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Interview: My Morning Jacket on black metal

Interview: My Morning Jacket on black metal (photo)

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Last week, My Morning Jacket released “Holdin’ on to Black Metal,” the second tease from the band’s forthcoming sixth LP, Circuital. The song feels like soul music of the strangest sort, with a gnarled guitar line that jumps and swivels and horns that splash at the most surprising moments. In a falsetto coo, frontman Jim James sings like he’s vying for a lover’s attention, a sentiment that seems even more urgent when both an all-female choir and a distant baritone double his melody.

But this isn’t a love song. Rather, James sings about catching waves and getting sustenance on “Lucifer’s beach,” images that make sense when considered alongside the title. Black metal, the vicious and infamous form of extreme metal that took root in Scandinavia more than 20 years ago, has often been considered an outlet for young, adolescent aggression, much like hardcore punk and hip-hop. Remember, Burzum’s Varg Vikernes was still a teenager when he first set fire to Norwegian churches. “Holdin’ on to Black Metal,” then, questions whether or not we need to give up such music as an outlet for our anger in adulthood. According to My Morning Jacket’s Two-Tone Tommy, the answer is definitively no.

ATO Records releases Circuital Tuesday, May 31. That same day, legendary filmmaker Todd Haynes will direct the live stream of My Morning Jacket’s hometown, release-night show at the Palace Theater in Louisville, Kent. Stream “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” above.

When’s the first time you heard black metal? How did you hear it, and what did you think?

I showed up to the black metal party late. When I was 13, I got into whatever metal a small town Kentucky kid had access to–Obituary, Slayer, Metallica, etc., the standard metal fare. I somehow missed out on Venom. A few years ago, our business manager, the most metal of accountants, turned me on to Ruun by Enslaved, and that same year we checked out 1349 at a SXSW showcase. Wouldn’t say I fell in love with the genre right away, but I was definitely fascinated by the imagery and history. The speed reminded me of the thrash that I devoured in middle school.

Also, there had been so many disappointing “huge” metal releases over the past decade and change that made the discovery of black metal more significant. It didn’t feel too referential or bored with itself or trying to be relevant, like those albums did. Especially seeing these bands live, the show felt real, like the theatrics of the corpse paint wasn’t for entertainment’s sake but was vital to the musical expression itself. But maybe that’s because I want to believe it’s real?

My dad used to play this album Black Mass by Lucifer when I was about five or six years old just to see how I’d react to it. It was an all-electronic album from the early ’70s with a two-points-up pentagram and goat’s head on the back cover. Hilariously, the band Lucifer was just one guy with a synthesizer–a guy named Mort. But it was the heaviest and scariest experience of my young life every time that album came off the bookcase. I think some part of my fascination with metal in general is wanting to experience that fearful thrill again and again, wanting to believe in it just enough that it feels real for a moment.

Do you or did you ever consider yourself a fan of black metal? Does anyone else in the band?

I don’t know about the other guys, but I own a handful of black metal albums that I really love. The new Krallice record is amazing! So I’m a fan, but it’s not the only genre of music I listen to, or listen to every day.

I may be hearing the song incorrectly, but you seem to be expressing skepticism about adults holding on to things as absolutely bleak and dark as black metal. Almost like punk rock, you need it when you’re a kid and everything sucks; but as an adult, that sort of darkness might not allow you to function in the world. Does this interpretation hold for you at all? When did you realize that?

It’s always felt more like a tongue-in-check acknowledgement of that particular viewpoint, one that the general public certainly has about metal as a whole–or punk rock or science fiction or comic books, like these are things that you should leave in the past so you can join the real world.

There’s no doubt that an obsession with anything–even a genre of music or a TV show or a movie or collectibles–can be a distraction from what’s really going on or a way to hang on to the past in a way that keeps the responsibilities of life/ adulthood at bay. But there are also things that can only be expressed, or are easier to express, through escapism and especially through music, so much so that its importance should never be discounted. How difficult would adolescence have been without the music that helped carry us through it? No one enters adulthood feeling none of the emotions they did when they were 16.

Do you see any correlation between that idea and gangsta rap?

Absolutely, though I’ve never understood why misogynistic lyrics and violence towards women was such a part of it lyrically, or why it was so accepted. Maybe hearing Biggie say “shoot your daughter in the calf muscle” is funny to someone, but it sounds pretty fucked to me.

Tell me about the children’s choir. Who are they, and when did you decide they made sense on this track?

The children’s choir is actually a group of women we’re friends with. They were recorded in a funeral home in Louisville, which makes it more metal?

Is there any music you’ve outgrown completely as a person and listener?

Some of the hardcore/punk I listened to in high school. It can be beautiful when instruments are played badly with passion, and really unlistenable when they’re just played badly.

What can you tell me about recording this song as a band?

Jim’s demo was built on a loop he had made from a Thai pop song called “E-Saew Tam Punha Huajai” by Kwan Jai & Kwan Jit Sriprajan. His mission to the band was to perform the loop like child soldiers roaming the streets. We recorded several takes but the first one–where we’re all just getting a feel for playing the loop together–was the keeper.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.