The LATEST NOISE INTERVIEW SERIES
MY MORNING JACKET’S Tom Blankenship
PART 2: The joy and pain was certainly all worth it
Interviewed by Kuz
In Part 2 with our interview with My Morning Jacket’s Tom Blankenship we talk about the live performances, One Big Holiday and some takes on performing and being in a band for over 20 years. Enjoy! -Kuz. READ PART 1 HERE
Kuz: You guys have the rare combination of great songs and the ability to play in the moment and feed off of each other, is there anything you guys do to make sure you’re prepared for each and every show?
Tom: Appreciate that! Sometimes I find I’ve taken it for granted, that dynamic that we have when we play live, because it’s been second nature for us for so many years. Like playing shows or doing session work with a different drummer, it’s always a fun challenge learning to play with someone new because with Patrick and I we’re like this musical mind-hive haha kinda playing as one, and that feels like home. And it’s all magical in this way that, once again, I enjoy the mystery of and try my best to not pick it apart and find out why it works the way it does. In the same way you wanna suspend your disbelief and not know how the magician does what he does to deceive the eye. As far as prep I do know that we all do our homework pre-show/tour. Practice makes perfect, right? No magical equation there!
Can you discuss your relationship with Patrick as the rhythm section, how do you work together in developing the songs?
Again, I’m a little hesitant to draw back the curtain and see how the magic works, but I can relate this story: When Jim first played “It Beats 4 You” for us we were essentially functioning as a three piece. Bo and Carl had yet to have their first rehearsal with the band and we were going over tunes and ideas out in Shelbyville in the old studio waiting for them to fly in. I think, my elephant-like memory is finally starting to get a bit fuzzy. But I do recall Patrick was drumming on a wooden chair because most of our gear was elsewhere and he was playing that cool pulsing and marching beat almost from the start. Tried my best to slither around it but still stay locked with the kick, which was just his foot hitting the tile floor. It was almost immediately what you hear on the record within a couple passes through the song. It’s felt like that for years, this second nature anticipation of what the other dude will do. Like a musical version of completing a loved ones sentence for them.
What is your live rig /pedalboard set up? What’s your idealized sound?
Been playing Ampeg for years: a 6x10” cab with 70s V4B heads, which are like the little brother to the mighty SVT. The sunburst Precision bass I always play onstage was a Pittsburgh pawnshop find by our guitar wizard Rocky Roberts. It’s a ’64 neck on what we believe is a ’66 body which had already been routed for a jazz pickup at the bridge. It has, like almost all of my basses, Lindy Fralin pickups and TI Jazz flats. Those strings get me closest to what I feel is my “ideal sound”, having the Motown thump of flat wound strings but if you dig in, because they’re so low tension and kinda slinky, they can get a little growly and aggressive. A lot of bass dudes always namecheck this record, Moving Pictures by Rush, as one of their favorite tones and I guess I’m kinda the same haha. Check out “Red Barchetta” for that tone, which I’m unapologetically still obsessed with years later. The pedalboard is pretty simple: an overdrive (Wampler Low Blow), fuzz (EHX Deluxe Bass Big Muff), clean boost for palm mute/picking parts (Walrus Plainsman) and the big silver box era EHX Bass Micro Synth. That synth pedal was first used on the breakdown of "Run Thru” and has been used on almost every record since, for the songs “Touch Me Pt 1”, “Look at You”, “Smokin From Shootin”, “Compound Fracture" etc and the trailing sub octave chords at the end of “Circuital” and the title track from Strand of Oaks “Eraserland”… I love that pedal.
Once the current line-up locked in, it seems you guys really became one, what makes playing with Jim, Carl, Bo and Patrick so special?
This goes back to part one of our interview and my reluctance to over analyze how what we do works as well as it does. Love and faith for one another. Putting trust in your bandmates and getting caught up in the moment and leaning on their abilities and this swirling magical beast that we’re lucky enough to hitch a ride on for those moments we share onstage. We also really like spending time together and hanging and talking about real shit. Live performances can be this fragile, unpredictable balancing act. Like the train might jump the tracks at any given moment. But we’re all adept listeners, so if one guy is saying something musical amidst the chaos and uncertainty then another dude will latch on and join his voice and we all soon follow suit. Ya gotta trust in and love your brothers. That’s a family thing in general. Be supportive of each other’s truth and voice and help champion what they have to say.
You are playing 4 shows in a 2 week period as the only live performances in 2019, will this make them that much more special? What are you hoping to get out of the shows?
It’s funny tackling this question just now being on the other side of those shows after our longest break from playing together. Certainly made them feel extra special.. that excitement and anticipation to share the stage again. Just for the sheer joy of the musical dialogue we speak as this collective identity, functioning as one. The hope side of it goes back to managing your expectations. There’s the typical worries and fear that coincide with interacting and seeing someone for the first time in so long. But we have this incredible, hard working crew that make it all possible. We have our love for one another. All of those troublesome feelings melt away when the family is reunited. Before the first note is even played.
Most underrated venue(s)?
One Big Holiday
Kuz Note: OBH is one of the main reasons that I began TLN, after meeting so many awesome people and connecting with them in both music and as humans, it was so special and I remember immediately after the last song ended going up to everyone and telling them to take this feeling with you, that we can create this feeling every day in our lives if we want to, that’s what I try to do with The Latest Noise and my own life…slowly and steadily :)
Kuz: What have you taken from the 4 years of hosting and performing One Big Holiday?
Tom: Your above note really sums it up well. Witnessing the fans come together and create this community of their own, that’s been the greatest and most rewarding aspect of what we do outside of the music itself. Music can be that great big warm welcoming handshake from across the aisle. It’s this safe space, a common ground, that allows us to connect despite our background or experiences or beliefs or any of the other societal creations that keep us separated and at odds. At the end of the day we are beings made up of light and love and already connected. Music has the power to strip all the extraneous bullshit that’s built walls up around our forms. Walls and distractions that deceive us into believing we’re so disparate or unlovable or unable to connect. Music is where we’re finally able to be ourselves, souls of love and brightness and humor and caring. Where we’re intimately aware that we've always been one. And in that space, as our true collective self, we can empower our individual souls with the energy of the whole. I believe in the here and now. In the power of us, as living loving forever souls. You are all testament to and a reminder of that truth. Music is the well that renews us, reminds us and brings us to the source. Which is love and light and life.
How did it feel to play every song in your catalogue in order?
Hard to put into words. Inhabitating your (almost) decades older body but going through the feelings, and sometimes even thoughts or reliving certain moments, of who you were when those songs were written and recorded and played live years and years ago. Sometimes you’re a passenger to it all. Muscle memory is playing the notes and shifting your body around like you did when you were in your 20s or 30s, they know what to do. And while you’re able to feel and revisit those moments from so long ago, of a loved one passing and new love on the horizon, of it all, you’re experiencing it in short bursts, fragments of who you were played on this internal screen, vividly. But with the perspective of who you are now and how those moments got you to this place you are now. A personal celebration of sorts. Sure there was heartache and mistakes, but I wouldn’t change them. It would change who I am now. The joy and pain was certainly all worth it.
How awesome is it to play the song One Big Holiday at One Big Holiday?Toalkdsnaovihvado;ivald;knvoiauiwhE9870DSVANA;DLIVLAEJF\
Kuz Note: Fellow OBHer’s Justin and Jennifer Miller just opened a music venue in Albany called Lark Hall and along with Matt ‘In the Hat” Hueston presented a show with Carl Broemel and read about it here!
20 YEARS OF MUSIC
Kuz: What would like to see change in the music/live industry?
Tom: Get off your fucking phone and live in the moment. I ain’t mad atcha. Just at the lill computer in your hand. Be present, be in the here and now. We’re all guilty of it. Myself included. It’s another distraction, and another wall, that keeps us from true connection. Live music, shit, everyday life is an amazing opportunity to connect with other souls, experience the beauty around you, even if quietly so. Discover who you are in even the most silent “boring” of moments. It’s okay to be silent and still and present. It’s okay to feel not okay with who you are in those moments, undistracted. Because we’re all searching for our inner truths. For who we really are. And striving to be okay and happy with who we find on the other side. But it’ll be a lot easier to get to that place of contentment and growth without a screen in your face.
In 20 years you guys have released 7 albums. Tennessee Fire, At Dawn, It Still Moves, Z, Evil Urges, Circuital and The Waterfall. What are your favorite memories from the studio sessions? What’s your favorite ‘happy accident’?
First of all I have to apologize to anyone who’s played our music on shuffle and “Good Intentions” came out of nowhere and ruined the party. We were tracking Evil Urges and I suggested we all run out to a mic and scream to abruptly end “Touch Me Pt 2”. Cos it seemed like fun. In the moment. So you can blame me for what sounds like a not so happy accident. My favorite moments are the ones that you can’t really hear on record. The adventures we took to creatively solve a puzzle in the studio. Like for Circuital when we tracked in a church gymnasium and constructed a tent around the drums to keep the sounds from bouncing around everywhere. Or when we sat on a garage floor draped in tambourines and sleigh bells while we recorded the intro to “At Dawn”. Positioning mics in weird stairwells. The commutes to the studio. Late night hangs playing Nintendo Ice Hockey. All the brotherly adventuring that goes on behind the scenes, that spirit finds its way onto the recordings themselves, even if they’re not sonic in nature. But those are the ones that will always stick with me more than the musical explorations themselves.
Thank you Tom :)