Following his first ever solo tour, Jim James has linked back up with My Morning Jacket to start work on the follow up to 2011’s Circuital. While recording, the band was approached to cover Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” as a part of a campaign with The North Face and The Department of the Interior to inspire people to get outside to protect and preserve our country’s vital resources.
We spoke with Jim while he was on the west coast finishing up the new LP and kicking off the campaign. Also, a big thank you to My Morning Jacket for their Sandy relief performance in Asbury Park back in 2013.
SIMGE: How’s everything been after your solo tour and getting back into the fold with My Morning Jacket?
JJ: It’s been great, this last recording process has just been unbelievably magical. We went out to Stinson Beach out in California and recorded for a couple of months, and we recorded quite a bit in Louisville, Kentucky. Now I’m in Portland, Oregon mixing.
We recorded a ton of stuff which I think is going to be two records, but they’re not related to each other. It’s not going to be like a double record or an A & B, but or goal is to put out two records quicker this time instead of three or four years in between.
We had enough songs this time were it just seemed fun to put out two in a shorter time span. So yeah we’re finishing up record one right now and mixing it, and things have been really great.
SIMGE: Tell us a little bit about this new project you have with The North Face and The Department of the Interior.
JJ: They reached out to us about the campaign and sent me some footage that they shot up to that point which was really beautiful. I had a personal connection to Woody Guthrie and a couple years ago I did a record called New Multitudes where we got to write new music to lost Woody Guthrie lyrics, so we got to go to the Woody Guthrie archives and meet his daughter. I had this really profound experience doing that.
They moved the archives from Manhattan to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Last year on the solo tour we went and they had this really fantastic display set up with the handwritten lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land” with the song playing out of speakers. It was just one of those moments for me that just brought me to tears.
That song is just so deeply embedded in our subconscious that we heard as kids sitting around a campfire, and it kind of drifts through the air like a magic spell. The true reality of these handwritten words on this page that this guy had sat and written, it seems like no mere mortal could write.
So that experience was really moving for me, and for them to reach out after that was really something that spoke to me and made me want to be a part of what was going on.
SIMGE: That’s a really beautiful sentiment. How has Woody Guthrie influenced you as opposed to say Fela Kuti, I know you did something last year with that project.
JJ: Yeah I mean everything is everything. I think covering songs is the ultimate way of paying tribute to those who have influenced you, and I feel like that’s the only way I can really say thank you.
Music is such a personal thing that of course you can say that you love Woody Guthrie or you love this or that, but I think that’s why we love doing covers so much because you get your head wrapped up so much in this song and then you get to play it.
Music is already one of the greatest gifts that we can experience in the world, and what a gift it is to learn an instrument, sing a song, and share it with friends and share it with people, so that’s why I love doing covers so much. It’s just another way to to connect.
SIMGE: I totally understand, and that’s why I do what I do. I was at your Bonnaroo Superjam so I’ve seen a good amount of your covers. Hopefully you get to do that again someday.
JJ: Me too, that was really amazing.
SIMGE: So what does this project mean to you? Ideally how would you want people to react to this campaign?
JJ: Well, I mean to me the biggest thing is there’s several levels. Just the thought of we’re at this crossroads right now in terms of learning to accept and use technology as a tool and not be completely eaten alive by it. I feel like there’s this temptation because it’s right in our faces, we have the world in our pocket.
We have our phones, we have video games, we’ve got movies, we’ve got iPads, so there’s a lot of instances for us to get gobbled up and get sucked into these screens and forget that the real world even exists. Then all of a sudden we’re brains in jars sitting on shelves wired up to the internet and we don’t even have bodies anymore.
So I love the idea of somebody laying around on the couch watching TV and seeing this commercial and hearing this song, and maybe they remember the song from when they were a kid. Hopefully it will pop that bubble in somebody’s mind and make that connection to walk out the front door.
No matter where you live there’s somewhere beautiful nearby you. That’s what makes this campaign super cool because I’ve been on tour all the time so when I get somewhere I go on my phone and find where a cool park is, map it, and get out there. Use the technology to get me out there and enjoy the world. So I love the thought of that hopefully happening for people.
SIMGE: What can we expect from you and My Morning Jacket coming up next year?
JJ: We’re working on finishing up the new record, hopefully it will come out in April. Then we’re doing our One Big Holiday festival in January. Once the album comes out I’m sure we’ll be touring. So we’ll be out and about next year.
For every download of My Morning Jacket’s rendition of “This Land is Your Land” on iTunes, The North Face is making a donation to the 21st Century Conservation Corps up to $250,000, and the band is contributing their artist fee.