Chaos Theory | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Chaos Theory 

How My Morning Jacket came back from the edge of a “thud” implosion.

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Looking back, it all could have ended in a catastrophic thud. My Morning Jacket were on the edge of extinction. Not because anything had gone wrong. It had all gone too right.

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After the release of the Kentucky quintet’s third disc, 2003’s It Still Moves, the alt-pop/space-country/insert-modifier-here group had become music press darlings'so much so that some were pitting the band in a critical cage match with Wilco for the title of America’s Radiohead. Bandleader Jim James was crowned a genius'both for his songwriting and his freewheeling love for The Muppets, which he incessantly claimed had directly inspired the band. Everyone wanted a piece of the group. Even the Dixie Chicks asked My Morning Jacket to open for them, though James respectfully declined.

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But then came the thud. At the end of 2003, after months of touring'which was preceded by years of touring. It had been grueling. Someone finally cracked. In London, before a sold-out show, a band meeting was called. Guitarist Johnny Quaid'and James’ cousin'said he was done, burnt out. Keyboardist Danny Cash seconded the motion.

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And right there, it could have ended. In fact, James, the group’s sole songwriter and mild-mannered mastermind, considered it. He could go solo. (A few months later he would, joining friends Conor Oberst and M. Ward on the road for a string of acoustic dates.) But he still wanted a band.

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So when Bo Koster walked into that room in Los Angeles, the one where he met the three remaining members of My Morning Jacket, he knew he was in a strange spot. He was both savior and Satan, the guy who could help rebuild the band but also be a replacement for a suddenly lost friend. “It was odd at first,” Koster remembers.

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He knew the songs, maybe better than the band themselves. And even though another 20 keyboardists tried out, he got the slot.

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“I took baby steps,” Koster says. “I think they tried to make it pretty comfortable, but you put pressure on yourself to be the right guy for the band. You don’t want to be that guy who walks into a room and takes over a conversation. You want to blend in.”

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But something happened. Koster'and fellow newbie, guitarist Carl Broemel'changed the band. Yes, there were other elements at work, too. James went through a sort of mental renaissance, spurred on by the fact that things were so bad two of his best friends couldn’t take it anymore. He changed everything: where the group practiced, how they recorded, how they wrote songs, even to some extent how the band sounded. The addition of Koster and Broemel urged on the latter, with 11 months on the road after being hired giving them enough cred to voice their opinions once the group returned to the studio.

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“Jim didn’t know what to expect from us creatively, since we’d never worked together that way before. But he let us really have a part,” Koster says.

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The resulting album, 2005’s Z, sounds'like most My Morning Jacket discs'simply magical, but this time for a whole different set of reasons. You only need to go a few minutes into the record’s opening track, “Wordless Chorus,” for proof. While the beginning of the song swoons and swells, hopping along on Koster’s keyboard, it eventually evolves into the kind of song that makes angels dance'even despite James’ claim that “we’ve forgot about love.” Voices rise up in harmony. Guitars skip along. The beats come rapid fire. And James, howling like Prince in full falsetto, gives the whole thing a sense of long-forgotten soul.

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It’s just flat-out gorgeous, made all the more so by the fact that, like the title implies, there are no words to grab hold of, no dominant melody to hum when everything is said and done. The song is mostly about mood'particularly that moment when heartbreak melts, allowing joy back in for the first time.

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“That’s the thing about Jim’s songs,” Koster says. “You just want to be taken over by them. It’s his creative whim we’re following. He’s a great person, and for me it’s a lot of fun to be his teammate, that guy in the foxhole with him. We all approach music the same way and it’s great to be with a kindred spirit, but the songs are what make it so different.”

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So much so'now, at least'that there’s no evidence left of the great thud. The band’s live show (and subsequent new live disc, Okonokos) have more than proven Koster and Broemel reinvigorated My Morning Jacket. And while the group is readying for a much-needed break, Koster says the band is already looking to the new album.

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“I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but we’re going to make what we’ll make, and I’m sure it will be good,” he says. “And we’ll have lots of fun doing it.”

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MY MORNING JACKET
nThe Depot
n400 W. South Temple
nThursday, Jan. 11
n9 p.m.
nDepotSLC.com

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Jeff Inman

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