"Sometimes it's good to do the same thing over and over again and just get it nailed, but then that gets boring," says singer/guitarist Carl Broemel, of Louisville, Ky.-based My Morning Jacket. "If people come to more than one show, we're pretty conscious of that. But all of our decisions get made last minute, and then we go play."
Broemel and company visit Charleston next week with a clean slate and a positive attitude. The concert is presented by the City Paper and The Bridge at 105.5 WCOO.
Not sure what to think of My Morning Jacket? Start by watching footage of Broemel and his bandmate singer/guitarist Jim James on the Black Cab Sessions, a series of performances by different artists taking place in the back seats of London taxis. While James generates an atmospheric beat and melody on an old school Omnichord keyboard, Broemel carefully adds slide guitar to the rhythm. The pair harmonize at boy-choir octaves, creating an amazing conglomeration of sounds as the streets and buildings of London pass by through the window. They finish, and James inhales deeply, touches his mustache, and clinches his hands to his chest with eyes closed. Just like the taxi driver and a million internet viewers, it seems that he knows something magical has just occurred.
After a year that found James making headlines with Monsters of Folk (his collaboration with songwriter M. Ward and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis), he's back to making music full-time with My Morning Jacket, the band that took indie-rock to a curious spot in the mainstream.
With reverb-drenched vocals, booming percussion, and Skynyrd-esque lead guitars, MMJ opened the floodgates for a new era and style of indie rock. Although their dichotomy of soul and hard rock has its dissidents, it's impossible to hear a stripped-down performance like "Touch Me, I'm Going to Scream, Pt. 2" on the Black Cab Sessions and not recognize their sheer power as musicians.
It's been two years since the release of Evil Urges, MMJ's last studio effort, and the band hasn't performed together in a year. For the tour, they've recruited the New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a historic conglomeration of Nawlins' style Dixieland jazz musicians. Formed in the early 1960s, the group has persisted as a rotating cast of players performing nightly at the French Quarter venue.
Without a new My Morning Jacket album of material to draw from, Broemel. thinks the collaboration should help mix up the sets.
"The Preservation Hall Jazz Band seem to be open to collaborating as much as possible. It's one of the main things I'm looking forward to, playing our older songs and then trying to integrate the other musicians," says Broemel. "I think that it's going to be inspiring to be around with them and to get to play JazzFest in New Orleans with them. Hopefully, that'll be special. How could it not be?"
Charleston is the sixth stop on the My Morning Jacket tour, just a few days after JazzFest, giving the bands plenty of time to polish up their joint musical ventures. This summer, says Broemel, they'll likely start planning out the next album, in between a major tour that includes a few dates with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They'll also soon celebrate the release of two tribute albums they've participated in, honoring John Prine (Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows) and Shel Silverstein (Twistable, Turnable Man).
Their take on Silverstein's "Lullabies, Legends, and Lies," opens that collection. The track features a stripped-down MMJ, void of the heavy reverb and distortion, in favor of featuring Broemel's pedal steel and classic country crooning.
"That's the kind of stuff you get to do when you take time off, the little fun, extra treats," says Broemel. "That record's awesome. The song John Prine did gave me chills when I heard it." (Prine sings Silverstein's "This Guitar is For Sale").
Broemel has kept busy in the last year playing sessions in Nashville and hanging out with his family. "I'm super fresh and ready to roll again with My Morning Jacket," he says.
Despite their acoustic output lately (the Prine tribute, Monsters of Folk), the band will draw from their full rock catalog on tour, dating back to 1999's The Tennessee Favorite and hitting fan faves from 2003's breakthrough It Still Moves.
"We're going to try to reskin the cat," says Broemel. "It's pretty open-ended. We sit down before we play, make a list of songs, maybe talk about it the next night, and see what we liked and change it up."