For the first time since the release of last year’s killer Circuital Lp, Australia gets a taste of Kentucky-bred rockers My Morning Jacket. Guitarist Carl Broemel tells Dan Condon about the magic of spontaneity.
My Morning Jacket's most recent visit to Australia was with the Big Day Out tour as well as opening for the great Neil Young all across the country. But there was one town on Australia's east coast that had Carl Broemel and his bandmates besotted.
“We took a day and went surfing in Byron Bay and while we were there. Our friends were telling us about the Bluesfest – 'You guys should come back and do that' – and I was like, 'Man, if I can come back here I will do anything!'” Broemel gushes from his adopted home of Nashville. He's speaking on the eve of the tour which, yes, does include a slot at Byron Bay's Bluesfest, alongside their own shows and Perth's West Coast Blues 'N' Roots.
It was released close to ten months ago, but Broemel is happy to discuss the band's latest record, Circuital, a killer addition to the considerable My Morning Jacket canon that he says was met with great warmth.
“It's always fun to check back in. When you're making a record you're so involved in it you almost can't see what you're doing. It's really hard to get any perspective. In hindsight I'm really happy with it; I'm really happy with how we did it and how it turned out and the response we got from people was really positive. The songs seemed to be digested and enjoyed the fastest out of any record we've done. The first show we played I looked out and people were singing and acting like they knew what was happening. Either people were stealing the songs and sharing them really fast – quicker than last record – or they like them more. I kinda don't care either way.”
Circuital was Broemel's third studio record with My Morning Jacket since joining the band in 2005. He says things have certainly changed since his early with them.
“We're all growing together. When Bo [Koster, keyboards] and I were working on Z we were definitely the new guys. Not in a bad way – not like we didn't participate – but now we all know each other a lot better and we know how to work together better.”
The band recorded in a church gymnasium in Louisville, Kentucky, a space Broemel praises for its lack of facilities, allowing the band to get their hands dirty in the studio as they went about the business of playing. He said it was also a decent breeding ground for experimentation – sometimes uncomfortably so.
“In a way it was even more spontaneous [than previous records], because we hadn't really rehearsed the music before we got there. While we were working through the songs for the first time, we'd be recording. So a lot of times we'd get a take that everybody loved that was our first try at it and, warts and all, that became the song or the take; whatever you were making up at the time became the part of the song. That was the hardest part of the record. We were all fiddling around and finding stuff and then once in a while we'd hit it together and the song would all of a sudden be done… even if a couple of us weren't ready for that to happen!” He recalls sheepishly. “On that song Circuital, I was like, 'Really? Are we done? Are you kidding me? I'm just trying to figure out what to do!'
“That's what I'm talking about knowing each other better; we all trust each other. Even if in my brain it's not computing, if three or four of the other guys are computing I know eventually I'm going to understand.”
The band is renowned for smashing out sets of epic lengths and it's not surprising for a My Morning Jacket club show to tick in at over the three-hour mark. “It's just one of those things that sort of happened,” Broemel explains. “I think we just sort of grew into it. What felt good to us was just a little bit longer or leaving some space in the show for something to get extended and not have to think, 'Oh man, we have a curfew, we can only play 14 songs' or whatever.
“I'm thankful that people are into our show for that long. It takes some serious effort to participate in a concert over two hours long, I know that. When I go see bands, after ninety minutes I'm tired! But I kinda feel like a baseball player – when you go to a baseball game or a cricket game, you're sitting in the stands and you're like, 'Man, this is so long,' but if you're in the game it doesn't seem like it's very long at all. It goes by pretty fast when we're in the moment.”
Do they relate then to being called a jam band? “Yes and no,” Broemel says. “I don't think it's a bad thing to be labelled a jam band at all. I just don't think we necessarily fit in to what I consider to be a jam band, which is basically are you a lot like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Widespread Panic? I don't think we are necessarily, but there's probably elements of it that would appeal to people who like that music. I mean people can describe us that way. It doesn't hurt my feelings or make me upset, it just kind of doesn't make sense to me.”
When it comes to taking a song from the studio and bringing it to the live stage, the process is an organic one within the My Morning Jacket camp. “We kind of just let it happen; we might work on some segues or something, but usually the songs change on the go. A lot of times the song will end and Jim will keep going and we all look at each other and be like, 'Okay, we'll keep on going!' We just feed off each other and see what happens. It's so fun to be able to pull off something without talking about it beforehand. That is kind of like the jam band aspect of us. We don't want to rehearse spontaneity; you wanna be free to fuck up, to have it go wrong in the chance you might catch something cool and unexpected.”
Alongside frontman Jim James, Broemel was named one of the “20 New Guitar Gods” by Rolling Stone magazine a few years back. People have certainly taken notice of his talent and he now finds himself employed for session work semi-regularly, which is a challenge he thrives on. “That's one of my favourite things about being in Nashville; after I moved here it just kind of clicked. I really value that, not only the connection with talented people, but it's very challenging to be in the studio with people you don't know very well. Being in the studio with your best friends is really fun and then being in the studio with crazy amazing musicians from Nashville is a good challenge for me. Doing projects it all comes back and kind of re-educates us for the next record or next tour.”