MY MORNING JACKET at Soundscapes (572 College), Friday (September 12), 7 pm. Free. And with the SLEEPY JACKSON at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (September 12), 9 pm. $15. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Jim James has had it with all the cracks about Southern rock beardos and burly, Jack Daniel's-swilling longhairs. Any mention of James and his pals in Kentucky's My Morning Jacket inevitably comes loaded with talk about the South rising again as a rock power, drawing sketchy links between MMJ and everyone from the Allman Brothers to Kings of Leon. Mention his beard and boogie rock again and there's no telling what mayhem the otherwise polite James might unleash on you.
"Aw, Christ, it's so fucking annoying," he snorts from Louisville's outskirts. "I keep telling people that music is about your ears, it's not about your eyes. Yes, we are from Kentucky and we're big, burly guys with beards, and we're proud of that, but it shouldn't matter if we're skinny and bald or fat and scruffy.
"It's the same thing with the whole Southern rock thing. There is no scene, and I don't even listen to Southern rock bands. Most of my favourite bands are from the north."
Unfortunately, the hair chatter will only get louder. MMJ's major-label debut, It Still Moves, is kicking up a serious fuss, not that James and the rest of the band are letting their sudden shift in fortune go to their heads.
Rather than slim down their loose-limbed rock epics into more radio-friendly jams, the band kindly took label owner Dave Matthews's money and invested it in the rural farm where MMJ have recorded all their records. The result - a silo converted into a giant, whooshing reverb chamber - helped them achieve something you just couldn't get in a proper leather-couch-and-gold-record-filled recording studio.
"I'd sat in the silo before and just played, and it was fucking amazing," James laughs. "It sounds unreal, absolutely unreal, and that's the sound I heard in my head. We'd never been able to record out there, though, because it's 750 feet away from the studio, and we always ran out of cables.
"We ended up running a whole mess of Ethernet cables out there. It was like a science experiment, and we started shooting sound around this old silo. The first time I heard the finished results it just blew my mind. I was almost in tears. The dream had become a reality."
The upshot is a record that is utterly drenched in reverb. The songs on It Still Moves are built around this echoing, cavernous sound, at times eerie, often just plain immense.
"Reverb is essential. It is the music for me," James insists. "If it was gone, the songs might not exist. At the very least, they'd be pretty fucking thin. We have all sorts of different reverb chambers, ranging from a bathroom to a garage to a barn to a silo.
"My whole thing is the idea of space and how things are recorded. We've been fortunate to do this in our own studio, which has rooms that sound like no others. As a result, no one else can really get that sound. If we went to just a normal recording studio, you know what you're going to get, which is a record that sounds like a bunch of other records. I guess that's fine, but why not record your vocals in a silo instead? There's no comparison."