My Morning Jacket have stayed relatively quiet since they released 2011's Circuital, but they're about to make up for lost time: The band is currently finishing work on two studio albums, one due in April, the other in 2016. "I just had tons of songs this time," frontman Jim James tells Rolling Stone from the Portland, Oregon studio where the group is mixing the first of the two LPs. "We didn't even get to all of them."
After recording Circuital in a Louisville, Kentucky church gym, the band decamped to Panoramic House Studio near San Francisco late last year to start work on the tunes James stockpiled since their last album.
Unlike past efforts, where James would record demos of songs before presenting it to the band, the group went into the new sessions a more spontaneous unit. "I tried to give the guys a real quick demo so they can come in with a basic understanding of the melody or what I was hoping to go for," says James. "But we had a really fun way of working where there's no rehearsal period and we could jump in and just start rolling tape."
They ended up with 24 solid contenders, splitting them up into a pair of stand-alone discs, which they're still in the process of sequencing. "I love making each record sound different," he says. "I love the thrill of putting on a record and feeling like you got the wrong one from the factory. We strive to make people put on the record or MP3 and be like, 'Shit, did they actually fuck up my order?'"
James insists a Quadrophenia-type double album was never an option, but My Morning Jacket's principal songwriter says sequencing both albums has become one of the band's biggest challenges. "It's a puzzle right up until the last second," says James. "It's like playing Jenga." At least two songs scheduled for the first album, for example, were moved to the follow-up so that two other recently recorded tracks could take their place.
James has also begun the follow-up to his 2013 psych-folk solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God, sneaking in recording windows with friend and drummer Dave Givan for a 2016 release. "The whole Jacket thing is so much about us playing together and creating this circle of power," says the singer. "The solo record is more of a patchwork. It's like one person sitting there making a quilt as opposed to five people building a house at the same time."
While James continues to recuperate from back surgery — "It's a long process," says James, declining to go into detail on the injury. "I have been physically trying to rest some, but mentally not really" — the group is preparing for their annual One Big Holiday show in Mexico. The mini-festival, scheduled for January 31st to February 4th, will feature three full shows by My Morning Jacket alongside Preservation Hall Jazz Band, War on Drugs, Dr. Dog, Dawes, Sylvan Esso, Biz Markie and Band of Horses (the latter performing both electric and acoustic shows.) MMJ will embark on a tour next year, though details have yet to be finalized.
Despite the injury, James has retained his quirky likeability and affable self-effacement. Asked to describe any lyrical themes fans can expect to hear on the new material, James says, "I like to joke if aliens came down and found my lyrics and had to come up with one overarching theme of what I was going for, they'd be like, 'This dude is really fuckin' confused.' Confusion is still my primary theme."