previous interview with Pitchfork, he ranted a bit about our heavy dependence on the Internet. “I wish I used the internet less,” he said. “Almost every time I go to the ocean, I think about throwing my phone right into it. Sometimes, you pull that thing out of your pocket, you look at it, and you’re like, “What was I just going to do with this? Was I going to take a note? Was I going to check my email? Was I going to take a picture? Was I going to fucking tweet?” It’s scary. The internet and text messaging fucks people up because they think they’ve achieved a purpose sending texts or playing video games all day long, but it’s just an illusion that leads you through a maze. You’re walking through it and you’re like, “What am I doing in this maze?”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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