There’s a band out there whose palette of sounds and feelings seems inexhaustible. A band who’s been throughly exploring their sounds for the last 18 years, and still surprises with each new record. My Morning Jacket is one of those extraordinary bands that plays their own league in the contemporary music.
Their incendiary shows unanimously validate them as one of the best live acts you can see in the world today, with an unique sound that has been twisting between American roots music, psychedelia, R&B and hard rock. During their European tour presenting “The Waterfall” ([PIAS], 2015), we catch Carl Broemel and Bo Koster (guitar/ keyboard) at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. This place is holding the first edition of Lolapalooza in Europe and My Morning Jacket are playing in a few hours. We chat with them about the meaning of their music, marketing, the music industry or the band in a pretty interesting conversation.
So, “The Waterfall”, after four years of Circuital, how do you feel with the album? What’s the feedback after these months?
Yeah, we’re really happy with the record. We spent a lot of time on it, on “The Waterfall, and I feel like we got it the way we wanted it and it’s been received well. I mean, I don’t sit around and wait reviews all day but… The shows had been really fun. We did a round of shows in the U.S, making our rounds and, I don’t know. It’s been good. It’s been good so far.
What about the place where it has been recorded? Because “Circuital”, I think you recorded in a church, if I’m not wrong, and this one was recorded in a place close to the beach. What’s the difference?
We recorded this record in an old house in Stinson Beach in Marin County, California. We lived on the beach, we walked up through the forest, up to the studio everyday and take beautiful hikes, and we set up in this large living room and we just play every day and cook food and watch the sun set into the ocean. It was a pretty magical setting to just hang out and play music.
It’s kind of like the edge of the world. It’s where like the ocean and the mountains and the sky and the stars and all kind like converges, that meets in one spot. That’s where we made the record.
You’re a band that you like to experiment with sounds. What were you looking for in this album? Do you dig for sounds in records you like, or sounds from past decades?
As far as sounds, we didn’t do a lot of demos and stuff before this record so we just kind of set up in a room and get the sounds in that moment, you know.
Yeah, we’re always exploring, trying to find things that are new, to feel fresh, real inspiring to us. So we don’t really have any sort of barriers to what we do. We’re always looking for… whatever. So there’s no holds barred.
“If the music business could be a code that could be cracked then everybody would have hit songs”
So you don’t foresee to start making an album in a certain place, like the beach in this case or a church in the previous album.
Well yeah. I mean we found the place and that started the ball rolling with like the songs. We recorded a bunch of music there that isn’t even on this record so you know– I think the mantra is ‘No stone unturned.’ So we worked on a bunch of different sounding songs. And when we got down, we started to see that there was one group of songs that worked really well together and that became this album.
You said that “The Waterfall” is the first of two albums that you recorded. So you do have a lot of material this time.
There’s more material for sure and we’re going to work on supplementing that at some point but it’s not the next record.
So it’s not the second part of “The Waterfall”? Is it like a completely different record?
Yeah, different, it’s not finished yet.
Your records are very well considered so you could think that you may not need to experiment with every album.
That’s just the way we are. We get bored easily. We want to explore new terrain, like feel fresh. That is what creativity is all about. It’s not about me doing what you’ve done before. You know what I mean? I guess for some people, it is. But I think all the great artists, the great creative people that I’m inspired by always were searching for something new, trying to express themselves in different ways.
But that may be risky.
It seems like in some ways, we’ve done it pretty much every time. Since Bo and I had in the band, those records have been– And even before that, every record had a totally different distinct sound.
The first three albums that weren’t even a part of were very different as they went along. And then when we did from “It Still Moves” to “Z”, that was a pretty big song change and that seems to be a good thing for us to do. I mean in hindsight, in the moment, we just kind of always looked at it that way. It’s like, reinvent the wheel here as much as we can.
“You can’t have longevity if you’re chasing fads”
What’s the thing you’re most proud of in this album?
I’m proud of the whole album. We really feel like it was a labor of love. Everybody put a lot of heart and soul into it, starting from Jim’s songwriting to the process of making the record. I guess the most proud I am is the fact that we didn’t stop when it was just okay. Like we didn’t stop when it was a good record, we didn’t stop until it was as best as we thought we could do at that time. So I guess that’s what I’m most proud of, the work that we commit to it.
Yeah, we did three or four sessions. We cut that out, you know? We re-cut a few songs because we had so many songs. We had like 22 songs recorded so it was a bit of a puzzle that we had to figure out and I’m proud of the fact that we figured that puzzle out and made a record that felt cohesive and and great to us.
Right. When you listen to the albums, it seems like the band is having a lot of fun, and it’s also been said that you’re one of the best live acts in the world so you must really get on really well with each other.
Yeah. We definitely have a good time playing live music. The hard part about being in a band is all the waiting. That’s not the fun part. The fun part, like any time we’re playing in the studio, we like discover that we’ve gotten the take. That’s just a special moment. Yeah, some shows are great, some show aren’t. You have no control over how shows go but you just actually have to show up, you just have to be there and do your best.
So do you try to reflect the live sound in the record or is it the other way round?
It feels like there are always two different beasts. As much as we try to capture the live in the studio, it’s just hard. It’s just different. Maybe unless you make a live record, I don’t think you can ever really capture that energy in a big crowd and – I don’t know. We try.
I mean, we all play at the same time but there’s no audience, there’s no—It’s a little bit more of an intimate thing, you know making the record and singing and really listening to what you’re doing. Sometimes in a live show, it’s chaos and then maybe that’s not something you want to listen to over and over again. I don’t know.
“It seems like an impossible confusing game to figure it out”
Your music feels very spiritual. Is that a reflect on how you take life yourselves?
Yeah. (Carl) I mean, those are one of the things about that setting where we worked on this record. I mean I didn’t write the lyrics on this album, Jim wrote the lyrics, but there were many moments when I was hearing him singing things for the first time and it really resonated with me on like a spiritual level, like the exploration of good and evil and the magic of life and all that stuff, however you want to interpret his lyrics. I was interpreting them in a very personal way for my own life, so that was a great moment. Like to be making music difference and the actual message of the music is something that we never talked about beforehand but when I heard him singing it, I was like I’m really happy to put that out in the world.
Yeah. (Bo) We often sit around and talk about the meaning of it all and we’re always kind of trying to figure it out for ourselves. Definitely a more philosophical and exploratory when it comes to that. We spent a lot of nights walking on the beach after recording all day, weeknights. The stars would be really vivid and we’d be walking along the beach for like 40 minutes going back to the houses where we were staying, just talking about life and how crazy it is, looking at the stars and… you know.
I reckon there’s some ambiguity in the lyrics, so I don’t know if you as an artist, are afraid to make songs out of your experience or is it open to interpretation?
I think it’s definitely open to interpretation. There’s definitely a question for Jim, to feel over me… I was reflecting myself in the songs.
What’s the meaning of success for you?
I think it’s the vanishing horizon. (Carl) The idea of success is not really possible like in a traditional sense, like what people think success is. For me, it’s like doing what you enjoy doing and you happen to be being able to pay your mortgage from that… Like being exactly where you want to be and not thinking, “Oh man, I got to go”, like, get a side job to do this. I feel like that for me is personally my definition of success.
To me success is like winning your inner idea of what success is; like what my personal ideas, satisfaction and authenticity is and creativity. That’s what success is to me. If I can meet those goals and not other people’s goals, like the outer. That’s not success. Thinking… whatever. If people think you should have a lot of money or get played on the radio or sell millions of records or play all over the world, like if they think that… if I think that’s success, then great. But I don’t know.. Yeah, it’s a vanishing horizon.
Even if you had $6 millions, you would have so many problems, that you would still need more money, I think. That’s my hypothesis.
Yeah. So for me, (Bo) like success is like being able to make the music you want to make with the people you want to make it and to play it to people, to have a comfortable life and to continue to do that without any sort of people trying to tell you what to do, tell you how to do it, what you should be doing or shouldn’t be doing. So it’s more about having control and authenticity within who you are in your art. That’s success to me.
Are you satisfied with the level of commercial success of the album?
Yeah. (Carl) I mean this is the thing since we joined the band. We have been on a very slow climb, sometimes unperceivable climb of shows getting bigger, selling more records. Well in this day and age, not really selling more records but compared to 10 years ago, we’re selling, you know… an okay amount of records if anybody is keeping score. But it’s like there’s not really like you’re saying about this “keeping score” of success is like– It’s always been a slow build and sometimes it does that or whatever but we’re all kind of– Every time we get sort of tied up and thinking about that, we push it all away and go make a record.
That’s good. You think it has something to do with the type of music you make? That it might be not as popular as other bands say Radiohead or Muse for instance.
I don’t know. (Bo) I mean I think if the music business could be a code that could be cracked then everybody would have hit songs. I don’t think there’s any answer to that question. Like Radiohead’s… – What? Their first album? They had a massive radio hit. We’ve never had that situation. Pearl Jam, their first album was a massive hit.
And it came out at a different era. (Carl) Yet I still feel like we’re in the same group as those bands even though we might not have as much course of success. But I do feel like Radiohead doesn’t get played on the radio anymore. I mean not the radio that I’ve heard. I’m sure they get played somewhere, something like just us but like— The singer of Pearl Jam, they come up with a new record, I don’t really feel like mainstream radio is playing their new records.
So like for me, (Carl) I think we’re on the same group. I guess commercial success is tied to fads and turns. I don’t really feel like you can have longevity if you’re chasing fads and turns. You can try to create one or land on one and get lucky. But you know how dance music comes and goes, rock music comes and goes and it depends if you have the right timing. I’m sure if you’re a rock band and you’re around any electronic moment, like no matter how good you are, maybe you won’t have success, you know. So some of it is luck.
The thing that we feel can control is making the music that we’ll enjoy. (Bo) And then also when we play the shows, we try to make the shows as intense as they possibly can or like is interesting as they can. And that’s the thing like… I feel like when people come to see us, you know, if there’s a business model, it’s like that person will bring two people next time. You know what I mean? That’s sort of the only thing that we can hopefully counting on.
And that the radio and the pop culture and the internet or everything is like kind of out of our hands. (Carl)
Yeah. (Bo) That’s changed so much in the last 10 years. The way bands get popular nowadays is so much like this weird, almost like a psyche moment, you know, where we’ll be like, “This is the cool band” and everyone is just like, “I like the cool band,” you know. And it’s just like people don’t discover music in the same way and it’s changing and it’s getting different as time goes on. It’s like impossible to chase that mouse. You can’t catch it. So you can only do what feels good to
How do you get on with technology, the internet and how speedy the things are?
It seems like an impossible confusing game to figure it out. (Bo) We are all on social media, Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and all that bullsh*t. And we’re consuming music just like your own kids are now too. They’re like, “Oh, I’ve heard that band and all this and this in Spotify.” “Oh that’s cool,” or whatever. That’s how people experience music now and the collective attention span of the world is getting shorter. And I think in some ways, it’s good and other ways, it’s really not good because you’re losing like a certain depth, I mean you’re losing a certain connection to the world because you’re only experiencing it on the first level or two.
Yeah. There’s like there’s way too many options so you never sink your teeth into one. (Carl)
Yeah, yeah. And new records come out. It’s hard to make time to listen to it because there’s like 7000 other records you can get.
And I think that’s probably why we do well on the live round because people will sit there and take a good hard look at us for an hour and then they get it. (Bo) But if they listen to like one or two of our songs on Spotify, they’re like, “Yeah. It’s cool,” whatever. There’s so much variety of music.
People don’t listen to a whole album anymore, you have to kind of push them to listen.
Yeah. (Carl) They listen to like the top five, the most popular songs on Spotify and then they’re probably like, “Who the hell are these guys?”
You think this is the best moment of your career or the best is always yet to come.
Both. (Carl) Strange and wonderful things happen every time we make a record. I think we personally feel really good about this one. Like I had a great time making it and then like– You know, crazy stuff has happened. We played with Roger Waters in Newport Folk Fest; we sold out a Red Rocks show right before we got here, went to Europe; and we like did a live stream. That was the first time we did a live stream and it went really well and we thought we’ve played well.
So it’s just like you never know what’s going to happen. And those become my favorite moments because it’s like the most recent thing. Like, “Holy sh*t. I never thought that was going to happen.”
Yeah. (Bo) If I was betting man, I would say in 20 years, I’ll look back at this record and I’ll be really proud of it and I’ll say, “That was a really, really good moment among a lot of good moments.” It’s like we’ve had a lot of good moments as a band, you know, with a lot of records. I think we’ve been proud of most of what we’ve done.
“We don’t stop when we have a good record”
What gives you the music that doesn’t give you any other thing?
I feel like it’s almost like a connection to a greater thing, like a greater purpose. (Bo) It’s almost like religion or something where you feel like you’re connected to people that feel the same way about… emotionally or if they like the same kind of music, they like the same kind of patterns, notes rhythms that you like, then you play to a bunch of people that you love and like you’re family. So for me, it feels like it’s always like… feeling like… getting outside of your ego self and being feeling connected to a greater expression and then having other people all connect to it.
Last question. Are you happy?
Yeah. (Bo) I personally am probably happier than I’ve ever been but maybe that’s because of all the hard work and struggles and lessons I’ve had to learn, you know being in a band, doing all the traveling and close-knit relationships I’ve had that helped me grow and become happier.
As the band has progressed, (Carl) the relationship between the five of us has gotten stronger and we’ve weathered lots of storms together. At this point, it keeps bringing us more and more intertwined as human beings. As long as that keeps happening, I’ll be happy.
Is there something that we will expect for future records? You may have some, I don’t know, we can introduce some of it right here.
Expect some surprises. Yeah, we wouldn’t even know. We wouldn’t even know. We don’t plan things every time. We do a lot of things in the moment.