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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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