By Wesley Case, The Baltimore Sun
10:29 AM EDT, August 16, 2012
Jim James can't seem to slow down.
Besides fronting one of the most beloved rock bands in the country — the Louisville, Ky., quintet My Morning Jacket — James has just put the finishing touches on his first solo album, still untitled and tentatively due in February.
Besides the solo work, the 34-year-old singer-songwriter has been remixing songs for up-and-coming artists such as Floating Action, a folk-hybrid act signed to James' own Removador label.
It's also been more than a year since My Morning Jacket released its sixth album, "Circuital," and James is still touring heavily in support of it. Right now, he's in a familiar position — in the thick of a brutal summer schedule that began with large European festivals and has continued as a My Morning Jacket headlining tour in America. The group performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday.
During a recent conversation from the road, James was tired but polite, displaying a hint of Southern charm.
"We have a lot of fun at festivals, but you also get fatigued," James said. "It's about just trying to get some rest here and there to enjoy it all."
He's busy, so forgive him and his bandmates for passing off certain duties, such as determining this tour's set lists. Before the first headlining date, the band announced the "Spontaneous Curation Series," a way for fans to request songs on Twitter that they want to see live. Fan-sourced set lists give the band one less thing to think about, James said, adding that he hopes they also give crowds the show they paid for.
"It's a way of getting out of my head," James said of the social media experiment. "I get in these zones where I'll love or hate a song, but it's kind of cool to not have to dictate the set lists. We want to play what people want to hear."
With six full-length albums and even more EPs, My Morning Jacket has more than enough songs for fans to choose from. James said the band has been practicing older, rare cuts in its dressing room before shows. He acknowledged that it's been strange playing songs he had forgotten.
"It's like a time machine — looking back at old versions of yourself through these songs," he said. "They go through weird cycles. Some I hate. ... Then the next year, I'll love them again."
That conflict seems understandable after revisiting the group's catalog.
Since forming in 1998, the band has steadily built a sterling live reputation through word of mouth — last year, Rolling Stone named My Morning Jacket "one of the greatest live bands of their generation" — while evolving its sound, a mix of folk, blues, psychedelic rock and other tastes from the fringe.
Songwriting, James says, is easier now than when he started simply because he has learned from previous mistakes.
"It's all about being inspired or having the universe bring you some idea," he said. "But then, as you go on, you have the benefit of having past experiences that you didn't have in the early days."
Although writer's block briefly hit after completing his solo album, James said he has recently felt inspired to write again.
"It's a faucet-like thing," he said of songwriting. "It gets turned on and off, and now it seems to be on again."
After he tours in support of his solo album next year, James and the rest of My Morning Jacket will begin recording the group's next record, probably in April or May, he said.
Despite heaps of critical praise and Grammy nominations ("Circuital" lost to Bon Iver's eponymous record for Best Alternative Music Album this past year), James said forging My Morning Jacket's legacy with his bandmates still drives him.
"I want to make something that's good and will last forever," he said. "You don't know when you make music. You try as hard as you can, but only time and people's tastes will tell if what you made was classic or not."
If you go
My Morning Jacket performs Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Band of Horses will also perform. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50-$49.50. Call 877-435-9849 or go to merriweathermusic.com.
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