My Morning Jacket couldn't have been been more stoked to hit the road with Bob Dylan on a six-week tour of amphitheaters this summer. "The whole concept of the tour was supposed to be super collaborative," says MMJ frontman Jim James. "We were expecting to be sitting around the campfire with Dylan at two a.m. and go, 'Let's cover all of Desire tomorrow!' We had all these pipe dreams."
Not long into the tour, reality hit. "Bob really wasn't around," says James. "We never talked to him once once. He does not hang, which is fine and understandable . . . or it's kind of understandable. I don't know." MMJ and Wilco did what they could to excite the fans, often jamming together on classic rock standards like "Cinnamon Girl."
Finally, about three weeks into the tour, they got word that Dylan wanted Jeff Tweedy and James to come out at the end of his headlining set to join him on the traditional folk song "Twelve Gates to the City." They tackled "Let Your Light Shine On Me" and "The Weight" at a handful of later shows on the tour (joined sometimes by Ryan Bingham and once by Peter Wolf), though they still never spoke to Dylan or even had a chance to rehearse the songs.
"His bass player, Tony [Garnier], did all the communicating with us as far as who was going to sing what verse," says James. "They'd change keys literally a minute before we went on, like, 'Bob wants to do it in E flat.' It was really cool, and something I'll be able to tell the grandkids about."
Sadly, the only visual evidence of the James-Tweedy-Dylan collaborations is on a handful of amateur videos on YouTube. "Bob doesn't want videos and cameras at his shows," James says. "All that stuff is Bob's call. It's his world, and when you're in somebody else's world, it's their call and you gotta respect that. The whole tour was a huge honor and I'll never forget it."
James spent much of the year promoting his first proper solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, but he's now turning his focus to MMJ's follow-up to 2011's Circuital. "We start recording in a week," he says. "I've been piling up songs and demos, but we'll hash out a lot of things in the studio. I've got a lot of ideas I'm really excited about."
The band will take a break from the studio in late January when they head down to the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo, Mexico for My Morning Jacket's One Big Holiday, a five-day festival that will also feature performances by the Flaming Lips.
"We'll probably play most of our catalog," says James. "We've got enough music where we don't have to do any repeats. Every night will be completely different, and we can play deep cuts and throw some covers in. It's going to be really awesome."