Q&A: My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan
For their most recent recording session, My Morning Jacket’s members secluded themselves in a remote Northern California locale and produced their latest release The Waterfall. My Morning Jacket recently took a break in its hometown of Louisville, Kentucky (before resuming a tour leading to Oct. 9-10 performances at Brooklyn Bowl), and Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen caught up with drummer Patrick Hallahan there.
I saw you were on break between your Red Rocks show and the European tour.
Yeah, if I could perpetually be between show at Red Rocks and Paris that would be nice.
And then you come back for two shows at Brooklyn Bowl in Vegas.
Yeah, how is that place for seeing shows?
Every show I’ve been to there sounded great.
We’re really looking forward to playing there. We’re friends with the owners.
Brooklyn Bowl seems like a big family circle. I’m not surprised that you’re playing there. My Morning Jacket fits right in. I saw Danzig a few weeks ago, and he might be an exception. You guys get to play back-to-back shows without having to travel.
Plus it’s a great place to spend a few days. We’re looking forward to it.
When I first sat down to research for this interview I was reading a passage in Keith Richards’ autobiography in which he describes the magic of being in a band. Then I turned right away to reading about The Waterfall being recorded in the bucolic environment of (Exile in) Stinson Beach in Northern California. Did it feel magical being in a band there?
It’s a rare place. You have to go to the post office every day to get mail, and the person checking your groceries in the morning might be waiting to pour coffee for you later on that night. Coming from Kentucky and coming from small towns in general, it’s really neat to see something smaller. You think you’re the smallest, and then you go someplace like Stinson Beach and you realize there’s even more … it’s so insular, so connected. People just don’t leave that place, so that magic, that personality along with the magic that is trapped there, I just feel like it’s one of the most special little pockets of the universe I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s just like magic concentrate. Magic keeps heaping down there and it just can’t get out, so it just keeps concentrating on itself. One of the most magic places ever. You can’t plan that. We go to different places with every album, and you can’t predict magic. You just have to be open to it. We won the lottery with that place. It was just really special.
I just saw that the population was 632. It makes you aware of how rarely you come across pristine places like that anymore.
It’s a beautiful little pocket and I hope it never changes. There’s a town called Bolinas that’s right next to Stinson. They rip down the road signs because they don’t want people to come down and see what they’re doing. I love the mentality there. It’s so cool.
Was it the Panoramic House Studio or location that initially drew you there?
We got a tip from somebody. We were like the second band to record there. They just opened it. One of the owners (John Baccigaluppi) is the co-owner of Tape Op magazine, and he’s friends with our producer. We made connections through that.
I thought it might have been a (MMJ producer) Tucker Martine connection since he’s got his Portland studio not that far away.
In other interviews you guys talked about the daily walk between the house and the studio having a “defragmentation” effect. Fully disconnecting is one of the only ways to get into the creative zone and reaping its benefits. Any distraction can take away from that.
I agree completely but also, outside of the creative zone, it’s just good to do for you to do as a person. Walking an hour or two, we would walk home … the walks during the day were magical, but the walks home were the best stuff, man, because there were no street lights. There’s no light pollution out there, so literally the only light is the moon or your cell phone. On a foggy night if you don’t use your cell phone you’re going to fall down a hill (laughs). We would walk from the studio as a group and it was such a great way to decompress, and also figure out what the next move was the next day. It just added so much valuable time with the people that you’re working with. We made an album in Manhattan and that was a lot of fun, but it was so rushed. A lot of the process was just hurry and go, and this was a lot of wait-and bask-in-the-glory of not only the environment you’re in but also the people you’re around. The walks rendered that, if that makes any sense.
I totally understand. It helps you gather your thoughts, reflect then move forward the next day. I can’t even imagine you wanting to go back to a different way of recording after this.
Oh, it’s gotta be a different way of recording next time, are you kidding? (Laughs)
Yeah, you guys need a contrast with every recording, right?
Well, it’s just that you don’t want to go back and try to re-create something. That was a real magical moment. It changed our lives forever and hopefully there’s another magical moment down the road.
It was like your Exile on Main Street. Exile in Stinson Beach.
(Laughs) I don’t think it was quite as crazy as Exile on Main Street, but yeah.
Not crazy, but you got a tremendous amount of material in a short amount of time.
Yeah, we did. In fact it was really hard to leave. We had separation anxiety weeks before we had to leave because it was like, “Damn it! This is just so good. Why do we have to leave?” But you want to leave like that, right? You don’t want to leave hating a place.
No. I understand that feeling of never wanting to leave, but you have to.
Yes, you do.
Seven albums in now, and I think you’ve been on board for five, do you guys decide how you’re going to record it first, or do you decide to make an album and then determine the method?
Every album is different except for this one thing. It all starts with Jim (James)’s demos, like he brings demos to the band that he’s been working on, and they’re in varying form or more complete than others. This particular album, all the demos were pretty much incomplete except for a couple. He came to the table with like 40 songs. I think we recorded 21 … actually, 22. A lot of them are just as rough as a demo can get, and that was kind of the mantra of this whole recording session. We went in with no expectations, all of our gear, any knowledge that we’d picked up through the years, and just kind of assembled these little parts into songs over time. It was really therapeutic in a way, because there weren’t any expectations. We went in and—if you talk to any of the other guys they’ll say this too—our mantra was “No stone unturned.” We just went in and tried everything, and The Waterfall is a fraction of what came out of that.
What did it mean for MMJ’s drummer to be working spontaneously from demos Jim James had recorded with his phone’s voice memos app?
First of all, we all have our instruments. Jim comes up with the songs and we’re all kind of editors on how this all goes. As a drummer … I don’t know. As a person, I go into that experience open and receptive, and just kind of react to what needs to happen. I try to be water, if that makes any sense.
Bruce Lee, sure.
If a song needs this, I give it that. If a song needs that, I give it that. I just go in … actually I prefer, in all the different recording styles I’ve tried through the years, I prefer to go into a space open rather than really rehearsed, because there’s always the room for growth instead of repetition. To be that makes the best album. Speaking of magic, that first reaction to something you hear is usually pretty pure and amazing. Or not. (laughs)
Is that something you’re able to do because the current lineup has a history going back a decade-plus now? Do you think you could have done this five years ago or was this made possible as a result of band maturation?
Oh, yeah. It’s a total result of living in small spaces and listening to each other for a very long time. I hope the next one is a further example of that, but yeah, if there’s anything I can take away from this album it’s that I think we came away better listeners. To me that’s the most important thing of being in a band and being in a relationship, is being able to listen and just shut up for a second, and take in what’s going on. I think everybody did a great job of that making this album. I hope we can do another one where everybody shuts up. (laughs)
Would you be working with Tucker Martine again or do you think you’ll be working with a different producer next time?
Man, I will take Tucker to the grave with me. I love that man more than just about anybody. He’s not only a mixer and a production engineer. You just meet certain people in life. Like the first time I met Tucker I felt like I’d known him for years. He’s just a like-minded wonderful soul. I would make records with Tucker until my arms fall off.
You and Jim have the longest relationship of any members in the band, right?
Did that affect your relationship with him as a musician or did you build your roots later? If there a special relationship from knowing him since grammar school?
I met Jim when I was 10, but I could have met him yesterday and felt the same way I do now. I feel the same way about Bo (Koster), Carl (Broemel) and Tom (Blankenship) as well. It’s all about chemistry. You either have it or you don’t. Time can mature than chemistry, but that feeling you get from somebody else you with has nothing to do with time. I feel the same way about Jim that I feel about Tom, Carl and Bo. They occupy the same space in my heart.