It only seems right that those who find themselves blessed (or cursed) with copious amounts of talent occasionally fail. Yet during the better part of the two decades that Jim James has been publicly sharing his gifts, nary a sour note has escaped his righteous pipes. The longtime frontman for My Morning Jacket has quietly become one of the most consistent and beloved performers of our time. With and without his band, he’s clocked a dizzying number of days on the road, been praised by critics, and shared both stage and studio with the likes of Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Erykah Badu, and Brittany Howard — yet he hasn’t topped charts, and even savvy music fans often don’t recognize him by name.
For a rock star, he’s anything but. He comes off as such an average and approachable guy, utterly unconcerned with image and so unapologetically human that as you delve into his catalog, you begin to understand why you can’t find a cozy niche for his musical polygamy. He recorded a tribute to George Harrison, and in a live environment he has been known to cover everything from Burt Bacharach and Lionel Richie to Stevie Wonder and the Eagles — he’s equal parts artist and fan. Three years since his solo debut, Regions of Light and Sound of God, and after being invited to play the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco by his good friend and collaborator Conor Oberst, James is using the opportunity to introduce material from his latest record, Eternally Even, to audiences on the West Coast.
How is Jim James the solo artist different from the frontman for My Morning Jacket?
I don’t know. I don’t think about it too much. I just like to work on music by myself in studio, and that’s where making solo records came from. It’s been a fun experience to put together a different band. I feel like when you try to do as many different projects as you can, it kind of really opens up your mind. For me, it opens up my mind to the Jacket and makes me kind of re-fall in love with those guys and what we do, just by doing something else ’cause it keeps it fresh. The solo band I have is really special and great friends of mine, so it’s also great to spend time with them. It’s a thing that just kind of happens.
So it’s not necessarily that you’re expressing different identities?
In a way I am. I guess I feel like a different person on both of those stages. There’s definitely something different about me at a solo show than a Jacket show, for sure, but I don’t know if I could say what that is.
For KCRW’s Apogee performance, you wore a brooch that a fan made you. You explained to the interviewer the symbolism of the piece, and it was very touching. Do you share a special connection with your fans?
I feel like there’s a really beautiful thing that happens between fans of music and the people playing. I’ve been on both sides. It’s like you can’t have one without the other. That’s the beautiful thing about live music, that human connection you get. I feel like we live in an increasingly isolated world where we’re online or at our job or at our house, and we don’t come into contact with people, and I think going to live music concerts is one of the best ways to connect with people. You can’t perform without the audience, and I love making music by myself and in the studio, too, but there’s something about that shared experience of the giving of the energy, [between] the audience and the performer.
As one of the more prolific artists around, do you ever feel creatively depleted? How do you replenish?
Oh, definitely. Yeah, I go through phases where I wonder if I’ll ever write another song again. I think most people feel that way. I think it’s part of the cycle of life. It’s like anything else. You fall in love, and then you fall out of love or you love your job, then you hate your job, you feel well, you feel sick. I feel like songwriting is just like that. You can’t control it, really. You can’t force yourself to fall in love, and you can’t control when you fall out of love sometimes. There are definitely times when I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with what I’m doing and I don’t know what’s going on or there are no songs coming to me, but then, knock on wood, I just hope that it will come back around again, and it always has. I think that doing as many different things as I can kind of keeps stoking that fire. When I get to do the solo stuff, I really enjoy it, and it makes me miss doing the Jacket stuff, so it fuels the fire for the Jacket stuff and vice versa. It’s like it kind of turns the mirror on the other things you do and inspires you.
You’re bringing Twin Limb from your hometown on tour with you. Do you think it’s important for people to support and nourish their local music scenes?
Oh, my God, yes; it’s one of the most important things because we’re all part of some local music scene. There are bands that tour all over the world, but they also come from a local scene. Here in Louisville there’s such an amazing local scene of musicians, and I feel like Twin Limb is really a special and unique band. It’ll be really cool ’cause they’re going to open the show, and then they are also in my band. We will combine forces.
The song “State of the Art” has an almost prophetic quality to it, sort of like a warning. Did you mean it that way?
In a way, yeah. The heart of the song is talking about trying to be happy with the things that technology can’t affect, and trying to be happy with the love in your life and the family around you. We never know what’s gonna happen, and if we keep disrespecting the Earth and disrespecting each other, we could see real chaos; we could see a loss of power and crazy things like the ocean swallowing up places it shouldn’t be swallowing up because of global warming. You have to try to be really good with yourself and good with your family and love the things that are the most important.
Jim James will perform Thursday, September 29, with Twin Limb at the Majestic Ventura Theater (26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura). For tickets, see venturatheater.net