7 October 2015


My Morning Jacket's drummer on the new record, the philanthropic project the band have been working on, The Muppets, his side project Spanish Gold and the longest drumming session he has ever had. 

Photography by Eleonora C. Collini

Whether or not you are a fan, you can’t really accuse My Morning Jacket of repeating themselves. Each of the studio albums the Kentucky quintet have put out over nearly two decades represents a departure from its predecessor, always impressing critics, always gaining them new fans. 

The Waterfall, their seventh full-length to date, released in May via long-time label ATO, is no exception. With its everyday mysticism, the cavernous reverb and heavy-foot midrange tempos, the record might be MMJ’s most ambitious as yet, and each of moment on it is a testament of the growth of Jim James & Co. 

I caught up with drummer Patrick Hallahan before the band’s show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire and we talked about The Waterfall, the philanthropic project MMJ have been working on, The Muppets, his side project Spanish Gold and the longest drumming session he has ever had. 

The Waterfall was mostly recorded at Stinson Beach, California. How much do you think the presence of the ocean influenced the record? 
I will start by saying that I feel we are all products of our environment. I don’t think the environment dictates everything we do, but it definitely seeps in. So that particular scenery, whether we were by the ocean or up the hills looking over Stinson beach, getting a more forest-y feel, that all seeps through the album. But we also recorded in our hometown Louisville, Kentucky and in Portland, Oregon, so you’ve got those areas mixed in too, and they all seemed to work together very well. 

This is the second record Tucker Martine produced. What is his style? Is he more hands-off and laid-back, or controlling? 
I don’t think a controlling producer would work in our environment, though we don’t want any sugar coating and we surely need somebody to tell us when something is bad. Tucker has become more like a sixth member of the band, he is definitely a trusted confident that pushes us when we would probably stop, but also quits when he feels that we are overdoing an idea and we might need to explore something else. He is a perfect balance between a dictator and a cooperative friend. 

Unlike your previous albums, The Waterfall was recorded mostly digitally. What impact did it have on the music? 
Most drums, bass and vocals were actually recorded to tapes, but then we also used Pro Tools mixed in. We were using tons of old equipment from the ‘30s in addition to brand new technology. We got to a point now where everything works well together. 

The album had a very long gestation, as it took you almost eight-teen months to finish it. Was that mainly due to Jim’s back injury? 

Yeah, somehow, but also we just didn’t have an in-date. Though it’s not the longest it took us to record an album, normally we say that we have a month and we have it done in a month, whereas this time we just went in without knowing what kind of record we were going to make. It took that long because it needed that long to make. 

In terms of writing process, what were the differences with the previous records? Was it more of a collective effort this time? 
It all always comes in as Jim’s demos and certain songs are already constructed when they get to us, but for this particular album there were a lot of parts that we pieced together overtime. We did a lot of more woodshedding on the floor, so a lot of input was given back and forth to that. 

You recently started The Waterfall Project, a philanthropic organization to support environmental causes. How do you think music can influence people and effectively help the environment? 
Unfortunately it seems that the environment can be a politically polarising agenda, as some people think it is a liberal agenda to care about it, and I also feel that music is a component that can pull people together. We’ve selected organisations that we believe are universally needed, like for instance for water purification, and we are trying to give back as much as we get from everything we draw from, and to put back the energy created by the universe and all its elements. 

To promote the record, murals of a waterfall were painted on buildings in several U.S. cities. Did you actually get to see any of them? 
Yeah, we would go out of our way to see them. That is part of the Beautify Earth Project that uses all beaten up buildings in bad neighborhoods for art purposes, and for this particular project they just wanted to do our album cover and it was up to the artistic interpretation of whoever was doing it. We were flattered that anybody would care that much. 

A while ago you were planning to tour as The Electric Mayhem, the fictional band from the puppet series The Muppet Show, and you would have performed live backstage, while animatronic versions of the puppet characters appeared on stage. Unfortunately the project was then abandoned by The Walt Disney Company, who owns the rights of The Muppets. Do you think the project will ever come back alive? It was such a brilliant idea! 
Man, we are using this platform and anything we possibly can to say “Hey Disney, that was such a good idea, don’t fire the people that have good ideas!” The person that was working with us on this project was actually very keen, but he got canned and with him this project was abandoned. So I don’t know… here we are still talking about it four years later. Maybe through this interview Walt Disney will see the light [laughs] 

You also play in Spanish Gold, whose debut album, South of Nowhere came out last year. Can
My Morning Jacket at Shepherds Bush Empire
you talk about it? 
I usually don’t rest well, so whenever I have some time off I am always working on something else. [Hacienda] Dante Schwebel, the lead singer and songwriter of the band, and I backed up Dan Auerbach on his solo tour, became best friends and always wanted to do something together, so through meeting a bunch of other people we put this band together with also Adrian Quesada [ex-Groupo Fanstasma guitarist] and we had lots of fun in different studios. We recorded between Austin, Nashville and Louisville. Dante and Adrian are both from Laredo, Texas and it was interesting to work with people that grew up listening to different music from what I did. We all bonded on hip-hop and we produced a kind of hip-hop album with tons of bass. 

For two years in a row now, you have curated the One Big Holiday festival in Mexico. How did the idea come about? 
We had been picking around the idea of curating a festival where we could ask our friends to come around and play, and this group of people that put destination places on, like cruises and stuff, some in Dominican Republic and some in Puerto Aventuras, approached us about doing one on our own and it was no brainer. Last year in particular was a blast, but we are taking next year off. It is usually in January and February, but early next year we thought of touring in Australia and Japan since it is summer down there. 

How was touring with Bob Dylan? 
You know what… it was like not touring with Bob Dylan as there was never really any interaction!! Actually the greatest thing I got out of that tour was getting close to the guys in Wilco, because we were the only other two bands that were on the entire month. There were also other bands switching in and out and Bob Weir was one. So thanks to Bob Dylan we befriended Bob Weir as well, and we later collaborated with him. So yeah Dylan put a lot of people together that ended up being friends without never interacting with him… it was basically like a rock-n-roll camp. 

Is there any object you always have to have with you on tour? 
I need to bring music with me first of all. I still carry my IPod with me I have mixes on and can’t part with. Also magazines and a good pair of shoes. My biggest thing is actually not carrying so much with me, so that I can explore and find new things 

What is your favourite social media? 
I like different ones for different reasons. I think Instagram is probably my favourite way to get to more people through just visual elements. I don’t use it that often, but I like the fact that it is not a big commitment. I like using Facebook for personal things, though I don’t have a very public Facebook music profile as I don’t want everybody to know everything about me. Twitter is also nice because it forces you to have concise thoughts, but I wonder what that is doing to the public writing style. I come from a generation when we were used to writing letters to people, so the only thing I have against social media is that I think they take away from the beauty of writing. 

What is the longest drumming session you have ever had? 
I think I have sometimes rehearsed for twelve hours in a row, but also we usually record from twelve to fourteen hours on a daily basis. In terms of non-stop playing at a concert, we have done over four hours before and I could have gone longer… it is so much fun! And I am not even there, we are all out of space. 

If you had to compare drumming to an everyday activity, what would it be? 
That is a good question….There were these 1940s telephone operators who were constantly pulling plugs and stuff. Maybe something like that. Or the daily life of an octopus [laughs] 

What is next? I heard you guys already have another album ready to be released? 
It is not totally ready, but yeah for Waterfall we recorded enough material to do two records, though now we are thinking of going back to the studio instead and maybe put some more character with newer material. We are going to go through this year, take the holiday season off, then do some festivals that are probably going to line up soon and then just plan from there. We went into the last album with no agenda and we came out with something I am probably the most proud of. So I like that approach and I hope we can continue in that path. 

"The Waterfall" is out now via ATO/Capitol Records

Originally published on London in Stereo
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