Tucker Martine: Five Essential My Morning Jacket Songs
Tucker Martine (second from the left) and My Morning Jacket near Stinson Beach during the recording sessions for 'The Waterfall' (photo by Danny Clinch, from Martine's own collection).
"My love for MMJ runs deep," wrote Tucker Martine when FUV asked the Grammy-nominated producer, engineer, mixer and studio owner if he might lend his ears and insight to "Five Essential My Morning Jacket Songs" for FUV Essentials. As the co-producer, with frontman Jim James, of My Morning Jacket's most recent studio albums — 2011's Circuital and 2015's The Waterfall — Martine has an intimate angle, both professional and personal, on the quintet's artistic power and poignancy.
In turn, by choosing Martine as co-pilot and collaborator, James and his MMJ cohorts brought on board an intuitive and open-minded producer who has sensitively guided, engineered, or mixed albums by dozens of artists, including the Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Beth Orton, Karl Blau, Camera Obscura, Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M., Bill Frisell, case/lang/veirs, and solo Laura Veirs (she also happens to be Martine's wife). He also engineered James' 2013 solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God.
Based out of Portland, Oregon, where he lives with Veirs and their children and has his own studio, Flora, Martine is currently working on his wife's tenth solo album as well as a forthcoming record with Pure Bathing Culture. He also mixed Grandaddy's 2017 album, Last Place. Martine's most recent release as producer is the debut album from Offa Rex, a new side project between the Decemberists and British singer-songwriter Olivia Chaney. That album, called The Queen of Hearts, comes out this week, July 14, via Nonesuch.
There's no arguing that Martine is an extremely busy guy — he's often on the road recording in different locales too — but he kindly found the time, before running to catch another plane, to write about five My Morning Jacket songs that mean a lot to him.
Tucker Martine: Five Essential My Morning Jacket Songs:
"Bermuda Highway," At Dawn (2001)
From At Dawn, which could be my favorite MMJ record if I were forced at gunpoint to choose. This album is the sound of having a beer on the porch on a balmy summer Southern night, pondering the meaning of it all. The sound of the Kentucky silo it was recorded in lends a unique sonic imprint. Are those crickets in the background or is that the sound of a tape machine in need of maintenance?
"Don't let your silly dreams fall in between the crack of the bed and the wall."
"Wordless Chorus," Z (2005)
A poignant meditation that to me is about the importance of finding your own voice and the dead-end road of artistically chasing the fashion of the moment... How our instincts can get lost in the fray of living busy lives and trying to keep up with the times. I love how the drier vocal treatment in the verse sets up the expansive sound of the ecstatic wordless chorus.
"Tell me spirit, what has not been done? I'll rush out and do it. Or are we doing it now?"
"We forgot about love, but we're broken hearted."
"Steam Engine," It Still Moves (2003)
I feel like I'm floating above the earth when I listen to this. The lyrics remind us that we can get lost in the trap of believing that our existence is more physical than metaphysical. Jim has one of my favorite voices on the planet, and this song has everything I love about it. It's hard for me to not get emotional when listening to this, even as I write this from a bubble tea shop in Los Angeles. Though I recommend listening to this while laying in the grass and looking at the stars.
"The Way That He Sings," At Dawn (2001)
It's fitting that I was moved by this song before I knew what most of the words were: "It's just the way that he sings, not the words that he says."
Of course the words matter, but if the voice isn't communicating something beyond the literal words, then it might as well be on the page and not in song. I've always believed that music is a way of expressing something that originates in the subconscious, which is why it transcends the mundane. Jim and I have spent a fair amount of time together just listening to music, sometimes hardly talking. Everything sounds even better when you hear things through the ears of somebody you really connect with. In its own way, this song encapsulates that feeling for me.
"Circuital," Circuital (2011)
I was going to avoid including any songs that I took part in for this list, but I couldn't seem to put this one aside.
Yet another transcendent musing on the mysterious ways we get worked up over things that don't really matter —we chase our tails. This is such a complete journey that starts humbly and works into a frenzy and ends up right back where it started.
"You can't lose nothing, but nothing can be gained."
This was one of the first takes, everybody playing together in a giant church/gym, everything bleeding into everything else. Months later we tried rerecording it in search of some elusive/non-existent perfection, but in the end this early take just had the stuff. There are so many challenges of making a record with no isolation but ultimately if you have a band this good, those limitations become assets.
I find that everybody listens differently when it's an all-or-none situation like this, where you can't really keep parts of a take but fix others. These guys play for the present moment: they get lost in the take, give it everything they have, and you better be ready if you're the one recording it. They treat each other like family and the music is better because of it. I've learned so much about how to bring the best out in your collaborators by working with and being around these guys.
- Tucker Martine