Jim James talks from home about his first solo excursion outside of My Morning Jacket.
Maybe it was just another indicator of his laid-back Southern hippie attitude, or maybe being at home had a calming side effect, but Jim James didn’t sound the least bit nervous about kicking off his first real solo tour this week.
“We’ve done a handful of other random shows that have been really cool, so a lot of the pressure is off,” the My Morning Jacket frontman said Wednesday morning from his home in Louisville, Ky. That night, he played a hometown gig with his new four-piece backing band and then immediately hit the road toward Minneapolis, where they have a sold-out show Sunday at First Avenue, followed by 24 more dates.
One listen to James’ grandiosely titled debut solo album, “Regions of Light and Sound of God,” and you might think he’s calm about everything these days. The record trades out the ripping guitar work and often visceral energy of MMJ’s records for slower-grooving, psychedelic R&B and a higher level of personal mysticism and spirituality.
“Show me one true path that really leads to the promised land,” James, 34, requests at one point in the collection.
Here is some of what we asked from him in the interview.
On how he knew he was making a solo album and not another My Morning Jacket record: “When we worked with [producer] Joe Chiccarelli on [MMJ’s] ‘Evil Urges,’ he gave me some great advice, which was to never make demos. Up until that record, I had made all these super-intense and detailed demos that were almost a whole other album unto themselves. That wound up making the making of that record harder. Since then I kind of put songs into categories and know which ones I want to work on by myself, and which ones with the band, and I just start recording these ones by myself, not thinking of them as demos.”
On the 1929 book “God’s Man: A Novel in Woodcuts,” a primary inspiration for the album: “To me, it’s just one of the greatest works of art of our time. It’s art deco, but it’s also very futuristic and it’s timeless and just super crazy. I was very moved by how cinematic it was. A friend of mine bought the film rights to it, so the idea just inspired me and stuff just started popping out.”
On the serious injuries he suffered falling off the stage in Iowa City in 2008, another spark behind the record: “That was just a really horrible moment in my life. I was trapped at home a lot, and kind of stuck in my own head a lot. That’s when I really got into ‘God’s Man.’ The main character in the book also has a big fall and has to be rescued, but he returns to health. Luckily for me I got healthy, too. And I found love in my life, which parallels the book.
“It was one of those maybe clichéd moments when a near-death experience, or what feels like near-death, is what you need to wake you up and figure things out.”
On playing the new album in its entirety in concert: “It has felt kind of nice to present it that way, but it’s also somewhat out of necessity because I only have the one album to my name. We are trying to pull in a couple new songs. It’s a work in progress. ... We do play a little older stuff at the end, so there are at least some songs the people know well. We’ve just been going through the old songs trying to figure out which ones work best. That’s also still a bit of a work in progress.”
On “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” the album’s gadget-bemoaning single: “In a nutshell, it’s really about trying to have a balanced life and not getting too swept up by the flood of technology in our lives right now. Life is hard and can be really lonely, and a lot of us now seek solace in the online world. Our smartphones can be very hypnotic. ”
On his own struggles to unplug: “I just went on a three-day yoga retreat and left the phone off, and it was really nice. I always try to give it up completely when I’m on vacation. More day to day, I try my best just to use it as a tool — I like to think of them as a hammer, a tool that you pick up for a specific use, but then you put down. But I’m like everybody else and have my moments where I’m just [expletive] sucked into that thing and can’t look away from it.”
On the album’s spiritual tone: “It’s just in my DNA or my soul or whatever to think about this stuff a lot. It’s obviously something none of us will ever come to a definitive conclusion about, but I still like to think about it and open up the realm that people can be more accepting of each other and our beliefs.”
On his many past trips to the Twin Cities: “We’ve played Minneapolis so many times over the years, I’ve picked up on this unique vibe there. I feel like we’ve played all the small clubs there, all the big clubs, outside, everywhere in between.
“There’s a thing there that I believe is somewhat defined by the fierce weather. I’m a big fan of the Trampled by Turtles guys, and I love their energy because it seems like there’s a certain amount of pride and strength they draw from being from Minnesota, and from battling the elements there. Some of my coldest memories ever are unloading our trailer in Minneapolis and having our fingers just stick to the gear, and us all crying for mercy. You guys are tough.”