My Morning Jacket’s Tom Blankenship :: the YANP Interview
August 17th, 2011 by Matt
Tonight I’m headed up to Cincinnati to see a band for the fourth time this year. Ordinarily I’d be tired of the band by now, but not when that band is My Morning Jacket. I was lucky enough to score an interview with MMJ bassist Tom Blankenship. He requested some questions a bit outside of the normal ones the band is thrown (“How did you get your band name?” “You guys sure tour a lot, huh?”) so I did my best. Wacky questions and brilliant answers lie ahead!
My Morning Jacket’s Tom Blankenship :: the YANP Interview
YANP: If everyone in the band had to switch instruments, what would be the most and least successful combinations of people/instruments and why?
Tom: Tough call ‘cos we can all play each other’s instruments, and I wouldn’t say anyone is necessarily horrible at any of them (okay, no one should let me sing, EVER). But I think the real question is: if we were animated characters on TV’s the Flintstones which dinosaurs would double as our respective instruments? Bo would of course play the PianoSaurus, a stegosaurus with a bowtie just like when we was kids. Jim and Carl would play T-Rex geetars which is hilarious because their lil’ T-Rex arms would be flailing around all the time. Patrick would have a kit made of baby woolly mammoths that cry in different pitches when they’re tapped on their backs or bottoms. And I would play the pterodactyl bass which would, of course, scream on the second verse of “Off the Record”. Alternately, I’d like to see our next stage set-up be a two-story Voltron-like robot that houses all five of us in its limbs and head and the separate pieces could double as electric cars to lamely race around each city on the tour.
YANP: I’ve caught bits and pieces of the story, but what’s actually up with “Friends Again?” Was it written for the LP and then scrapped or intended for a movie or what? Are we likely to hear a studio version of it in the near future?
Tom: It was one of two songs Jim had written for an Electric Mayhem project. Disney owns the characters now and wanted to resurrect the Electric Mayhem band with a new album and subsequent tour, and offered us the chance to be the band behind the fictional band. Like, wowsers! We did actually record “Muppets” versions of “Friends Again” and “Outta My System” for the project.. but unfortunately the whole thing fell through due to personnel change-ups at Disney. BUT both those recordings will one day be released. I feel like that version of “Outta My System” is especially fun, ‘cos it’s sooo different in such a wacky way from the one on Circuital.
Continue reading the interview
YANP: “Victory Dance” seems to fill a hole that I didn’t even know existed in your catalogue. The bass/keyboard combo gives it quite the understated punch. Was that one always so sparse, or did it get whittled to perfection in the recording process?
Tom: Jim’s demo was based around the hypnotic, trance-like electric piano riff that runs throughout the song. Patrick and I must’ve both thought we were listening to an outtake from Danzig III though because we were playing it like a metal band our first rehearsal of the song. As hilariously brutal that reading was it definitely did not fit what Jim had in mind. So we started from the ground up: piano riff and vocal, slowly building layers of instruments from there. I love that in the end the Wurly and bass are like this snake that hypnotically slithers across the ground while all sorts of chaos swings over head and madness threatens to trample it along the way.
YANP: I’ve been asked probably 20 times in the past week if I know of any plans to release the Palace show as a DVD. Any plans for that? What about the T5 live box set I keep hearing little bits of info about?
Tom: Unfortunately, no plans to release the “Unstaged” show from the Palace earlier this year. Still working on the T5 shows, as there’s so much material to sort through, mix, etc; and we’re still focusing on the new album.
YANP: Now that you’re going back on the road, are there any regional treats (like Ale8 in KY) that you’re excited to pick up from around the country?
Tom: It’s funny, we were just discussing this on the road last week. Every time someone claims “This is THE best _____ in ______” it’s almost always over-hyped. But I think that can be attributed to whatever you grow up with/what you’re accustomed to eating/drinking, etc in your hometown. But I do make it a point to wander into a local coffee shop in most cities we’re playing and order an Americano. This is always a rewarding (and much needed) daily experience and ya get some good beans to travel home with.
YANP: Much has been made of the church gym you recorded the album in. Was that always your first choice for a location? How did you know about it?
Tom: Our friend Kevin Ratterman, who has a studio of his own in Louisville and was assistant engineer on the album, had recorded in the sanctuary/gym before and turned us on to it. We had been looking for a place to set up some recording gear and roll tape while we rehearsed this new batch of songs Jim had just given us demos for. The goal every album has been to capture us as “live” as possible; so every instrument, vocal, etc being played at the same time with as few overdubs as possible. We didn’t know going into the session that we would be recording the album.. we were just excited to be creating music together again, and figured we may as well document it as it was coming together. But we quickly learned that the gym gave us just enough space that we could all be in the same room, playing and capturing every instrument in the same moment, with just the right amount of magical bleed through in the mics.
YANP: It was great to hear all the new songs live. Which of the non-singles are you hoping stick around in future years’ sets?
Tom: Honestly, this is the most proud I’ve been of any album we’ve put together. So hopefully they all stay around in the sets for years to come. But if I were forced to pick just two I’d say “Circuital” and “Slow Slow Tune”. For me those are the most fun and emotional to play live, respectively.
YANP: “Holdin On to Black Metal” was inspired by a Siamese soul song from the 60s. Who dug that one up and how was it decided that you’d adapt it into the rocker that it became?
Tom: Jim’s story is that he was driving around LA in a rental car listening to Siamese Soul: Thai Spectacular 1960s-80s Volume 2 and found himself playing the song “E-Saew Tam Punha Huajai” by Kwan Jai & Kwan Jit Sriprajan on repeat and singing his own melody/words to the tune. The demo version that the band first heard was a loop of the one riff taken from the song with Jim singing over it. I think he had always intended on the loop being played full band, like our interpretation of a sample. The version you hear on the album is actually the first take of the song, right when everyone is finally starting to feel settled into the arrangement.
YANP: If you could suggest anything (book/movie/drink/whatever) as a companion to be enjoyed alongside Circuital, what would you pick?
Tom: A quiet, comfy room with no lights but the glow from a 70s receiver and the light on the turntable’s stylus. And yer favorite beverage. And a companion, be it lover, friend or pet. Or magical, imaginary creature.
YANP: If the rest of the band had to start blogs on niche topics/things like Jim did with creme brulee, what would be your guess as to what each of you would consider yourselves minor experts on?
Tom: Bo Koster: poker
Carl Broemel: any musical instrument in existence
Patrick Hallahan: the culinary arts
Tom Blankenship: the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe
YANP: You must’ve kept some souvenirs from your time in the band. If the Smithsonian came calling, what would be the coolest piece of memorabilia you, personally, could offer them?
Tom: Notebook pages that contain the band-created Mab Libs, aka what is actually being spoken at the end of “Off the Record”. But they’re unfortunately locked in a time capsule to be opened in the year 2084.
YANP: Not a question, but just wanted to say thanks again for doing the signing at CD Central! I’m one of the employees and it was a great experience for everyone involved.
Tom: Of course, we had a blast DJing that afternoon and meeting all them fine folks. Thanks to everyone at CD Central for putting that together! The turnout was WAY more than we expected and hopefully we can do it again next album.